Athens & God

It’s almost 6am in Athens. I can hear the humm of cars outside as morning approaches. Really that humm has been there all night never really letting up. Athens has been going all night as cars drive a key circle in the road way system here. Reading the news for the past many weeks and months, I wondered what I should expect when arriving here. Reading Luke’s account of Paul’s visit to Athens from nearly 2,000 years ago(Acts 17:27ff), I also wondered what I should expect. Paul’s first observance was feeling disturbed by the number of idols he saw throughout the city as the people attempted to make the presence of the gods real to everyday life.

Rather than worried that they didn’t believe in the ONE, true God, Paul’s message to the Athenian philosophers was centered around the fact he worried that they didn’t know that God was truly present all of the time, everywhere and that they didn’t need to make carved images to feel and see the presence of God in their lives. Paul stated to them at the Areopagus on Mars Hill, “God isn’t far away from any of us. In God we live and move and exist. As some of your poets said, ‘We are his offspring.’ Therefore, as God’s offspring, we have no need to imagine that the divine being is like a gold… image made by human skill or thought” (Acts 17:27-30).

Paul wanted the people of Athens to know that God was present all of the time in all places in EVERYONE. God is present because we are all God’s offspring. WE are the presence of God. We are God’s reps here on Earth. No need for carved images to have God show up, instead, we are to be the presence of God by how we live our lives.

As I consider the beginning of my journey here in Athens, I wonder how a message of hope like Paul’s can come into our day when Athens seems to have very little hope– at least as observed on my screens over the past many months. Do the people feel far away from the presence of God? Do the people feel far away from one another? Can they see themselves as the offspring of God that can accomplish creating a new day, a new future, and a new world for themselves?

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2 thoughts on “Athens & God

  1. The passage in Acts goes on to say: “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has set a day when He is going to judge the world in righteousness by the Man He has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising Him from the dead.”

    God is only present by His Spirit in those who repent and believe in Jesus as the Son of God who died for their sins.

    You say that Paul wasn’t concerned that they would believe in the one, true God. That couldn’t be further from the truth. One only has to read all of Paul’s letters to see that truth over and over again. In chapter 16, he says to the jailer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved–you and your household.” In Acts 17:3 it says: “…explaining and showing that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead; This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah.”

    The Bible couldn’t be clearer on the fact that we must believe and put our faith in Jesus Christ to be saved. He provides a clear word and path to salvation for everyone. But we must take it. We have no righteousness of our own.

    • Janet, my response is in the rest of the passage from Acts here. “Having overlooked the times of ignorance” is a reference to the way they have been living and thinking – that they did not realize that God is present everywhere and in everyone and that they don’t need idol trinkets sold in the marketplace to have the Divine presence in their lives. “God now commands all people everywhere to repent.” Why? Paul is seeing his own Jewish faith expanding to all people everywhere. Just as Jesus freed him to see God as existing outside of the Temple and outside of the Law, Paul wants to help these Athenians “repent” (to turn from their ignorant ways of idols to seeing a living God everywhere). “He has set a day when He is going to judge the world in righteousness by the Man he has appointed.” This a really cool sentence Paul uses here because it is filled with anti-Imperial/anti-Roman language. This phrase was first used of Caesar Augustus – he was the man who judged the world in righteousness (righteousness is also the same word as justice) because the pantheon of gods had appointed him as such. Paul transfers this language to Jesus because Paul sees Jesus as the one who the Roman imperial forces could not keep dead and buried. Jesus is the divine one not Caesar. Jesus’ resurrection is proof that their is a force bigger than Caesar and this Man will judge the world. Thus, the people do not need to buy into Caesar’s system — of which the pagan temples and idols were a huge religio-economic structure. They can now buy into Jesus’ system where God is everywhere.

      Paul’s message here is huge, REALLY HUGE. On the world stage of history, preaching a message to common everyday people that God is close to them, that God is to be found everywhere was radical and revolutionary. Your response here seems to diminish how radical Paul’s message was on the world stage. If Paul was attempting to make the point you are making in your comment, then his message would be just one more competing “god” in the midst of a huge field of gods in existence in the Roman empire. What Paul does here is go much bigger than that.

      You reference Acts 16 – the Philippian jailer was literally asking how he could save himself and his family, from the Romans. He and his family would be severely punished due to the escape of the prisoners. Paul tells him to believe in the Lord Jesus. Why? Because Jesus overcame the Romans. They crucified him and yet he is risen! They can hurt the Philippian jailer and his family but they cannot ultimately destroy them. Salvation comes from Jesus not Caesar!

      In Acts 17:3, Paul is in the Jewish synagogue. This fact cannot be overlooked because it is the reason why Paul is using the term “Messiah.” This is a huge Jewish phrase used both in those times as well as today in Jewish religion. Christians have associated a Divine status with the term. The problem is that modern day Christians don’t realize how people in that day thought of the divine. Caesar was considered to be Divine. Many Jewish figures of Jesus’ day as well as post-Jesus believed that whoever sat on the throne of David was divine and that even David was a divine figure – remember that whole “the lord said to my lord sit at my right throne” phrase from Psalms that is originally about David or at least one of his sons. In the NT it is then used for Jesus as the Messiah.

      The NT is very clear that we are to believe in/believe on (their is a distinction there by the way) the name of Jesus. It is probably the most important thrust of Paul’s message but please do not confuse that phrase with the systematic theology that came out of the Protestant Reformation and the 2nd Great Awakening and Revivalists movements of the 19th-20th centuries.

      I would encourage you to look closely at the wording of Scripture. Rather than using synonyms for each line (like reading Messiah as God rather just as Messiah), take the words at face value. If you have access to knowledge about the culture and times, then let those things inform your interpretation of Scripture (such as the sentence above that was first attributed to Caesar). What words like “saved” and “believe” and “Messiah” and “kingdom of heaven” and “eternal life.” They are all over the NT but if you look at each instance you will find they cannot be all boggled together. Each instance reveals something quite unique and wonderful.

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