The One and Only God
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.” (Deuteronomy 6:4–6)
In the ancient world, there was an assumption that each group of people had their own god. These gods were geographical, and when you entered a new place you would make sure you made some offering or another to the local god. The heavens were populated by a host of gods who would often fight with each other, and if you defeated a neighbouring tribe of people then it stood to reason that your god had defeated their god too. Just to be on the safe side, when the Romans conquered a nation they added the local gods of that nation to the pantheon of Roman gods.
Against this background Judaism stood alone, with its insistence that there is in fact only one God. The verses from Deuteronomy quoted at the top served as a very early creed for the Jews, and to this day are known as the Shema (from the Hebrew for’ hear”). They are insistent that God is one, and what is more is known by name. Notice that three times the name of God (‘LORD’) is given in the opening verse. What of the other gods of the nations? Well, they were viewed as false gods of human invention. Isaiah is particularly scornful of the man who makes idols:
He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” (Isaiah 44:14–17)
So it is that Christianity has at its heart the understanding that there is but one God, a point Jesus made when asked what was the most important commandment of all: “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’” (Mark 12:28–30)