We are religious beings. We constantly seek, search, even grope for God. Judaic-Christianity claims we are Spiritual beings who are lost until we find ourselves in God! [A Christian expression of this idea is found in a spiritual, “This World Is not My Home.” We are not at home in this world because Heaven is our home.]
At least this is what St. Paul preached, or at least that is how I view his sermon on Mars Hill in front of the Areopagus (a kind of philosopher’s court that questioned the credentials of those who argued their ideas in Athens.)
Paul would be a controversial figure set down in any culture and any age. He held a truth in his heart that he knew was placed there by God. It was not a belief system that his disciplined legal intellect could have ever accepted on its own. In fact, Paul considered his CONVERSION to Christianity a miracle! He held that FAITH itself was a gift from God; that humanity was incapable of coming to believe in the GRACE OF GOD that Jesus revealed through his crucifixion and resurrection.
I am in full agreement with Paul on this.
There are some other ideas of his and the other Apostles that have been rejected by the majority of Christians through the years. Read 1 Peter 2:18 and consider the writer’s advice to slaves! We have been slow to interpret Christ’s life and actions in ways that clearly reflect God’s will, but eventually we get to the truth. We do not arrive at the truth over night. It takes years and sometimes hundreds of years, even thousands! Then we are just as likely to forget revelations and fall back into old patterns, that when followed, deny the abundance of life Christ promised, to huge segments of the population. It is as if we are fearful of losing something sacred when we accept that ALL are created equal by the God whom we claim to worship. Is there any way that we can deny that every human being ever created in the image of God is not loved by God? Is there any way to claim that Christ’s death was not to be a sacrifice for everyone?
This passage in Acts enlightens the reader to the importance of CRITICAL THINKING as well as the acceptance of our inability to overcome SIN without the indwelling of God in our hearts. ACCEPT AND OVERCOME! Paul saw an altar in the city of Athens inscribed, “To and unknown god.” I have always thought that this was the Athenian way of hedging their bets. There were so many gods, perhaps, there was one that remained hidden, and perhaps that was the one that watched over the “lottery,” or “guarantor of a date on Saturday night!” This unknown god didn’t have a temple, so Paul used it as a segue into speaking about the God who had struck him down on the road to Damascus and revealed Jesus as The Son of God, and filled him with the Holy Spirit. He revealed that the god they didn’t know was the Creator God who made the world and everything in it, who is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is God served by human hands, because he didn’t need anything! (God is complete). He then takes those philosophers on a very brief tour of Jewish theology adding the idea that God plotted the times of human’s existence and the boundaries of the places they lived SO THAT THEY WOULD SEARCH FOR GOD, AND PERHAPS GROPE FOR HIM AND FIND HIM.
Have you ever groped for God? Have you ever found it difficult to sense the loving presence of God when you have been confused or desperate for direction? Have you ever questioned if you have chosen the TRUE GOD to worship in the RIGHT WAY?
There are as many scenarios for us to question life as there are humans on this planet at any given time. We are a questioning species as well as spiritual beings. Look at how so many are questioning the efficacy of social distancing. We question almost everything, unless it is too good to be true! And then we swallow it whole!
But Paul, playing on the idea that the unknown god referred to in Athens was an indication (in my opinion) of an unavailable god – distant – truly UNKNOWN! Paul counters this, since he is connecting their idea of the unknown god to the TRUE GOD, in which he believed. He said, sincerely, “Indeed God is not far from each one of us. For “In him we live and move and have our being.”
Paul is letting the Athenians know that, whether they realize it or not, they are God’s children. Each and everyone of us is a PRECIOUS AND BELOVED CHILD OF GOD.
Does that resonate with you? Do you accept the TRUTH that Paul offered, that God is always near, and indeed can/may be experienced as we live, and move and breathe? Has that been your experience?
Perhaps you believe that God is only near those who keep his commandments and pray morning, noon, and night, and never miss worship, and have accepted Jesus into their hearts or perhaps that nearness is reserved for those who have been “born again.”
Perhaps you don’t want God to be near when you are doing “just fine” on your own. Who wants God looking over their shoulder every minute? Then we couldn’t abuse another, even in our minds! We couldn’t hate or tell someone what they can do or where they can go. Many people feel that their freedom is restricted by an “ever near God.”
I don’t. I believe that we do not know the true meaning of life without considering that we DO “live and move and have our being in God.”
[St. Paul, in another of his writings said that life before Christ for him was garbage compared to his present experiences. Know that before Christ he didn’t see his life as garbage. He was like the philosophers he was talking to in Athens. He thought he knew the meaning of life and was satisfied with being a highly educated, tent making, policeman for God, arresting Christians and taking them to trial and perhaps watching them die by stoning. He felt he had all the answers, but that was because he was not asking the right questions, like, “Why do you persecute the TRUTH?” Or to be more literal: “ SAUL, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Do you feel that you have life pretty much under control? Are you like the Athenians and Paul before his conversion – Self-Satisfied, projecting to the world that You know the truth?
There was another like those philosophers and Paul was before his humbling conversion. His name was C.S.Lewis; a man whose writings were instrumental in my spiritual journey. C.S.Lewis, the Irish writer responsible for Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, and The Narnia Chronicles among the 30 books he published, gave up on God at the age of 15. Like many of us in our adolescence, when we feel we have had enough education and experience to make up our own minds and reject service to a God we are not sure is real. “He had lost his mother at the age of 9 and after just a few months at University when he was 17, he was shipped to France to fight in WW1. His experience of the horror of war, along with the loss of his mother and his unhappiness in school, were the basis of his pessimism and atheism. This ATHEIST harbored the same resentments that many young people experience and hold onto into adulthood. He was very angry with God for two reasons. 1. for not existing, and 2. For creating a world. He wrote, paraphrasing poetically Lucretius, “Had God designed the world, it would not be a world so frail and faulty as we see.”
But like most of us, Lewis was a man who questioned everything. In his questioning he was persuaded by J.R.R. TOLKIEN. Author of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, after years of discussions with this devout Roman Catholic. And at the age of 31, he came to accept the existence of God, and then after two more years, to accept Jesus and Christianity. He claims that he was brought into Christianity like a prodigy, “kicking and struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape.” (sounds like the testimony of a member of A.A.) his, Surprised by Joy is an account of the difference he experienced in life after coming back to God and Christ!
You may think you have a handle on life and it cannot throw anything at you that you can’t handle on your own. (I believe this is the sub-conscious manifesto of Americans). THAT’S O.K. AS FAR AS IT GOES. But that begs the question. You will never know the Joy of life that can surprise you when you accept yourself as Precious to God and God takes up residence in your soul, fulfilling every true feeling meant to be felt by the Children of God. Paul witnessed to those men and women in Athens the futility of giving the power of God to things made out of gold and silver – idols! Paul claimed that God had overlooked our ignorance for thousands of years; but in the fullness of time, He entered into history through Jesus whose life has become the TRUTH against which everything in life is now judged. God has assured us that God was IN CHRIST because God raised him from the dead!
The mention of the resurrection from the dead was too much for most of those listening. They scoffed him! The passage goes on to say that others came back to hear him again and some became BELIEVERS. Dionysius, an Areopagite (member of the court for philosophers) and a woman Damaris, and others.
In so many ways, believing in Christ and experiencing God’s Holy Spirit is like a Resurrection. It is a NEW life! It is a way into expressing your life in ways that will give you a joy beyond anything you have ever known. It will enable you to approach every idea with GRACE rather than judgment. And it is a gift not of our own making, but it IS a gift we need to accept as the TRUTH to live by in order for it to bring the image of God in which you have been created to life!
In this very trying time, know that God is ever near. So, fear not and let God’s Holy Spirit lead you to be graceful to yourself and others, as our Lord Jesus Christ was and remains graceful.