Many years ago, in the city of Athens, Greece, people would sit around and discuss matters of the day. (Our modern-day coffee shops might be the closet equivalent. Not those where everyone sits around staring at their smartphones, though. Rather, the warm, friendly ones where friends – new and old – talk and share with each other.)
When visiting Athens, a traveling speaker named Paul delivered a message to these curious people. Some believed him, while others did not; however, he made some key points that are worth reviewing.
We are looking for answers
So Paul, standing before the council, addressed them as follows: “Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.
Acts of the Apostles 17:22-23 NLT
The ancient Greeks had built an altar to a god they didn’t know. My guess is that they didn’t want to offend some deity that they might have missed.
We may not build the same kind of altars as the Athenians did, but we still want to know the truth. Sometimes, we seek “truth” just to win an argument (even if we have to rewrite a Wikipedia article on the fly). Other times, though, we want to know the right answer to the bigger questions: What should I do next? What am I doing here? What is the goal in life?
There is a God, who created everything
“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.
Acts of the Apostles 17:24-26 NLT
If we have questions, Paul offered the Athenians – and us – a foundation to his answer: There is a God who made everything. You may have a different perspective on where everything came from (and if so, we can still get along just fine…unless you’re going to be obnoxious about it). However, in my own studies, I have found that the evidence fits well with a world that was initially created by an all-knowing, all-powerful God.
Given that there is a Creator, there is now a chance that our questions can be answered. Still, even if we can agree that there was a God who created the world, this doesn’t tell us what He is like. In this world, there are countless points of view on the nature of God, so the statement that there was a Creator doesn’t yet answer all of our questions.
God can be found, because He has chosen to be reachable
“His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
Acts of the Apostles 17:27-28 NLT
Let’s face it, a Being who could create the universe wouldn’t necessarily care to talk with puny humans. Why could an all-powerful Creator be interested in little, self-aware mites that run around on a relatively small planet spinning around a medium star in a random galaxy in the universe?
Paul explains that this is not the case, though. The Creator can be found and known (if not fully understood with our finite capabilities). However, there is only one way that this could happen: He chose to reach out to us. It would be ridiculous to think that we could just go and figure Him out, since we are – by definition – the created beings, not the Creator.
God transcends what we know – He can’t be reduced to our own imagery or construction
And since this is true, we shouldn’t think of God as an idol designed by craftsmen from gold or silver or stone.
Acts of the Apostles 17:29 NLT
Just as we must not think so highly of ourselves that we think we could figure out what God is like on our own (if He hadn’t explained it to us), trying to represent God with other things He has created would seem equally arrogant. We may tell others what we think God is like, but without some facts to stand on, all we have is opinions.
We have been shown what we should do next
“God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”
Acts of the Apostles 17:30-31 NLT
The funny thing about truth is that once we understand something, we often have something to do in return. If we find out that the building we’re in is on fire, most of us would feel a social obligation to pull the fire alarm (if we can’t put the fire out on our own). However, even for sociopaths who don’t care about others, when discovering that the building is on fire, there is an imperative to get out – if only for one’s own self-preservation.
Paul explains to his hearers (and to those who read his words today) that God the Creator has expectations of His creation. Once we understand the truth, God calls us to turn to Him – to turn away from our selfish, sinful choices, and to find the relationship that He created us to experience.
If we are honestly looking for truth today, may we find the correct answers to what we are searching for. If Paul’s answers above were interesting, you can read through the entire book of Acts for more answers. Either way, I pray that your search for truth will be a success.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.