Claiming monotheism is theology. It’s an intellectual position derived from a very non-intellectual faith. Henotheism is not theology; it’s a practice. In case that’s a new word to you, I’ll save you from looking it up: henotheism is the belief that, while there may be other deities out there, I am accountable to the God who called me, not those others.
Keep in mind the philosophical foundation on which this all stands. My epistemology is not based on reason and logic, but on conviction. You can say whatever you want to about that, but I walk by my convictions. I am what I am in this place and time, and all I really have is my faith, experiences and perceptions (this is closely related to phenomenology). I don’t trust my perceptions all that much and I find them variable. I regard faith or conviction as a higher faculty superior to my mental abilities, something far more consistent and trustworthy. I believe the very living Presence of my God is there in my convictions, and nothing my senses and logic tell me can be allowed to argue with that divine Presence.
So my mind and my ego are servants of this higher power that speaks from my convictions. In the most blunt terms, the whole world is going to Hell, but I’m following my convictions. If you share some sufficient measure of my convictions (“sufficient” cannot be defined), then I’ll listen to you. If you present too much that is contrary to my convictions, then I will not listen to you. The only way you can make yourself significant to me is by expressing a common faith through words and conduct.
So we establish covenants of words that represent covenants in our hearts, shared convictions and faith. We agree to work together and treat each other as covenant family. If you get too far away from that common understanding, your status as family weakens. At some point, you aren’t family. Sure, it’s possible to cross back and forth over that line, but it’s not a matter of you watching that line. From where I stand, it’s a matter of you obeying your own convictions, even when you may actually be obeying something else. I give you credit for obeying your convictions because I can’t always tell what’s going on inside of you. But I have to set boundaries or I’m not obeying my own convictions. I’ll treat you accordingly.
Let me take a moment to define shalom. It’s not the same concept as the English term “peace.” The latter is loaded with baggage that doesn’t belong to shalom, which is specifically “peace with God.” Peace with God requires faith, and total and unreserved commitment to God. And with His divine favor comes a lot of blessings that are visible to outsiders. It starts with the idea of moral stability. If you apply it to a covenant family, it’s also social stability. It includes reasonable prosperity, health and safety. Those are not absolutes, but the person of faith can recognize them for what they are in God’s promises. But shalom equates to clinging faithfully to the applicable covenant.
If you are a faith covenant family member, I’ll sacrifice on your behalf. I’ll encourage you to return the favor. As the covenant family grows, the priority shifts to the whole family, not just a matter of you and me. The only way a family can grow like that is if other folks see a powerful shalom rising from our shared faith. God will draw them into the family.
By no means is our family the only one God blesses. And it may well be that there are other gods out there, but we need only a very clear sense of who our God is. With that, we need a clear shared sense of what He requires of us. If you aren’t part of my faith family, I don’t have to know what He requires of you, or what other deities may require of you. That’s your problem. Nor am I obliged to give you more than the amount of room to operate near me that my God tells me through my convictions. If you transgress too closely on the boundaries drawn by my convictions, I’ll be obliged to take some action to protect whatever shalom I have and share with others.
There will be time and place to compare notes on these things, but at some point your pursuit of your convictions will separate us. Separation does not imply sin in either of us, only a painful reality of living in a fallen world. The more we share, the harder it is to let go, but I will obey my God and let you go where you feel led by your convictions that call you away from my family.
But if your convictions depart and you stick around to make trouble, I’ll obey my convictions and try to deal with you. The symbolism of Genesis 9 tells me that I am obliged to assess just how much of a problem you are, and what remedy God demands. What does it take to overcome your disturbance? That’s up to you, but God Himself demands I be ready to take your life if necessary. “Whoever sheds man’s blood” in that context means preying on people, instead of the creatures God granted for our needs. In case you don’t quite grasp this: The Covenant of Noah is part of the Covenant of Christ, a critical element in Biblical Law.
Indeed, the Covenant of Noah is now the single incontrovertible Law Covenant for all the world until Christ’s Return. It does not depend on whether those covered under that covenant — all of humanity — consciously assent to it. I embrace it; that’s the grounds for acting. If any human, or group of humans, on this earth transgress my shalom sufficiently and God moves me by my convictions, I will then be obliged to kill as many as it takes to stop that threat.
It may well be that I am supposed to just let it all go to Hell. I’ll know that in my convictions; I’m prepared to take that path. But to the degree the Lord through my convictions speaks of resistance to the threat, I’ll fight. It has nothing to do with whether I expect to win or succeed. It has nothing to do with whether it makes things better or even more unstable. It has everything to do with my convictions. So if you and your group plan to do things with my fleshly existence, you take your chances whether God will move me to respond in ways you don’t like. And in that moment, I don’t give a damn what you think. Your thoughts and feelings and convictions aren’t my problem. Your intrusion into my shalom are the problem.
And I don’t give a damn what deities you answer to, or even if you claim it’s the same God. You have zero authority to inspect and adjust my beliefs, and you sure as Hell aren’t the God who breathes life into my convictions. I’m not going to poke around in your beliefs, either. I’ll share mine and compare notes under certain conditions, but I’m not going judge your soul, only the actions you take that impinge on my sense of mission and calling.
On top of all this, since part of my divine calling is as prophet, I may well be driven to verbally harass you about what my God has revealed about your conduct. Again, I don’t give a damn how you feel about it. Granted, there is a very high probability I won’t intrude on your personal space. If you claim to hold reins of authority over others, you are fair game for sure, but my convictions won’t permit me to aggress on your personal domain, virtual or real. Either way, I most certainly will deliver my burden from God and your feelings, beliefs of convictions don’t matter at all.
That is, unless you are part of my covenant family. Then I am required to stop and consider your sensibilities, because I’ll be in a position to know something about them. And I’ll be obliged to leverage that kinship as best I can to seek delivery of that message. That applies to all those other things I do as the shepherd of my flock. I’ll try to operate on the basis of kinship and tenderness that isn’t necessarily required with outsiders.
And the same goes with Noah’s Covenant. If my government proclaims the Covenant of Noah, it binds me in a lot of ways. If they don’t claim it, then that business of “don’t curse the king” no longer applies. Without the Covenant protection, no government is valid before God. Some are useful to Him, but none of them are protected. All rulers outside the Covenant of Noah are accursed already by default.
On the other hand, it is my compassion on God’s creation that moves me to kill or heal or whatever I feel obliged to do. But those who share my covenant get a special consideration. The human race at large has no claim on me without embracing a covenant. Those who do nothing to fellowship in the covenant, or whose words and actions convince me they no longer wish to share a covenant, don’t get that same treatment. And there is a sliding scale on that as to how close they want to be, just as there is a sliding scale on the quality of mercy and grace I give accordingly. Furthermore, your position can slide back and forth moment by moment. You get to choose. Even if you aren’t aware of how it works, that’s how I am obliged to operate.
So you tell me: Where are you on that sliding scale?