I know that, raised in a monotheistic tradition, you will be shocked by this.
God had been talking about “gods” in natural places and forces. All this sounded strange to the ears of someone raised in the Christian tradition: “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” And that Me was not Baal or some idol or clump of trees. The whole Old Testament is one long campaign against polytheism, against “whoring after strange gods.” I did not ask about all that just yet. I had already been told many things that did not fit my preconceptions, so I was ready to go half-way to this polytheistic understanding. But not the whole way.
“Lord, they said not only that this river or tree is sacred, which could indeed be a reflection of Your presence, but that there is an actual god there, a river-god or tree-god. Wasn’t that going too far?”
I know that, raised in a monotheistic tradition, you will be shocked by this, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with that language. There are many gods, they are embodiments or aspects of Me, and that only seems perverse or paradoxical because you insist on logical rules that do not apply to spiritual reality.
It is entirely appropriate to regard the Ganges—or the Mississippi—as a god.
Or goddess in the case of the Ganges, the sacred river in India.
I am present there, and I am present there in so different a way from My other roles that it is entirely appropriate to regard that as an individual god. It is as appropriate to regard that as a distinctive god as it is to regard the physical reality of the river as a distinctive object.
The comparison gave me pause. I had taken it for granted that a river is a thing, a distinctive physical object or phenomenon. But there is some arbitrariness in these dividing lines. Is the river just the water, or the water and the banks? The river may change course from one year to the next. Is it the same river? It is certainly filled with different water. Or is “the river” just a structural idea of whatever water flows within either the same channels or ones that developed from them? Any one of these ideas might be appropriate in a particular context. It might be no more arbitrary to regard the element of divine presence in the river as a separate river god. God was evidently “listening in,” because He responded,
Yes, that’s about right.