22 Paul stood up in the middle of the council on Mars Hill and said, “People of Athens, I see that you are very religious in every way. 23 As I was walking through town and carefully observing your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: ‘To an unknown God.’ What you worship as unknown, I now proclaim to you. 24 God, who made the world and everything in it, is Lord of heaven and earth. He doesn’t live in temples made with human hands. 25 Nor is God served by human hands, as though he needed something, since he is the one who gives life, breath, and everything else. 26 From one person God created every human nation to live on the whole earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God made the nations so they would seek him, perhaps even reach out to him and find him. In fact, God isn’t far away from any of us. 28 In God we live, move, and exist. As some of your own poets said, ‘We are his offspring.’
29 “Therefore, as God’s offspring, we have no need to imagine that the divine being is like a gold, silver, or stone image made by human skill and thought. 30 God overlooks ignorance of these things in times past, but now directs everyone everywhere to change their hearts and lives. 31 This is because God has set a day when he intends to judge the world justly by a man he has appointed. God has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
Thoughts on the passage:
What did it feel like the first time you feel in love? First of all, how did you even know you were in love? I remember my first crush in grade school and trying to sort out what these new feelings were and what they meant. I understood the concept of being in love and I decide that this idea I had heard about connected to the feelings that I had. Ultimately, when it comes to love, all we can do is assume that what we are feeling is, or is not, love. There is not some test we can take or anything that can prove we are in love. We just assume that the thing we are feeling connects to this idea we have of what others talk about as being in love.
Moving past that first time you felt love, think about all the times you have felt love. Sometimes love starts early in a relationship. Sometimes you might even think you are in love before the relationship begins. Other times love is something that grows steadily during the relationship. Even when we think we are in love, we can be wrong. What we first thought of as love might turn out be infatuation or something else. It is only once we start to explore the relationship and the feelings that we discover if what we are feeling really is love or something less.
Now think for a moment about God. When was the first time you felt like you experienced God? How would you describe that experience? Is it possible that what you experienced was not God but something else? When it comes to knowing God, there is always this chance that what we are experiencing is not what we think it is.
Paul when he is traveling in Athens encounters an altar to an unknown God. He uses it as a teaching tool for the Greeks, helping them to know what they have experienced but do not have a name for is really something far greater, the one true God. He understands that faith in God starts first with this unknown feeling that we have of something greater than ourselves. We can give words and a name to it because others help us to understand what is out there.
One of the line’s that Paul uses that I really like is this, “God made the nations so they would seek him, perhaps even reach out to him and find him.” Paul is certain that God made us to seek God. What is less certain is whether or not we will find God. That at least is comforting to me. I strive to understand and know God better each day, but it is reassuring to hear that I might not always succeed in doing so.
While Paul gives us this reassurance, he also challenges us to something more. The time of worshipping before imperfect idols is passing. We cannot be satisfied with altars to an unknown God. The reason for that is that now we have had a chance to experience the real presence of God. In Christ’s life and ministry, we have seen God in a new and powerful way. We do not need imperfect images when we have a perfect image in Jesus.
Go back again to your experience of God. Is it grounded in something solid and of this world? My experiences of God are experiences of a being that transcends this world. I might often find God in the same place (like the sanctuary of Hamline Church where I grew up), but my experience is not that God is in this place, but simple that in this place I encounter God. I know that God is not limited to a physical place.
It is natural to want to trap God in an object or a place. We are physical people and it is nice to have something to point to or touch to help us know that God is there. We need to let go of those needs. We need to seek to understand God more fully than just that. To do that we need to let go of the objects we use to trap God. We believe in a living God, who moves among us. Following that God means having faith that we are always going to be seeking but not always knowing. It means trusting that there is always an unknown element to God. Whenever we struggle to know God we can look inside ourselves, because in our hearts we will find God.
Questions to Ponder:
When is a time that you experienced God’s presence in your life?
How have you struggled to know and understand God?
What do you do when you need to feel close to God?
God, you are so hard at time to know. We want you to be rooted in a fixed spot so we can always find you and yet you move amongst us in strange and mysterious ways. Help us open our eyes to see you and our hearts to feel your presence with us. Give us the courage to always seek you, knowing that sometimes we will not find you. Help us to remember that the best place to find you is in our hearts. Amen