The Unknown God

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“Hey, did you hear the latest?” Oh, how we love a juicy story, especially if it means I know something nobody else knows! All you have to do is look at the tabloids in the grocery store to see how much we love telling or hearing something new!

There’s two sides to this desire, by the way. We were meant to be inquisitive and to want to learn, explore, and discover. Part of the maturing process is to harness this desire, tame it, and set it on a productive course. But the downside is when this desire isn’t disciplined by wisdom and love. Then it becomes as destructive as it was meant to be constructive. It becomes gossip, idle curiosity, or even malicious in its use to destroy others. What was meant to be good is deformed and become destructive!

Look at our lesson today in Acts 17:19-28:

IN THOSE DAYS, the Athenians took hold of Paul and brought him to the Areopagos, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you present? For you bring some strange things to our ears; we wish to know therefore what these things mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. So Paul, standing in the middle of the Areopagos, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything. And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being.’

St. Paul is at the famous Mars Hill in Athens. I remember standing on this spot when I visited there and thinking “This is the same place St. Paul told the Athenians about the ‘Unknown God.'” Notice how he begins. It’s a very different method that he used with the Jews in the synagogue. There he could formulate his message to a people who already were expecting a Messiah. He could “argue” the truths of the Orthodox Gospel with folks who already had a language of the Scriptures. But these Greeks were pagans. They had to be communicated to in such a way that they could hear St. Paul’s message. And what does he do? He acknowledges their commitment to religion. In fact, they were so religious that they didn’t want to run the risk of offending any “god” so they built an altar to “the Unknown god.”

The key to notice is St. Paul’s wisdom in knowing the people he was communicating with there in Athens. He loved his audience enough to do the hard work of communicating with them as the real people they were. He knew he had to speak in such a way that made their acceptance of this “Good News” likely and available to them!

In our society, people have so many notions about God that really are so very misleading. A dear friend of mine is an atheist and he was amazed I could believe in a god. When I asked him to describe this god he said he didn’t believe in, he described a combination of Superman and Zeus. Imagine his surprise when I told him I didn’t believe in that god either! Truth be told, we Orthodox Christians have no excuse for our lack of ability or willingness to share the treasure of our Faith with our world. There is no reason for us to feel insecure of sharing our faith. There is no justification to keeping this Faith to ourselves, our “tribe,” or limited to those who look like us!

Today, you are going to run into people who are really unaware of the true God. They want to know about this “unknown God” and you have all the resources you need to share Him with them. If we are ever going to help these searching people, we, ourselves, are going to need to become Orthodox on Purpose!

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