Meditation – Sixth Sunday of Easter

The author of Acts writes:

16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” … 22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ …

The Aeropagus often refers to an ancient council in Athens which met at a place called “Ares’ Hill” from the god Ares and Pagos meaning “a big piece of rock.” This council functioned as court dealing with homicide, religious matters, and other crimes. Its power was greatly diminished over time, but it still functioned to some extent under the Romans, who called it “Mars Hill.” According to the text in Acts, there was an altar to an “unknown god” or “agnosto theo” in Greek. Today, those who do not know if God exists are called “agnostics.”

The existence of God or the gods is a topic which has preoccupied humanity since prehistoric times. Simply wondering, “How did we get here?” indicates a desire to know about the origin of all things. Those who study ancient history, philosophy, anthropology, comparative religion, and the like seek answers to this same question. Even children do the same when wondering about their own birth and time before they existed. Just the idea of not having been raises the question of whence we have come, and of course, when might it all be over, and what happens then?

In the ancient world and into modern times, a god or gods were associated with peoples and cultures. These gods provided explanation for the origins of the natural and supernatural worlds, for good fortunes and misfortunes, success and failure, life and death. Since the earliest times, not much different from today actually, human beings would try to appease or pay someone or something to help insure their livelihood and well-being. In earlier days it was the gods; today it is the welfare state, insurance companies, and companies producing face masks and toilet paper.

With the rise of secularism and accompanying atheism, religions and religious scholars and leaders have tried in various ways to continue to find a place for “god” as a way to try to keep their organizations and themselves relevant. If religious leaders can just find a way to help people believe that they actually want or need a “god,” then maybe those people will come to “our church” and prevent it from dying. So, churches, particularly in western societies, do their best to make “god” relevant; that is, to make “god” attractive to non-believers. Then, “once we get them in the doors, we can give them the real Jesus!” So, which Jesus is that?

This very approach, however, is based on unbelief in the real Jesus or on belief in a pseudo-Jesus. Either way, it is the same. The question for each of us is the same as for “them.” Do we really have anything more than a “god” created in our own image? Do we have an “unknown god” or a “god only known to us,” or do we have the one true God who knows us, and if the latter, how do we know?

Martin Luther in his exceedingly insightful way, defined having a god this way in his Large Catechism, “If your faith and trust are right, then is your god also true; and, on the other hand, if your trust are false and wrong, then you do not have the true God; for these two belong together, faith and God. That now, I say, upon which you ‘hang’ your heart and entrust it is actually your god.”

With that definition, most of us have a god known only to us, and even then we probably are not quite sure how many gods we might actually have, and who or what these gods are since we put our trust in so many things, never taking the time, most of the time, to think about it at all.

In stark contrast to our predilection to creating many gods per day, most of which are a reflection of ourselves even if unknown to ourselves, the one true God revealed to us in Jesus Christ revealed himself to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Who among us would find it useful or advantageous to pick a wandering religious carpenter to be our god? Which one of us would happily align ourselves with the crucified carpenter? In our world filled with sin, evil, misfortune, disease, and death, how many people honestly believe in a resurrection from the dead, not to mention that Jesus was actually raised from the dead?

The God who knows sinners from the inside out sent his son in human form to bear our burdens and sins, to die our death, and to give us his promise of forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. To this, the world replies, “Yet, but what does he know?” He knows that “knowing” him or “knowing of” him is not enough.

God sent Jesus to us not to appeal to our intellects or to our knowledge or to our reason which neither know or believe in God. The incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection are God’s way of bypassing ourselves to reach into ourselves to save us from ourselves. Through the proclamation of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, God speaks to our hearts, and even our hearts cannot hear him without the work of the Holy Spirit.

So, what can we do to make Christians? The answer is, “Absolutely nothing!” except teach and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ purely and then trust God and God’s word to do it all.