In response to a piece I wrote several weeks ago, Can All Myths Be Redeemed?, novelist H.G. Ferguson agrees that “myths can and should be redeemed, but there is a danger here.” Part of that danger, according to Ferguson, is “reproduction, not redemption.” More specifically, reproducing a polytheistic worldview instead of replacing it with a biblical, theistic one. So rather than portraying God as one of many gods, even superior to other gods, the Christian writer should insure that competing and/or inferior gods are non-existent in their fictional tales. In Myths: Redemption, Not Reproduction, H.G. writes:
One thing unifies all pagan mythologies, whether they be Egyptian, Norse, Celtic, Greek, or Slavic (and all of these can be rich sources of story fodder). That one thing is polytheism, many gods, some battling each other, some hopping into bed with each other or taking delights with mortal men and women, ad infinitum et nauseam. Why nauseam? Because polytheism cannot be redeemed and still remain polytheism. A polytheistic story universe does not honor the One who said, “I AM YHWH, AND THERE IS NO OTHER. BESIDES ME THERE IS NO GOD…BEFORE ME THERE WAS NO GOD FORMED, AND THERE WILL BE NONE AFTER ME” (Isaiah 45:5, 43:10).
So if a Christian writer thinks he or she can honor the God Who spoke these Words by creating a universe with many gods in it, even one with a “high god” at the top, and all these beings are called gods and they are indistinguishable from the mythology from which they were drawn, think again. This is reproduction, not redemption. It may sell books and not offend people, but it certainly would offend God. He says so. (Bold mine)
While I’m with the author in believing that polytheism is a flawed worldview and that YHWH is indeed the one true God, I’d like to offer pushback on this notion that fictionalizing a battle between gods is indeed unChristian. On the contrary, I believe that Scripture frames life in terms of a struggle between spiritual powers and that “gods” or godlike entities do indeed vie for our worship and service.
I’m currently reading Michael Heiser’s The Unseen Realm and finding it quite interesting. Heiser’s basic thesis is that God presides over an assembly of divine beings, other elohim. He is the God among gods. While recognizing the existence of other elohim – other gods – Heiser maintains the uniqueness and supremacy of Yahweh.
The verse that was the paradigm-shifting springboard for Heiser was Ps. 82:1 (this quote being from the NIV):
God presides in the great assembly;
he renders judgment among the “gods”
Heiser notes that in the Hebrew, the word elohim (the word commonly translated as “God”) occurs twice in this verse, first in reference to Jehovah and then in reference other deities. Rather than attempt a detailed summation of the book, let me quote from this review from Benjamin J. Noonan at The Gospel Coalition;
Heiser’s theology of the unseen world is founded on the premise that God presides over a council of lesser divine beings (cf. Ps 82). The members of this “divine council” (pp. 25–27) accomplish God’s purposes in the supernatural realm, therefore functioning as the heavenly counterpart of humanity on earth. Although he refers to these divine beings as “gods” (elohim in Hebrew), Heiser rejects the notion that God is subordinate or co-equal with them in the polytheistic sense and instead contends that “there is no warrant for concluding that plural elohim produces a pantheon of interchangeable deities” (p. 31).
Despite their noble status, some members of the divine council rebelled against God. Heiser argues that Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 describe the self-exaltation of one of the divine council’s members. This lesser divine being—identified by the New Testament as Satan—corrupted Adam and Eve as the serpent. God, in turn, declared war between the offspring of the serpent and humanity (Gen 3:15). This conflict subsequently manifests itself in two key events from the Primeval History that lay the foundation for the rest of the biblical metanarrative.
The first key event is the “sons of God” episode of Genesis 6:1–4. Heiser rejects the idea that the “sons of God” are mere humans and instead argues they are members of the divine council who, like Satan, rebelled against God. Instead, the Nephilim or “giants”—analogous to the apkallu of Mesopotamian tradition—were their semi-divine offspring. Like the fallen divine council members that engendered them, these “giants” posed a serious threat to the reestablishment of God’s Edenic rule.
The second key event is God’s judgment at the Tower of Babel. Heiser interprets Genesis 11:1–9 in light of Deuteronomy 32:8–9 (as preserved in the Septuagint and Dead Sea Scrolls rather than the Masoretic Text), contending that at the Tower of Babel, God chose Israel for himself but disinherited the other nations, placing them under the authority of his divine council. Many of those divine beings, however, became corrupt and led the nations they supervised astray in idolatry. Heiser refers to God’s disinheritance of the nations at the Tower of Babel as the “Deuteronomy 32 Worldview” (pp. 113–15).
It’s a fascinating perspective, isn’t it? In this approach, much of God’s redemptive work is indeed a battle between gods, corrupt spiritual superpowers intent on usurping YHWH’s rule and leading the nations astray. Take for example, the rescue of Israel from the land of Egypt was a battle between gods. In the section Yahweh and the Gods of Egypt, Heiser writes:
Pharaoh was the son of Re. Israel was explicitly called the son of Yahweh in the confrontation with Pharaoh (Exod 4:23; cf. Hos 11:1). Yahweh and his son would defeat the high god of Egypt and his son. God against god, son against son, imager against imager. In that context, the plagues are spiritual warfare. Yahweh will undo the cosmic order, throwing the land into chaos.
Re was the Egyptian god sometimes called Ra, god of the sun. Pharaoh was viewed as a “son of Ra” while Moses was viewed as the “son of YHWH.” The confrontation was more than just a standoff between earthly leaders, but a clash between spiritual powers for cosmic geography. In reality, the Old Testament and even the New Testament are rife with references to other gods, or a plurality of gods (angels or archons, according to the Christian and Gnostic traditions). It’s the basis for which many intercessors and missiologists have concluded that territorial spirits (like the Prince of Persia mentioned by the angel in Daniel 10) do in fact hold sway over large swaths of culture and geography.
Interestingly, this was the exact type of world I framed in my very first novel The Resurrection. It’s also one of the reasons I hedge against Ferguson’s suggestion that “creating a universe with many gods in it, even one with a ‘high god’ at the top” is categorically unbiblical. The thumbnail plot behind The Resurrection is that a bodily resurrection inexplicably occurs in the small coastal town of Stonetree, signaling a clash between YHWH and a bloodthirsty MesoAmerican deity. The antag is Benjamin Keen, a professor of anthropology who is charting the gathering of Pantheons, invisible superpowers, across the globe. In this scene, Keen reveals the spiritual map to his nemesis Pastor Ian Clark, who has himself fallen into the grips of the local “spirit.”
“It’s been years in the making.” Keen stroked his frayed goatee, eyes fixated on the map. “Thus far, we’ve successfully diagrammed our Time Zone: California, Nevada, the Pacific Northwest. It won’t be long before the entire nation is mapped.”
Clark stopped seven to eight feet away, glanced at Keen, then the dappled blueprint. Major metropolitan areas—Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Reno, Portland, Seattle—dotted the map in bold block letters. Below each city was a corresponding name. Abaddon, Moloch, Mammon, Gorgon, Belial, Beelzebub, and then in suburban areas, clusters of titles speckled the map: Succubus, Eligoth, Lilith and Leviathan. Throughout were spherical symbols, slashes, unopened eyes and watery forks. Clark’s mind swooned at the onrushing possibilities.
“The Pantheons. We’ve identified them, named them,” Keen whispered reverently. “And in the naming there is power.”
Clark looked from the map to Keen.
The Professor’s eyes were glazed with ecstatic delight. “They are the Watchers, the Ancient Ones. The Mesos are a drop in the bucket, one unit in a massive invisible army. Stonetree is just the tip of the iceberg, Ian.”
Clark stepped back in blank astonishment, his mind fighting for rational footing.
Keen moved to the map and traced his bony fingers atop it. “This is our mission, my boy— Orbis of Scientia —to prepare their coming, the circle of their knowledge. The warlocks and druids, their petty stone rings and incantations are just a shadow. We have discerned a plan much bigger, powers much greater than any man has conceived. Imagine, a society governed by superior intellects. Your god is just one of millions, a pathetic dying entity on the bottom rung of the evolutionary food chain.”
Of course, I don’t believe that Clark’s god was “just one of millions, a pathetic dying entity on the bottom rung of the evolutionary food chain.” But, like Moses before Pharaoh, Clark was responsible to take back ground that those before him had ceded. Yes. I received some pushback from reviewers concerning this worldview. Like Ferguson, some viewed the idea of “cosmic geography” and God battling other gods for turf as unbiblical. Nevertheless, this idea seems central to the spiritual struggle framed throughout Scripture. Yes, the Kingdom of Heaven has arrived, Christ is seated above all principalities and powers. However, the war for the souls of men goes on, culminating finally the Last Great War and the judgment of the nations.
All that to say, it’s one thing to portray polytheism — countless gods with equal power — as a viable worldview; it’s another to portray spiritual superpowers vying against YHWH for supremacy, seeking to protect their turf, while binding the souls of the lost in delusion and resisting the advances of the sons and daughters of God. This view, I believe, is very much biblical. Of course, God wins. But it’s the struggle, the casualties, and the enduring hope we have which should be central to our novels.