Question: How is Believing in God any different than Believing in Zeus? Or Ra?
Answer: Greetings friend. That’s a great question, and thank you for submitting it. After all, billions of people in the world worship gods that are not the biblical God — and if there were no differences between them, then we bible-believing people would have to rethink our worldviews. But there is a difference… and it’s a big one: God exists in reality where Zeus and Ra do not — and it is wiser to believe in a God who exists in both in the Bible and in reality than any who exists merely in mythology. That being said, I’ll talk about four specific differences in detail (although there are many more).
But before we debark on the differences, let me note a similarity. Whether or not the gods are true, people who believe in them are theists, while people who do not believe in them are atheists… and there are many flavors of both. Materialist atheists take the philosophical position that only the observable exists, and that all the nonphysical phenomena like our feelings are illusory — and the moral code that is found across people groups and across time is a Darwinian adaptation to help propagate DNA. But Christians understand that morality exists among people because we are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26); we are therefore more than moist machines.
I bring this up to highlight a critical similarity between the theists who have gotten it wrong and theists who have gotten it right — and the difference between them and the materialist atheists. A materialist atheist has decided to ignore the witness of creation… which is like trying to ignore wetness when you’re under water. Whereas theists (and agnostics, too) are in a position to see God’s deity through creation — even without consulting the authoritative Scripture.
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:18–20, NIV, emphasis mine)
God is in the revealing business, not the concealing business — and the only people who miss it are the ones who take a philosophical stand against it… stopping-up their ears and eyes, so to speak, to miss it purposefully (“who suppress the truth by their wickedness”). They can’t not see the apparent, of course… so God holds them accountable on that level. Please note that even the pagan theist is in better shape than an “enlightened” materialist atheist here… and that the difference is that a pagan lets the empirical speak rather than take a philosophical stand to “ignore” it. The first step in finding the true God is just keeping your eyes (and your options!) open.
I think that it is important to highlight the above differences before I go on to defend the superiority of the Christian God because people often use the excuse that if a true God were real, that people would not be worshiping so many false gods — but that’s wrongheaded. The proliferation of false gods proves that there is a god-vibe out there. It’s just that sinful people skew that information like they skew everything else. But God built us to observe phenomena and respond to the light — and we are all somewhere along that learning curve. As such, the true God is readily seen in his creation (this is his general revelation to humankind), in Scripture (this is his special revelation to humankind) (Jn. 17:17) — and in Jesus Christ (the Messiah revealed to humankind, the Word made flesh)
What of Zeus and Ra? Well, they are “on” the scale of truth… but at the lowest point. Belief in them declares that “a god exists”… so that’s theism at least… but we have more light than that. Today, I’ll respond to that light by shining it on four of the many proofs that the Christian God is the right God. So let me introduce the first point with a quote from the film Highlander, “There can be only one!”
Only: The first thing to note is that Christians believe that their God is an actual person, not a force, and that he actually exists — and is not a mere ideal. That’s how the Bible presents him, and that’s our primary source. But the Bible goes on to tell us how our God exists — and how he exists is different from how all other gods exist: he exists as God exclusively.
This is what the Lord says— Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. (Isaiah 44:6, NIV, emphasis mine)
The Bible also tells us how God saves people: he saves through Jesus Christ exclusively.
Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11–12, NIV, emphasis mine)
I bring this up first because the exclusivity of the Christian God — but particularly, the part where Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation — is an uncomfortable fundamental of the faith… but it is fundamental nonetheless. No Christian should agree with the kind-sounding and well-intended falsehood that all religious ideas are equally valid. The Bible will have none of that… and you should know that up front.
But this is not hubris on the believer’s part — it is logic. Since we submit to an authoritative Scripture that claims that the only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ, we cannot agree with the statement that all religions are valid. But as these ideas play out in eternity, the truth sounds even more Draconian — because any ideas that counter Christianity’s claims are salvifically bankrupt — they cannot save! But the news gets even worse: salvation is binary! People are either saved or they are lost… and the default is lost. So an undecided person is a lost person.
As you can see, the truth is not always kind. But you’re doing no one a favor by teaching them that inclusiveness will work within a system that is ontologically exclusive. Good intentions? Perhaps. Bad result? Absolutely! But that can be remedied with a little study and analysis. You see, it is we Christians who are taught to live peaceably with people (Rom. 12:18). In fact, that’s an important part of our job! (Mat. 5:13-16) But there is a difference between the seeking the practicable peace of coexistence and affirming non-truths. The statement “All religions are merely different roads to the same place” is anti-biblical, counter-salvific… and repudiated by Jesus himself (Jn. 10:1).
So my first point is this: you can believe in Jesus… or you can believe in Ra… but you cannot believe in Jesus and in Ra. The Christian God will have none of that! But that’s not true of the mythological gods like Zeus who lives in a pantheon… and has no problem with it. Jesus would have a problem with it.
Now, people can (and do!) believe whatever they want… I mean… who could stop them! And some believe that Jesus is in a modern pantheon of sorts, coequal with Buddha, Gandhi, Mohammed, Gaia, etc... as people (or ideas) that are worthy of further study and respect. But that is not what Christianity says about itself or about Jesus — and you have to know that as we go into further discussion. Logic demands that we obey the rules of non-contradiction, and this is why we claim to be exclusively right… and yes, I know that this is politically incorrect to say. But since it is logically sound (not to mention a matter of life and death!) we need to take the hit.
As to your question, the first difference is that the biblical God claims exclusivity while the mythologies of Zeus or Ra have them living among other gods, who — and even though Zeus may have more power than the other gods in their legends — are gods nonetheless. Now, it is true that the biblical God is supremely powerful, but this does not mean that less powerful gods therefore exist. God’s omnipotence is an attribute; it is part of his being — with or without creation. As such, I must assert that God is the only God in existence, God is the only God who saves, and God is the only God who has infinite attributes. Our God is the only God.
Transcendent: The second way that the biblical God is different than Zeus or Ra is that he transcends creation. Christianity is the only religion that claims a transcendent Creator-God. All the other gods are subject to creation itself. Indeed, many of these gods have stories of their own origins!… and any God worthy of the name has no beginning. But the Bible’s God is self-existent — and eternally so. There is no “before” God — either temporally or causally. He has always existed, and he is the primary cause of every effect.
Why is transcendence so important? For one reason, it makes sense of the latest scientific findings — the ones that have caused even atheistic scientists to change their positions on the nature of the universe. The data is in: the universe is not itself eternal, so it came into being. But it could only do that through the energies of a sufficient cause — one that transcends space and time…and you heard me right: even atheists are saying that… although the Bible has been teaching it for thousands of years… so I’m glad they caught up! But when you look at the mythological gods, they are described as being either part of or subject to the physical creation — like Ra being the sun.
So — and only for the sake of argument — if we cobbled together all the stories of Egypt’s gods and the gods of classical mythology with the Bible to synergize a story, the true God — the biblical God — would have made Ra… which, even as just a legend, would have made him greater than Ra. What this shows us is that even a casual literary experiment shows the revelatory superiority of the Bible — as well as the congruency of the Christian worldview! The old mythologies had no vision of a transcendent God, and the true God is transcendent.
Omnibenevolent: God is good. Zeus is… at best, indifferent… and at worst, malevolent. But the hallmark of the mythological gods is that they are capricious — and the true God could never be capricious. But why can’t a being who can do anything at all act capriciously?… because that sounds like a limit. Well… it is… and this is shocking to some, but God is not a being who can just do anything at all; he cannot do anything that is contrary to his nature. This is why a challenge like, “Can God make a rock so big that he cannot move it?” is moot: it’s nonsensical; it’s a false dilemma… not to mention a cliché.
Fortunately for humankind, it is God’s nature to be good. Therefore — and this, by definition — he cannot do anything bad… no matter what it feels like to me at the moment. For example, God might see me as needing some burdens to improve my Christian character. This would not be pleasant for me… and it would certainly not feel good… but it would be good because God is good… and not because he chose to do good arbitrarily.
What I’ve noticed about the mythological gods is that they are just humans on steroids — that is, the gods are us! It’s just that they have more power… but without having more character. They hate, they use indiscriminate violence and they scheme against each other. But most importantly, they look down upon — and are rarely seen doing good to — humans.
By way of contrast (and in spite of his also being transcendent) God is imminent and providential to all his creation, but the focus of this providence is we human beings… but this providence is not arbitrary. He has plans for us (Jer. 29:11) — plans for good — and this is what must flow from a being that is all-good, all-knowing and all-powerful. Since God is goodness itself, his actions are always good; they are never arbitrary or capricious. Our God is omnibenevolent.
Biblical: Only a hard-boiled atheist would disagree that the physical creation reveals the Creator. But even believers might miss this clue to God’s essence. Although creation shows God’s power and divinity — which is great — every atom teaches that God has a disposition to reveal himself — which is also great! But what are the limits of this disposition? After all, God could simply inject truth into our minds… but he doesn’t do that. Instead, we ponder the empirical and exercise faith.
It is important to note that all living things “participate” in creation, but it would not be reasonable to say that all living things “enjoy” creation like we humans do. Now, before you jump all over me, I really do have no idea what it is like to be another creature. But I unashamedly advocate for human exceptionalism. If nothing else, we humans have aesthetic sensibilities that allow us to enjoy things on the highest level. So we behold, we commune with God and with each other… and we talk… and we write. No other creatures do this. Why did God give us the ability to process abstract information, to remember things and to excel at language? That sounds pretty excessive… unless he were planning to write a Bible or something.
Humankind has always used language — although not always writing. In the early days information was transmitted orally. But as we began to fill the earth as God had originally intended (Gen. 1:28) — ultimately fashioning a technologically advanced civilization — our communications also grew in complexity, and way back at the beginning, God gave us writing to manage all the data. So think about this: if you were a God who intended to redeem billions of volitional people (Rev. 7:9), how would you get the information out? Is there a sweet spot for knowledge-based faith? I think so. The Bible tells our story; it is sufficient, inerrant, congruent, engaging… a Bible like the one we have makes sense.
I will not take time in this already too long answer to explain the excellencies of the Bible — but even secular scholars understand that we have something extraordinary. Not only does the Bible match our physical realities, it also matches our metaphysical realities. It dares to give an account of creation, a history of God’s people and his plan to redeem humankind. But in doing so (and here is my big point ) it reveals much about the Revealer himself… and you just can’t come away from the Bible without the sense of having been told a congruent story about the only God, the transcendent God, the loving God — and the one who put it down in writing. Our God is biblical.
Summary: Your question implied that we might consider God as a choice among equals. But I have made a case that he could only be on that shelf in the most minor of ways — that he exists as a god… but not just as a god like those. He is the only God — and the Bible makes that very clear. And while the other gods are products of creation, our God transcends creation; philosophy and natural theology teach us that. We also understand that God is good — because we see goodness in people that cannot be explained otherwise. The Bible shows accounts of his goodness, and natural theology requires goodness of him too. And finally, the Bible is the greatest testimony of all time to the character of God — and it’s not just an in-house document. It touches all who