Why Abraham Believed In One God
“Where did Abraham get the idea
there was only one God?”
It’s not a surprising question given the polytheistic nature of today’s religious scene. Coming to belief for the modern individual is like shopping for just the right outfit only worse. There are many different gods to choose from and once you settle on one you still must wade through the many different concepts popularized in the name of the one you choose. You’ld need a guru to lead you along. Trying to keep track of it all is near impossible.
But did Abraham have the same problem? Are we to assume he also faced an endless list of gods? The world was polytheistic in Abraham’s day for sure but rather than ask where Abraham got the idea of one God, a better question might be, “where did the multiple-god idea originate in the first place?” We usually assume that what we observe today was always true.
For example, where would Abraham, in the dawn of human history, get the idea there was only one God? Did Abraham coin the concept or did monotheists predate him and pass the idea down? The evidence indicates the latter is true.
It was one God who spoke to Adam and Eve. It was the same God who accepted Abel’s offering and confronted Cain, who took Enoch, who spoke to Noah and led Abraham to the land of Canaan. So there was no reason for Abraham to expect more than one God. Only an overactive imagination would lead him to think otherwise.
And apart from what Abraham’s ancestors experienced and believed, is there anything in nature, in his day or ours, that suggests polytheism is true? Is there any reason to believe that the control of a universe too vast to measure could be managed better by disparate, sometimes antagonistic multiple gods rather than by one?
Since Adam and Eve, and those who came after only dealt with one God, maybe we should see polytheism as the outgrowth of:
- So many different people…
- Over so many different millennia…
- Ignorantly believing in the one central idea, God…
- And in an attempt to define Him…
- Voicing their individual opinions on how they perceive Him to be…
It creates a buildup of ideas that can’t all fit comfortably into a one God frame and the easy way out is to suggest there must be several. But that wasn’t the case in Abraham’s day. There were different opinions about God, yes, but there were very few and they hadn’t been published, institutionalized or traditionalized like the gods of today.
The one central idea in the largest number of religions, however, is “God.” When you read through the various versions you discover that the differences are the result of humans trying to interpret the gray areas, things we can’t be sure of. But God, the Supreme Being, is central. Unfortunately, we like playing with the fringes, even people who believe the Bible, but that gives rise to many strange beliefs that can’t be correlated so the diplomatic solution is polytheism.
Abraham believed in one God because it was the logical assumption. He didn’t need to reject polytheism. It wasn’t an established tradition in his day. There was much about God he didn’t know but the things he did know insulated him from errant ideas to the contrary.
We can’t know everything about God since He is a bit too complex for human comprehension to absorb – e.g. the trinity – but we can know more than Abraham. We have all the revealed knowledge in the Bible (Abraham had only a few chapters) and a considerable amount of insight from nature, God’s handiwork.
In The Reason For God Timothy Keller confronts head on the questions that skeptics are asking, yet without a confrontational style. It is sensible, rational and engaging. A must read for every thinking person, Christian or not. His approach to hard questions about God not only provides answers it encourages us to develop analytical thinking skills. Also available is a DVD with discussion guide for small group interaction.