The Gods We Have Made

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I am reviewing a book for Jim West called Divine Substitution: Humanity as the Manifestation of Deity in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East, by Stephen L. Herring. Daniel McClellan has already written a great review of it, and mine should be ready presently.

I enjoyed Herring's discussion of the shrine of Micah in Judges 17–18, in which it is clear that Micah lives in tension between the human origin of his pagan images and their supposed divine status (pp. 76–77). The passage mocks Micah for believing that human-made objects could actually be gods. He is presented as a kind of fool who admits that he has constructed the objects that he calls God, saying "you have taken the gods that I made!"

Micah's anger reminds me of the outrage that certain Christians express when scholars ask difficult questions about the Bible. When scholars point out facts that challenge the view of the Bible as an other-worldly divine production, they are accused of "undermining" the Bible or "destroying" the Bible's authority.

When I hear these accusations, I hear "you have taken the god that I made!", the cry of someone who has had their idol taken away. Pointing out the human origins of the Bible does not diminish its divinity, because the Bible is not a god. In the context of Herring's discussion, the Bible may be mimetic, such that it points in some way to God, but it does not itself embody God's presence. It is not a divine object.

I'm speaking of certain extreme positions here. Consider for example this article called "10 Reasons Why I Am Thankful for the God-Breathed Bible," which attributes God's acts of salvation to the Bible itself! A summary of Rev. Piper's view of the Bible:

1. The Bible awakens faith, the source of all obedience.
2. The Bible frees from sin.
3. The Bible frees from Satan.
4. The Bible sanctifies.
5. The Bible frees from corruption and empowers godliness.
6. The Bible serves love.
7. The Bible saves.
8. The Bible gives joy.
9. The Bible reveals the Lord.

I sincerely hope that most Christians would put God as the subject of those sentences! May we as a church be less like Micah, clinging to our idols, and more like the people in Hosea who promise, "we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands."