Top Dog

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I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. (Psalm 145:1)

God’s a pretty open-handed guy. He shares the creation. He shares blessings. He shares salvation. He even shares his God-nature with us. For the most part, he’s one generous dude.

But there is one thing our indulgent deity definitely does not like to share: worship. It seems that he wants to be the only God in town. Take this subtle missive from Deuteronomy:

Deeply respect God, your God. Serve and worship him exclusively. Back up your promises with his name only. Don’t fool around with other gods, the gods of your neighbors, because God, your God, who is alive among you is a jealous God. Don’t provoke him, igniting his hot anger that would burn you right off the face of the Earth.

God may be compassionate; he may be merciful; he may even be loving. But when it comes to the worship thing, God is a freaking psychopath. He does not want to share the stage with anybody.  In fact, when he runs up against any competition in the worship event, he pretty much goes ga-ga and can end up doing crazy stuff that he sometimes later regrets. Then, again, the competition can bring out some real divine showmanship from time to time.

Take God’s ongoing contest with the Canaanite god Baal. Back in the early days, Baal, was God’s arch-nemesis and chief rival for worship. Baal was a badassed storm god who, like God himself, was associated with thunder and lightning. Baal, however, was also a fertility god who hosted wild orgies as part of his church service. This seeker-sensitive approach gained Baal a ton of new followers, many of whom abandoned God’s old-fashioned, decidedly less exciting format.

As you might expect, this didn’t go over well with God. Due to a previous contract with himself, he couldn’t add orgies (the Temple custodians probably wouldn’t have gone for it anyway). Instead, he challenged Baal to a power match in the ring. Nominating his own prophet, Elijah, as the referee (nice move), God set up the terms (nice move): whoever sends fire from the sky to burn a sacrifice wins.

Baal knew he was screwed from the beginning. He was lover not a fighter. But he had no choice; the promotional materials had already been distributed and Mt. Carmel had been rented for the event. Elijah picked him to go first (nice move) but the best Baal could muster was an orgy-like performance from his priests—fine for church entertainment but not all that effective in the ring.

With a flick of his wrist God barbecued the sacrifice and it was over. When it came to power, he was the heavyweight champion. Baal thought to slink away and soothe the humiliation with an orgy, but Elijah then added insult to injury by declaring that all the loser priests should be killed (nice move). God was back as the undisputed supreme being. Baal went into semi-retirement, for a while making special appearances at county livestock shows before fading from public view.

God, of course, is still in business.

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