Where things went wrong.
Humans are a superstitious people. If we see or experience something we can’t understand, our tendency is to explain it as magical or supernatural. If we experience a coincidence, we tend to assume there’s some other reason, something significant beyond just random chance. For much of human history, this is how religion operated. The sound of thunder, which couldn’t be explained, might be a sign the gods were unhappy. The appearance of a rare animal or plant could also take on special meaning. A bountiful harvest of food had obvious significance, while drought or famine brought a clear signal the gods were not pleased.
Patterns, another form of coincidence, give us plenty to think about. Our brains are designed for pattern recognition, so while we might not be so good with names, we can usually recognize a face even decades later. If a sequence of numbers shows up more than once, it would be natural to believe that numerical series wasn’t just random but existed for a particular reason. If an apparently infertile woman got pregnant soon after a full moon, she might not think twice about it. If a second pregnancy seemed impossible but eventually happened, again after a full moon, it is likely she would begin to consider lunar activity a factor in her fertility.
The God of the Bible did something very peculiar compared to other gods of the time. He said he, alone, was God. There were no others. Not only that, we were not to worship other idols. We weren’t even allowed to make symbolic renderings of any other god—what the Old Testament refers to as “graven images.” Idols were the most important symbol of deity worship. When the children of Israel decided to leave Mount Sinai without Moses, they wouldn’t even consider departing without an idol to pray and sacrifice to. They donated their jewelry in order that a proper figure could be formed from wood and their melted gold.
God’s prohibition against worshiping any other god or idol was a formal announcement not only of his presence, but his sovereignty. Eight other requirements would follow. The Ten Commandments, as they came to be known, were instructions from God regarding the behavior he desired from his children. There was also a promise—if they were able to keep the commandments, God would make Israel a great nation. It would be a holy nation, the envy of the world.
This explicit request and promise was a slap in the face of superstition. Gone were the fickle gods whose anger might be roused with the slightest transgression. The expectations were now clear. There would be no more confusion about what they should and shouldn’t do. There were hundreds, sometimes thousands, of other Gods available to direct their thanks or pleas for mercy, depending upon the circumstances. With the first and second commandments, God intended to put their worship—and all the superstition that went with it—to rest.
Unfortunately, humans prefer their gods—or God—to be mysterious. The ambiguity allows for all sorts of creativity from those who worship. God loves his children just like any father would his own, the Bible tells us. “But maybe,” the theologian will suggest, “maybe God doesn’t love all his children. Maybe God chooses some of them suffer for eternity in the fires of hell—not because of anything they did, mind you, but because it pleased him.” This is one of several conundrums many who follow the teachings of John Calvin find they must wrestle with.
Worshiping a mysterious, unexplainable god provides elevated status for those who claim to understand him (or her or it). If you’re unable to understand how God can love his children and choose some of them for eternal torment, well then, perhaps you just don’t have as deep an understanding of God as they do.
The very nature of God himself, who claims throughout the Bible he is one—rather than many—was being challenged even before Jesus was born. Jewish philosophers began recasting God within the cosmos of Plato and other Greek thinkers. Perhaps God had multiple natures, they suggested. Perhaps he was one deity, but was composed of many different emanations, as they sometimes called them. Soon after the death and resurrection of Jesus, this same group of people began adding the Messiah into the cloud of deities they enshrouded God within. Jesus was an angel, some suggested. An archangel, others believed.
Eventually, some began to insist Jesus was one of the many emanations of God. Others followed and said he was God the Father, himself, a ridiculous claim for someone who spent his lifetime praying to and claiming to serve this figure.
“The Father is greater than I,” Jesus said.
The men of superstition, who worshiped the gods of mystery, claimed otherwise.
“And in this Trinity, no one is before or after, greater or less than the other,” the Athanasian creed declares, referencing a three-personed deity never mentioned anywhere in scripture.
“The true worshipers shall worship the Father,” Jesus said in the fourth chapter of John, verse twenty-three.
“We worship one God in Trinity,” the Athanasian creed insists.
The resulting confusion would take hundreds of years to mop up before the majority of Christians could come to even a tentative agreement on the nature of God. Even then, conflict would continue to rage, often resulting in public executions through beheading or burning people at the stake. Believers are still left today to wonder at what is called the most important belief in all of Christianity—the Trinity, a doctrine which cannot be explained and cannot be understood. “It is a mystery,” its passionate defenders will insist, apparently unaware the entire arc of the Bible was specifically meant to end all mystery. To reveal truth. To direct mankind’s superstitious tendencies towards God and away from elevating themselves.
Protarians affirm that Yahweh, as he revealed himself to Moses, is God the Father and nothing else. There is nothing like him. He cannot be divided or described by multiple anything—not spirits, gods, or persons. We reject superstition. We deny the nature of the God of the Bible is a mystery which cannot be understood. We reject any belief which depicts God as evil (or good in a way that might appear evil to our tiny minds). We believe God has revealed himself through both scripture and Creation in such a way we can comprehend him as fully as he intended.
Protarians reject the concept of secret knowledge. There are those who have more wisdom than others, and we rejoice at the gifts God has blessed them with. Beyond that, we don’t believe there are secret books of the Bible waiting to be interpreted by special men with special knowledge. We accept the 66 Old and New Testament books of the standard biblical canon. We don’t believe in sacred texts or creeds, nor do we ascribe elevated authority to theologians, apologists, seminarians, or anyone who claims they can interpret the Bible in ways others are unable to.
Similarly, we reject the frequent desire of Christians to make predictions regarding the end times. Descriptions of when this might occur have been insisted on for centuries, with nothing but thousands of embarrassed Christians—and their disgraced followers—to show for it. Because of that, Protarians make no predictions about the timing of the return of Jesus or the end of days. As Christians, it is a significant part of what we all look forward to. We anticipate the return of our Messiah, but acknowledge Jesus admitted even he knew nothing “about that day or hour.” Only the Father knows. Not angels. Not Jesus. Just God the Father, and no on else.
You shall have no other gods before me. Does the first commandment serve any purpose for Christians today? Initially meant to guide Israelites away from the polytheism they had grown accustomed to during their Egyptian captivity, the first commandment, often cited as the most important, might appear no longer necessary. For most Christians, the temptation to worship Ba’al or Moloch in times of trouble is completely gone. For such believers, the prohibition against other gods feels like the relic of a different time.
What if the first commandment was meant to serve against a much bigger danger to Christianity than just the gods of Egypt and Rome? What if it was considered paramount because of a very specific threat that still torments the Christian faith today?
Sorrow of the Godmakers proposes that superstition—specifically human conjecture about the nature of God—has always presented the greater peril. What God put simply, humans would complicate. What the Bible stated clearly, philosophers and theologians would confuse. The one God of the Old Testament was refashioned into a three-personed deity even the world’s greatest pastors cannot explain. Godmakers tells the incredible story of how the first commandment, meant to curb and such conjecture, has suffered unlike any other, essentially put to death by the philosophers and theologians who claim to be its greatest defenders.