No One Can Serve Two Gods At One Time

There is a wonderful article in the Dec. 23-30 issue of America magazine by Ruth Burrows titled Lose Yourself. In it, Burrows talks about Jesus’ “insistence on the necessity of becoming as little as a little child in order to enter into the kingdom of God.” She suggests that to understand what Jesus means, we need to appreciate that when Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven, he is not talking about something that awaits us when we die. Rather, he is talking about the now. And that has implications. She writes:

“Our God reigns! Our God reigns,” we sing lustily enough, but does he? Does God reign fully in his Christian people? Does God reign in our hearts, every day, every hour of the day in every circumstance? To acknowledge God as king, to enthrone God in our hearts means accepting to be spiritually helpless, to be little, unimportant, totally dependent. It is to dethrone the ego. To become as a little child has everything to do with the first and greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God, with your whole heart, with your whole soul and with your whole strength…and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

“I believe in one God,” we say in the Nicene Creed. But in every human heart without exception, God has a rival in the ego. No one can serve two gods at one time. Jesus tells us that it is impossible to see the kingdom, let alone receive or enter it, without a radical renunciation of our natural self-possession and instinctive self-glorification. Given the world as it is, given the way we are, God’s kingdom cannot come without renunciation and suffering.

What came to mind when I read this was the passage in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke where Jesus says that one cannot serve God and mammon. Some people like to translate “mammon” as material wealth or greed. That lets us off the hook far too easily. Much more challenging is to understand that Jesus is telling us that we cannot serve both God and our own ego. It is not just about giving up attachment to material possessions, but surrendering self-interest, giving up attachment to the small egoic self. In this, as in so many ways, Jesus is the model for doing precisely that.

You can read the entirety of the Burrows article here.