Sunday, September 2, 2012

THE UNKNOWN GOD

 

"Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.” – Acts 17:22

Have you ever had someone explain something to you that you were completely unable to grasp?  I’ve had a lot of that going on lately.  I’ve been assigned to a new client at work who has highly customized software.  Although it is the same software package I code in daily, the customizations are so vast that sometimes it feels like a different package. I often feel like I’ve started reading a story in the middle of the book.  The terms used, the descriptions of problems, they all seem to be in some language I’ve never heard.

But God never does anything without a purpose.  I do believe His divine purpose in letting me feel ignorant for weeks now has been to show me how someone who has never hear God’s word feels when they read my blogs, or any Christian book, poster, t-shirt, or His word.  We often talk about faith, the blood of Jesus covering us, the gift of the Holy Spirit, God’s healing power through faith, and we pray to an unseen God, and have a communion service where we eat tiny pieces of bread and drink tiny drinks of juice.  It must seem like we are crazy people speaking a different language and living a in different world than they do!

God never brings you to a realization like this without giving you a solution.  The solution is simple.  We have to start with what they know and build on that.  With the client I’ve been given I’ve had to stop looking at the customizations themselves, and see it as things I do know; tables, fields, forms, functions, it’s all familiar in some way with what is standard for the software.  From there I have a foundation to build upon.

Paul came to this same understanding when he visited Athens, Greece.  Being seeped in idol worship, these people were very religious about assuring they were worshiping every spirit being that they could conjure up.  They had even built an altar to “THE UNKNOWN GOD” to assure none were left out.

Daily Paul would go to the synagogues and the markets and try to teach them of Jesus, and that Jesus was the Christ.  Yet, they could not understand how a man was divine.  Then Paul saw the altars built to idols, and began to teach them on their terms.  He said in Acts 17:22-31:

“Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;  for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

Paul brings God into their understanding by explaining Him as “the One you worship without knowing”.  He explains Him as “The Unknown God”.  They he continues to explain who God is, that He doesn’t need anything created from our hands because He doesn’t need anything at all.  He is the creator of all, and He gives life and breath to everything.  Paul started with the religious foundation they had, and from that explained Christ as the risen Lord.

And note that Paul, even though the idol worship bothered him, didn’t go in with guns blazing, turning over idols and criticizing them for the only kind of worship they had been taught.  If he had, they might never have been converted.  Those around us needing Jesus will only know what they have been taught.  Any lack of understanding is not their fault – it’s ours, the body of Christ. 

I was raised in church from the time I was a slobbering little baby.  I have no understanding of how church appears to those who enter it as a teen, or an adult.  I sometimes wonder when a they come to church goes for the first time, what do they understand?  Do they see a bunch of people sitting to hear a speaker, and simulate that to a classroom?  Do they see friends gathered to sing songs and think it to be like singing Cumbaya around a camp site?  Do they see communion and think, “What a strange little wine tasting!”  Surely we must seem like a strange group of folks when we all bowing our heads as a man closes his eyes and talks to someone they can’t see!

Paul gave us an example of how to reach those that don’t have an understanding of God or church.  Start with the foundation they already have for understanding, whatever that is.  Maybe it’s as simple as a desire for inner peace.  Maybe it’s a background of astrology, and they worship the stars instead of the One who created them.  But no matter what foundation they have, we all have one need that needs to be filled.  We need love.  God is love (1 John 4:8), and  love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8).  Reveal the unknown love to them.

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