By David Faust
Ancient Athens was a center of classic art and philosophy, but by the first century its people were bored, skeptical, and confused. Infatuated with fads, they “spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas” (Acts 17:21).
Even in his pre-Christian days, the apostle Paul found graven images offensive, so he was greatly distressed by the idolatry he witnessed in Athens. He debated with philosophers in the marketplace and addressed the city’s leaders by saying, “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” (vv. 22, 23).
Curious, but Uninformed
If Paul walked our streets today, he would see evidence of curiosity about God, but he would observe a lot of ignorance too. Curiosity doesn’t equal commitment. It’s possible to be religious without really knowing God.
Bibles are abundant in America, but biblical illiteracy is rampant. The expression “Oh, God” frequently sounds like a thoughtless profanity, not a thoughtful prayer.
Does the majority of our population really know God? Church buildings are plentiful, but barely one person out of four attends a worship service each week. Sex and love are redefined without reference to biblical standards. Money is spent without concern for godly stewardship. Decisions are made without seeking the Lord’s guidance. God’s higher purpose for work and worship are ignored. We’re surrounded by religious artifacts, but look closely and the message reads, to an unknown god.
The God We Need to Know
Paul’s speech to the Athenians underscores a number of facts our own culture needs to rediscover:
The creative power of God—He “made the world and everything in it” (v. 24). God is smarter than our brainiest scientists and wiser than our most intelligent philosophers. From the intricacies of molecular biology to the dramatic photos from the Hubble Telescope, today we have more reasons than ever to believe that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). The Creator of the universe won’t be held captive by our cathedrals and our traditions. He “does not live in temples built by human hands.” He “gives everyone life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:24, 25).
The accessibility of God—Despite his immeasurable vastness, the true God “is not far from any one of us” (v. 27). He’s both lofty and loving. He created the cosmos, but he cares about the details of our lives. He reached down to us before we reached up to him.
The authority of God—He is no wimpy deity we can manipulate for our own ends. God “commands all people everywhere to repent,” because someday “he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed” (vv. 30, 31). The righteous God entered human history in the flesh and blood of his Son, whose resurrection demonstrates his divine authority. God “has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (v. 31).
Ancient Athenians strolled through the marketplace debating the latest ideas. Today’s Americans sit in cafes decrying the woes of materialism over five-dollar cups of coffee. For Athens then and America now, the message is the same: We need to get serious about God.
1. How would our culture change if more people took God seriously?
2. How would your own life change if you took God more seriously?
David Faust is president of Cincinnati Christian University, Cincinnati, Ohio, and past Executive Editor of The Lookout.
The Lookout’s Bible Reading Plan for February 9, 2014
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
Exodus 19, 20