By Larry Short
In my most recent Last Word I touched on a topic that may have been a bit controversial for some: Does God respect us? I argued that Yes, He does, based on the fact that in Scripture we see Him treating even his vilest enemies with great respect, e.g., look at the way Jesus treated Judas. And that respect manifests itself in the fact that God allows us complete freedom of choice, even when that choice may hurt someone else and deprive them of their rights.
This week I want to touch on a related topic that may make us even more uncomfortable. Does God consider us to be “gods?”
The question sounds shocking. But, scripturally speaking, the answer is “Yes.” This question is the focus of Psalm 82, where God speaks to us:
“I said, ‘You are “gods”;you are all sons of the Most High.’
7 But you will die like mere men;you will fall like every other ruler.”
Jesus quoted this psalm in John 10:
31Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, 32but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”
33″We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
34Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods'[e]? 35If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken— 36what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? 37Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. 38But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” 39Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp.
It’s clear that Christ’s purpose in quoting this was to demonstrate the special nature of his relationship as the Only Begotten Son of His Father in heaven. We are all God’s children (in the sense that He created us and endowed us with spirit and the capacity to choose good or evil); but there is only One Son of God “whom the Father set apart as His very own and sent into the world” — Jesus.
This in itself demonstrates one of the key points I believe Scripture is trying to drive home to us. Yes, we are all “gods” (and in what sense, we shall explore in a moment). But only One of us is “God.” And there is a vast gulf of distinction between those two words, “gods” and “God.”
First let’s ask, when God says “You are gods,” in what sense does He mean this? How does God define “gods”?
I think we get a clue from the words of the serpent, as he was tempting Eve and Adam in Genesis 3: 4 “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” I think the primary way in which we are truly like God, is that we are free moral agents, knowing the difference between good and evil. We have the capacity, the power, to choose good or evil, even when choosing evil means committing injustice against others of God’s creation. Each of us has the power, for instance, to commit murder. We know, theologically, that God alone is the author of life; and that He alone therefore (as God) has the right to choose when to give life and when to take it away. Rightly or wrongly, we too have the power to rob another person of life. Cain first demonstrated this godlike power by killing his brother Abel.
It’s for this reason I think when Scripture says, “You are gods,” it doesn’t necessarily mean it as a compliment! The fact is, we are free moral agents, with the choice to choose good or to choose evil. And the even more sobering fact is, all of us chose evil over good … which is why Christ had to die to redeem us.
God also is a free moral agent, but He chose good and knows no evil, has committed no sin. Part of His goodness is his incalculable love for us, which drove Him to the Cross to redeem us. That demonstrates the vastness of the gulf that separates “God” from “gods.”
This touches on an area of intense debate between many Christians: God’s sovereignty, versus man’s free will. Scripture clearly teaches that God is sovereign, omniscient, and omnipotent. It says He “chose us to be in Christ before the foundations of the world.” Those “whom He foreknew,” Paul says, “He predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” God is clearly sovereign. The Calvinists all give a hearty “Amen!”
Scripture also teaches, very clearly, that each of us is completely free to choose, and to bear the responsibility for our choices. God’s love and respect for us means He takes His hands off and allows us to make wrong choices, even if those wrong choices hurt other people and ultimately send us to Hell. The Arminianists all give a hearty “Amen!”
The problem comes when we say, “Wait, that doesn’t make sense, you can’t have it both ways. Either God is sovereign, or we have free will. Both can’t be true.” Wrong! We may not be able to conceive of how both can’t be true, but the fact is, they are. Ephesians is clear: God’s choice of us, His election, His predestination, is on the basis of His foreknowledge of our choice(s). It’s not a matter of Him forcing us to choose something and violating our will. He respects His creation too much to do that. In fact, we know that God’s will is that none would perish. But some do perish. His will is therefore violated. Does this mean He is not omnipotent? No, it does not. We may not be able to untangle it, but God’s omnipotence is not violated by the fact that His desires may not be achieved.
I know this is a bit of a mindbender (especially for those of us with fragile intellects!), but I do think there are some practical applications. First, realizing God’s utmost respect for our right and ability to choose good or evil should chill us and make us very, very wary. The ultimate Good Parent, He will let us have our own way even when that way ultimately means hurting ourselves or those around us. Never think God will swoop in and save the day at the last moment, protecting you or those around you from the consequences of your bad choices and decisions! That’s not how He works. When He tells His children, “Don’t play with matches,” if we ignore Him and start playing with matches, He is going to let us get burned.
Second, God treating us like gods gives us a clue as to how we are to treat the people around us. We must respect them far more than we do, even if we don’t like them, or they don’t like us, or we don’t think they are somehow worthy of respect. That person sitting next to you is responsible for their own choices, and your responsibility is to respect that power. Do you ever wonder why Christ taught that he who calls his brother “Raca!” (translated “Fool!”) is in danger of hellfire? Respect.
Finally, realizing the vast gulf that separates us (as gods) from God (as God) should have a very healthy impact on us as worshipers. The Mormons, and other cults who confuse this issue (saying things like, “As we are now, God once was; as God is now, we will become”), are so wrong on this point. We may be like God in one respect, having the power to choose good or evil, but in everything else we are so unlike Him … starting with what we have done with that power, compared to what He does with it! A healthy view of who we are, the utter depravity for which Christ died to redeem us; and a healthy view of how utterly holy God is, He who alone loves selflessly and sacrifices in ways we can’t even imagine; is absolutely necessary to a healthy view of the relationship we “gods” have with our Father, God.