- July 27, 2008
• Acts 17:16-31
Life is full of questions. Many of these deal with the practical issues of living while others concern the great mysteries of life and reality. Humans are unique in all creation for our ability to ask and seek answers to these later questions.
As we do so, our quest inevitably leads us to explore various religious beliefs and traditions. We seem to instinctively know that the answers to our deepest questions can only be found within the realm of the divine.
Unfortunately, there are an ever-increasing number of voices in the world claiming to offer the most meaningful and fulfilling answers to our questions.
As a result, many come away from such a pursuit with the idea that all religions lead to the same place. They all seem to have basically the same answers to life’s questions, and thus one may choose the one he or she prefers from among many equally valid religious traditions. They fail to appreciate or understand the ways in which Christianity offers answers which are distinctive from other religions in important ways.
Many Christian believers also fail to fully acknowledge this uniqueness and seek to blend their Christian beliefs with various other philosophies. When non-believers ask them, they are unable to point to the unique aspects of Christianity because they have not taken time to fully understand them.
Such a situation is nothing new. Paul was faced many times by people asking questions. At a time when what would later be known as “Christianity” was just taking shape, many people questioned its teachings. As we look at the account of Paul’s encounter with one such group, we can understand Christianity’s uniqueness and how we can help others to recognize it as providing the only meaningful answers to their questions.
Who God is not (Acts 17:16-18)
It often can be difficult to imagine the cultural and religious life of the people with whom Paul interacted. It was a time dominated by competing philosophical ideas and religious devotion to a wide variety of gods.
Many of the myths concerning the various gods presented them in a way which resembled human behavior and interaction. These myths included stories of jealousy, deception, pettiness, lust and revenge.
Religious beliefs also were influenced by the many ideas of the great Greek philosophers who taught everything from stoic self-denial as a means to achieve enlightenment to the pursuit of pleasure as the highest goal in life. These were the convictions of the majority of the people Paul encountered, and thus Paul spent much time seeking to show God was not the same as the many pagan deities.
Today, there are many misconceptions concerning the God of the Bible among non-believers. Many only have heard a few stories from the Bible and believe God is a great cosmic police officer or judge waiting to strike down any who cross the line of the divine law. Others see God as a God of centuries ago who could not possibly understand life in the 21st century. Still others hold that God is only a crutch for the weak-minded.
As believers, it is vitally important that we take time to show people the error of their misconceptions and clearly distinguish the God of the Bible from all the things God is not.
Who God is (Acts 17:19-29)
While it is important to clarify misunderstandings about God, it equally is important to clearly convey who God is. As he toured Athens, Paul came across an altar to an unknown god. This may indicate the Athenians knew their many other gods did not satisfy their deepest hunger for answers but, knowing the answers must be “out there somewhere,” sought to worship the god who held the answers even though they did not know that god’s name.
Paul simply filled in the blank for them. He clearly told them that this “unknown god” did indeed hold the answers they were seeking. This unknown god was in fact the Creator of the universe who gave life to everyone.
Since we enjoy that life and bear within us the image of the divine, we should not seek to worship an idol of gold. The “unknown god” is the only true God who created us and loves us. Today, the issue believers face is not that people worship God among many other gods, but that they lack an understanding of who God really is. They may understand that God created everything, but may not see God as a personal being.
It is not enough that we know God’s name and understand what God is not. We must come to appreciate God for all God is.
How is God unique (Acts 17:30-31)
Over the centuries, many people have brought their questions about the meaning of life to the door of Christianity for answers. Many of these have come as atheists intent on disproving the validity of the Christian message. As they have explored its pages, many of these have come to one aspect of the story which they could not explain away and which convinced them of the uniqueness and truth of the gospel—the resurrection.
No other religion looks to an empty tomb for validation. Paul addressed those who believed that physical death was the end of a person’s entire existence.
Today, death remains as the single greatest fear and unknown for every person. Then and now the resurrection stands as proof that death is not the end. There is life on the other side. Yet the Bible is clear that one’s experience of the afterlife is dependent on one’s actions and beliefs in this life. In order to live for eternity in the presence of all that God is, one simply must accept by faith the unique teaching of the resurrection. Believing that the only true God is the Almighty Creator of all that is and that he loves us and demonstrated that through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as God’s Unique Son will answer all of life’s questions.
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