Gods in Disguise
Listen to “Gods in Disguise” by Fred Smith
It was not even a major miracle. No one walked on water or fed five thousand. As far as miracles go it was almost incidental. A nameless crippled man healed. But, in that city, it was a sign of something far more remarkable. It was an opportunity to redress an old offense to the gods. Years before, the story went, Zeus and Hermes disguised as poor travelers arrived in town and were made unwelcome. In response, they destroyed the city and all the people with the exception of one humble couple. Now, many years later, the descendants of those who had made that fatal mistake took the miracle to mean they were being visited again by the two gods. What else could it be? This time they would do it right and so they shouted, “The gods have come down to us in human form” while bringing bulls and wreaths to sacrifice to these returning gods.
We all see the world through a window, a filter, a set of categories by which we make sense out of life. We see and hear what we are prepared and predisposed to hear and see. Multiple tests have confirmed this. Once we see a pattern it is hard to unsee it. When we get new information we sort through it and fit it into categories that already exist. That is why our minds sometimes autocorrect words that are misplaced or missing in a sentence. We have formulae that help us like, “I before E except after C” but then there are the words science, neighbor, conscience, and society. No rules or categories are perfect.
We do the same with truth for which we have no existing categories. We squeeze and contort it into an existing one. Sometimes we simply baptize old customs – like the Church did with saints – and adopt them as means to keep the old ways in a new form. I believe that is why Jacob’s wife, Rachel, stole her father’s household gods. It was the certainty and comfort of the past she wanted to take with her into an uncertain future. We need old things for the new to make sense. We want new ideas to be an extension of the old. We have to make them familiar and consistent so we reshape them to fit our worldview – our paradigm. All of us, individually and collectively, have mental structures that help us make a “plot” out of our lives.
That is exactly what the crowd did here. They were easily able to accept an extraordinary and supernatural truth (God has become a man) but they had to fit it into their existing categories. They were not blind or unbelieving. They were simply prepared for the truth they were expecting. They wanted to see gods…and they did.
The people were not unwilling to hear about gods becoming men. On the contrary, they were completely open to that – but in the wrong frame of mind. In the same way, the Jews had been prepared for the coming of the Messiah for centuries but when he came they could not fit him into their categories. He did not match their expectations. They could not reframe.
The Greeks were prepared for wisdom but it came in a way they could not recognize. It came as weakness and, as Paul says, foolishness. All of us are open to religion and wisdom that gives us some advantage but not for suffering or foolishness, are we? We are prepared for what makes life easier – not harder. More control – not less. Something that explains everything and makes it simple but not raising questions even more puzzling.
Why spend our time living off the last revelation of God and waiting for Him to repeat it over and over again? Instead, we could be getting ready for the next stage of faith. Many of us want what we call revival – to recapture the old feelings and experiences. Some of us even desire gods so we make them out of other men. We want to generate and renew what happened years ago or as a friend put it, “Let’s do yesterday, only better. Let’s recapture the time when we were the majority. Let’s fit what is new in the old categories. Let’s combine what is unfamiliar with something we recognize. Let’s carry our old gods with us.”
Living off the residue and categories of the last revelation will make us incapable of seeing the next. Oswald Chambers says, “Beware of making a fetish of consistency to your convictions instead of being devoted to God. It is easier to be a fanatic than a faithful soul.”
The crowd at Lystra was so determined to welcome gods and prepared not to repeat their last mistake with Zeus and Hermes that they missed the good news entirely. What was familiar caused them to miss what was extraordinary and truly miraculous.
*Artwork: “David and Jonathan” by Mary McCleary
An excerpt from Where The Light Divides