The world is constantly changing. Nations rise and fall, new political leaders take power, customs wane or shift, culture morphs into something new. Change can be exciting but it also usually means that something is lost: morality, beliefs, traditions, etc. The old West is a perfect example of this. Take a now-bustling metropolis like Los Angeles. It started out as a lonely little town once, surrounded by uncultivated land. To its east lay vast deserts and mountains, peopled only by the Native Americans who knew how to survive there.
As I wrapped up reading The Lonesome Gods, Louis L’Amour’s longest and most ambitious novel, the weight of change was impressed upon me. Part of that is due to L’Amour’s focus on the evolution of society in the 1830s and ’40s. He subtly shows us the development of Los Angeles from a small, rowdy town to a young city spreading its wings. This growth is couched in the story of Johannes Verne, a young boy whose father is murdered by his Spanish grandfather over their marriage that he didn’t approve.
In a long, complicated narrative we watch Johannes grow quickly through hardship on a wagon ride west, fall in love with the desert, survive in the desert, develop his skills as a young man, and overcome the various adversities besetting him. Particularly as he spends time in the vast Californian wilderness, he learns the ways and beliefs of the Natives there, including the “lonesome gods” who were once worshipped by their ancestors but are now forgotten. Verne tries to pay tribute to and respect these “gods” when he can, feeling sorry for their lonely existence and wanderings.
Of course, L’Amour’s point in highlighting these defunct deities is to stir up our sympathy for the culture now lost due to the change and progress brought on by the white men. But stepping outside the book and looking at it, the fact that these gods are forgotten shows that they were never really gods at all. They couldn’t survive the changing of the times; there was nothing lasting about them.
Contrast this with the Christian God. The Bible shows Him being worshipped since the beginning of time, carried on by the people of Israel, and now the church raises His banner. He hasn’t survived the change of just one culture but many. The Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans couldn’t stamp out His presence. Persecution couldn’t silence the church’s witness and spread. While time has ravaged and brought down several kings, empires, and countries, the gospel of Jesus Christ remains and will continue on until the end of all things.
The “lonesome gods” may be doomed to wander endlessly through the desert, but the one true God will always have a remnant, strong and resilient, to proclaim His Name. He is the Deity that will never fade away with history.