America's Tribal God
The September 11 Attack on the World Trade Center, heinous and abominable, produced a surge of patriotism and religious devotion characteristic of America whenever it engages in a new war. Everywhere they are displaying the Stars and Stripes, from lapels to autos to homes to schools and churches and in every business. Alongside it they are also posting what has become the current motto of the nation: God Bless America!
The preachers season their sermons with this exhortation. The politicians, especially the President, close their speeches with it.
The President called the nation to a Day of Prayer and Remembrance. In the service, televised from the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., the man who, perhaps more aptly than any other, can be called the "national pastor" spoke. Billy Graham referred to the "foundation of our nation" and said, "That foundation is our trust in God." Then he closed by saying, "May God bless you all."
This great surge of religious devotion, paralleling and intertwined with the surge in patriotism, may be the most intense in the history of the United States, although the beginning of every American war produces this effect. I remember the onset of World War II in America, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, when our rural, battery powered radios burst forth with this blend of religious and patriotic fervor. Perhaps it was expressed best in the very popular song, "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition." I heard that song so many times that, after sixty years, its refrain yet rings in my ears. And I relished it!
We can easily explain the current intensity. This war is a different kind of war, because the enemy attacked in the name of his God, Allah, and seeks to make it a worldwide religious conflict. If he can, he will polarize the world between the Christians and the Muslims until, as Muhammad wrote in the Koran,[9.33] He it is Who sent His Apostle with guidance and the religion of truth, that He might cause it to prevail over all religions.That is surely the ultimate goal of the radical Muslim terrorists, and we can only hope that they do not succeed in this drive to the polarization of the world, and that the great masses of Muslims worldwide will remain beneficent lovers of peace. So, to meet the threat from the tribal god of the Muslims, Americans also call upon the god of their tribe and invoke his blessing.
Yes, the god of the Americans is a tribal god. It is our purpose in this brief paper to explain this assertion.
I. God and the Tribal God.
The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, creator of all things, is the only true and living God. He it is who spoke to Moses on the Holy Mountain and He it is who speaks to us through the Holy Words of Jesus of Nazareth. He it is who rules over all things and it is He who gave to the Lord Jesus all authority in heaven and on earth. Let there be no confusion about that. But He it is not who blesses America in its wars. That one is America's tribal god.
God the Father desires to reveal himself to the Americans through Jesus but they do not and cannot hear Him. They know about HIm but they do not know him. Instead they impose upon Him and upon his Holy Name the vision of their imaginary tribal deity. This is very confusing because it produces the illusion that they are worshipping Him when in fact they are not. There is, however, no excuse for this. The illusion is quickly shattered when one receives the Holy Words uttered by Jesus of Nazareth, for these are the self revelation of the only true God and Father. The illusion is not unique to Americans for it prevails over all nations of Christendom and over Israel and Islam.
II. The Mark and Definition of a Tribal God
The ancient Israelites invaded Canaan and sought to establish themselves in the midst of tribal groupings of peoples devoted each to the god of the tribe. They therefore characterized their struggle as a struggle between the God of Israel and the tribal deities of their neighbors. This characterization is strongly evident during the latter days of the judges when, in the days of Samuel, they entered into conflict with the cities of the Philistines. They were themselves heavily influenced by these tribal deities and this caused them, in their devotion to the one and only universal God of Abraham, to loose sight of Him and to see, instead, the vision of a tribal deity unique to them -- that is, their own tribal god.
They were losing the struggle with the Philistines and even lost possession of their precious "ark of God", which was a sort of idol of their own, an object of veneration wherein dwelt the spirit of their God. The Book of I Samuel tells the fascinating story of how the Philistines brought the captured ark home to their city, Ashdod, and placed it in the house of Dagon, their tribal deity. Behold, the next day they arose to discover that Dagon (the idol) had fallen face down on the ground before the ark of God. Undeterred, they set him back up. But behold, the next morning they found that Dagon had again fallen face down to the ground. Furthermore, the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off upon the threshold! (I Samuel 5)
The God of Israel had dismembered the god of the Philistines! This is a chief characteristic of tribal gods. Whenever a foreign tribe attacks, it is understood to be ultimately a contest between the gods of the respective tribes. The tribe that wins does so because it has the strongest god. The scriptures therefore described this in such a way as to encourage Israel by demonstrating that their god was stronger than Dagon, the god of the Philistines. Men almost everywhere and at all times, both primitive and modern, exhibit this same archetypical mind. Whenever they go to battle, they carry with them the belief, often unspoken and only subconscious, that their god is the most powerful and will give them the victory if they manifest great devotion to him.
Human beings come by this naturally. We see it manifest in very young children who have not yet conceived the idea of the divine, yet who nevertheless have a deep need to call upon one stronger than they. So one child, confronted by a second hostile child who seems to be too strong to attack directly, will instead invoke a higher power:
My Daddy can whip your Daddy!
This state of mind is the mark that signals devotion to a tribal god.
We can now define the concept, tribal god. A tribal god is an imaginary deity that a tribe or nation invokes to both bless them and grant victory over the enemy and the god of the enemy when it enters into war. The tribal god is therefore a god of war, and it is only in a time of inter - tribal conflict that the tribal nature of a god becomes clear.
In the modern world as in the ancient one, each of the contenders, if basically monotheistic, will overlay their belief in the one God with the characteristics of a tribal god, a deity that contends for and blesses their specific tribe or nation as it goes to war. The consequence, in the minds of the contenders, is that there are two gods contending against each other, just as there are two contending tribes or nations. After the battle is over the victorious party will thank its god for the victory, whereas the defeated party will ask why their god forsook them. Their usual conclusion is that their god did not fight for them because they were not sufficiently faithful to him. Both parties have lapsed into a polytheistic faith according to which the gods of the parties are different deities.
It is thus that America has turned to its tribal god.
III. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus
It is a common sense rule of discipline that one in authority must not be partial when a fight breaks out among unruly subjects. For example a school teacher must be impartial when the children fight. The fight is itself the major breach of discipline, not the grievances of the children. Similarly, neither the Lord Jesus nor his Father in heaven involve themselves in the wars that break out among the children of this world. The war is itself an horrendous breach of discipline such as no grievance can justify.
The following are some of the rules that the Father has issued to guide his children in this world (in contrast with the children of the world) whenever they enter into a situation that tempts them to war:Matthew 5Mark 8:35, listed here, is one statement of the Great Principle that underlies all of the work and ministry of Jesus. It is the principle that applies universally to the children of the Father, especially now when they are confronted with the prospect of involvement in America's New War.
39 But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also;
43 You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
27 What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim upon the housetops.
28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father's will.
34 And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
35 For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.
36 For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?
It was in the same type of situation that Jesus himself took up his cross and showed us the Way. He was confronted by the unjust subjugation of his nation by the Romans. The patriots were seeking their god's "messiah" who would muster them to arms and fight in just cause against the injustice inflicted upon them daily. At one point they were willing to believe that Jesus was that messiah. So, as the scriptures state,John 6Jesus rejected this attempt by the people to enthrone him even though his nation was hurting and every true patriot was ready for battle. They lacked only a leader. Later he explained this refusal to fight, an explanation that applies both to himself and his followers:
14 When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!"
15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.John 18Don't you see? When Jesus refused to fight -- refused to permit his servants to fight -- he was only being a "witness to the truth". When he commanded his servants saying,
35 Pilate answered, "Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me; what have you done?"
36 Jesus answered, "My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world."
37 Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice."Matthew 16he was commanding his disciples in the world today, and every day, to follow him so as to bear witness to this same truth.
24 . . . If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.,
The words of Jesus are the words of the Father; the deeds of Jesus are the deeds of a man doing the will of the Father, who understands that the Father does not fight for any worldly cause, however just it may seem. That is because his kingdom is different -- it is not of this world. Therefore neither the Lord Jesus nor the Father can or will take sides in any earthly fray.
God the Father in heaven therefore does not bless America's war against the terrorists; neither does he bless the terrorists. He only grieves while the children of this world murder each other, precisely as Jesus grieved over Jerusalem once it was clear that they rejected the Way of Peace:Luke 19Don't you see? America, when you call upon a god to bless you in this new war and to give you victory, you are not calling upon the God and Father of the Lord Jesus. You are only calling upon your tribal deity, who cannot hear you. Like Dagon, the god of the Philistines, your deity only lies lifeless and face down before the God and Father of the Lord Jesus, his head and arms broken off!
41 And when he drew near and saw the city he wept over it,
42 saying, "Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes.
43 For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side,
44 and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation."
IV. The World does not know God the Father
Although it is surely unnecessary, here is yet another utterance of Jesus that provides a confirmation of our thesis. Jesus made a point of informing us of a simple but almost universally overlooked fact: the world does not know the one whom he named "Father." This utterance comes from his prayer in Chapter 17 of the Fourth Gospel, verses 25, 26:O righteous Father, the world has not known thee, but I have known thee; and these know that thou hast sent me. I made known to them thy name, and I will make it known, that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.This firmly establishes the fact that the world had not known the Father prior to the advent of Jesus, but leaves open the question as to whether the world would or could ever know the Father. This question he settled with another word from the same Gospel, Chapter 14, verses 16, 17:And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.The world cannot receive the Spirit of Truth, which is the Spirit of the Father; it neither receives nor knows Him. This defines a condition that characterizes the world forever. The world did not know the Father, does not know the Father, and can never know the Father.
We can therefore assuredly conclude that the world of today, the world of the Twenty First Century, does not and cannot know the Father of our Lord Jesus, nor will it ever know Him.
V. The American Nation and the World
Now do we need to establish that America is a nation of the world? Surely not, yet even so the Lord Jesus has made it unequivocal in saying,Luke 12It is undeniable that America seeks these very things; therefore it is unequivocally a nation of the world. But as a nation of this world, being itself of this world, Jesus has assuredly informed us that it does not and cannot know God. It follows that America as a nation (tribe) of the world does not and cannot know God. Like Jesus' Jerusalem, it has rushed to war because it does not know the things that make for peace, nor does it know the God of Peace, nor does it know the Prince of Peace.
29 And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind.
30 For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them.
31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well.
The appeal of the Americans to their god for his blessing in this war is therefore not an appeal to the God and Father of the Lord Jesus, whom they do not know. It must then be only an appeal to their tribal deity.
There is nothing the disciples of Jesus can do but weep, as Jesus wept over Jerusalem, because this beloved nation does not know the things that make for peace. It cannot help itself in this mad rush to war. That is what this world does. It is because, contrary to that of Jesus, their kingdom is of this world.
The above has defined a tribal god as an imaginary deity to which a nation or tribe turns for help -- blessings and victory -- when it enters into war. It is impossible that such a deity can be the only true God and Father of our Lord Jesus because he has made it known that the nation (tribe) of his children in the world does not go to war but loves the enemy instead. He also shows himself as one who is not a partisan in any of the wars of human beings on the earth. Therefore America's god, the one whose blessing is invoked in war, is only a tribal god. This god is only a construct of fanciful imagination that has no real existence. The attempt to identify this tribal deity with the Father in heaven is blasphemy for it seeks to identify as a god of war the only true God and Father who leads no one to war. He leads his children only in the way of peace, a way that the nations of the modern world, like ancient Jerusalem, do not and can not know. It is therefore a great folly to invoke his blessings on the nation entering into war.
The folly is no less where "Christian pacifists" strive for peace in the world through applying the principles of Jesus to world affairs. They have always failed and they will always fail because it is not possible that the nations of the world can know either the way of peace or the Prince of Peace. They ignore this one simple statement of their Lord:Matthew 10What, then, can the disciples of Jesus do in a time like this, when the spirit of a bellicose partiotism envelops the land? We can always follow the example of our Lord:
34 Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.Luke 19
41 And when he drew near and saw the city he wept over it,
42 saying, Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes.
Click here to read a paper on the peace of Jesus.
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