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St. Paul and the unknown god

The unknown god of Greece was our god to Paul
The unknown god of Greece was our god to Paul

During St. Paul's journey through Greece, an amazing interaction with the inhabitants of Athens took place in a meeting place called the Aeropagus. It deals with his unmatched talent for relating the Gospel to any faith--something that all Christians should know. The Christian-or-else mentality has done more to destroy Christianity in America than the combined efforts of all the atheists of the Twentieth Century.

Paul's experience in Aeropagus is recorded in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles and it goes like this:

"Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: 'People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship, and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

“'The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, We are his offspring.

“'Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.'” [Acts 17:22-31]

The passage goes on to report some of the reactions to Paul's speech and then into other material. So here we can see the source of Paul's sense of urgency: his conviction that the return of Christ and the coming of the Kingdom were imminent. Since his time we have not yet seen these events, but Paul's acuity in building on the Greek idea that there may be things in heaven and earth that are not dreamt of in our philosophy are as relevant today as they were on the very day he spoke before the Athenians.

We also see that Paul held that God does not compel belief by proving himself to human beings. Think about that: any experience that you or I might have may be utterly convincing to us, but to the next person to whom we speak of it, it is nothing more than hearsay. The logical extension of this is God making appearances all over the world so that every human being will be convinced, which is beneath his dignity, if I may put it that way.

We get angry at God because he does not intervene to prevent acts of violence, to feed the hungry and to stop wars, as if only God could do that and we are not responsible for taking care of this world and those who inhabit it. Right now the President is announcing the draw-down of the war in Afghanistan and he is receiving unrelenting criticism from politicians, including Arizona's senators, who want more war instead of less.

Paul was speaking in the place where the council of Athens met. There he was very likely to encounter people with power as well as common people; many of them, says the Book of Acts, were interested and wanted to hear more about Paul's characterization of the Unknown God.

Perhaps some of us can go no farther than acknowledge that there might well be an Unknown God; that is a good start as far as I am concerned, since from there we can go on to explore what the characteristics of deity must be in order for us to make the transition from unknown to known--from a mystery to a Person and finally to a man who knew him so well that his vision of the God of the Jews was so focused that he could pass it on for twenty-one centuries (so far).

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