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?

Killing Cain

For many years now I occasionally ask other Christians a simple question, “Why is the story of Cain and Abel in the Bible? What is it meant to teach us?” Most often the response is something like the following, “It teaches us that killing is wrong.” Others in the conversation often agree and then look at me and say, “I’m guessing you disagree.” I have always been amazed at this little story. It is the only story that we have of Cain or Abel. We learning nothing more about them in the Scriptures. The NT makes some passing references to Cain being evil and to the blood of innocent Abel, but that is it.


The amazing aspect of the story is not murder, it is not about jealousy, and it is not about right sacrifices and offerings to God. Instead it is about our God. Cain murders Abel. God does not kill Cain. Cain is angry and thirsts for blood. God is angry but forgives. God not only forgives but goes even farther to putting a mark on Cain in order to protect him from the revenge of the human community.

Right here at the beginning of our bibles is this phenomenal story about forgiveness, peace, and the way forward for fallen humanity. Why don’t we pay more attention to it?

And Darkness Was Over The Face of the Deep

Darkness.

Abyss.
Nothingness.
Ignorance.
The unknown shrouded in mystery.
The universe is shrouded in a perpetual darkness. The more we see, the more we don’t see. The more we learn and know, the more we realize just how much we are ignorant. We expand farther and farther outward gazing at the cosmos, while examining deeper and deeper discovering every quark or nuance of matter and energy. Each step brings with it a revelation of a much larger world, a whole existence that we are unaware, a reality that is at once close and yet so distant. In the midst of such darkness, God breathed. Revelation occurred. Life emerged. Light broke forth.

Blessed Dishonesty

I am continually amazed at the Holy Scriptures and the worlds apart they are from our modern day American culture and American Christianity. Living on a Christian college campus again brings up all of the contradictory and complicated aspects of evangelical college student’s faith lives.


Exodus 1 is one of those chapters that throws a wrench in our nice spinning wheel. In this chapter, the king of Egypt issues and edict to have all of the infant males of the Hebrew people drowned in the Nile. Despite this ruling, the midwives of the Hebrew people refuse to kill the infant males– in direct defiance of the king. The king even catches on and asks them why they are not killing the babies to which the midwives specifically lie to the king– they create a very dishonest tall tale.

A few verses later, Exodus 1 clearly endorses the midwives dishonesty! Not only is there a blanketed endorsement, the text goes on to say that God blessed the midwives for their actions and gave them children of their own.

I love this story because it is such a shift from our Puritan ethics in American Christianity. The Old Testament does not have these neatly defined understandings of ethics. It always stands on the side of the people God is favoring– almost always the oppressed people under the domination of some empire or corrupt authority. In each instance, some behavior that would be considered questionable or outright wrong in our current systems is used and endorsed by the Scriptures.

What scripture text like Exodus 1 tell us is that there are horrible atrocities going on in the world and that there must be some who are willing to stand up and stand against it. We cannot hide behind our quaint systems of morals and ethics. We must stand against oppression because God hears the cries of the people!

Bumping Into God

Occasionally my dog gets excited enough to run across the room, try to make a corner, misses and runs into the wall… something that is both very sad and very funny! The wall, of course, does not give at all, it has no way of responding or cushioning or shifting. However, when my dog runs and jumps on me, I move, cushion, and shift in order to take the impact.


Is God a wall that does not move, respond, or cushion? For some, the immutable, unmovable God is a comfort. For some, if God changes or is moved, then there entire system of theology begins to crumble.

Indeed, there are statements in Scripture that seem to paint God as an immovable wall, one who does not change and remains the same no matter what circumstance comes along. There are verses that describe God as knowing all things, having every detail of human history already worked out in advance, foreknown, and chosen.

Yet, much of the Bible describes God in very different language than this. Many scriptures describe a very movable God– A God who repents, relents, is suprised, and regrets. When I read the story of Moses interceding on behalf Israel in Exodus 32 and God “repents of the evil he was about to do”, I am overwhelmed by such a God who would respond to the passionate pleas of a human being. I am overcome with emotion at a God who takes the time to listen and shift perspective and change action. This is a God who is so powerful that vulnerability is not seen as a weakness but the hope of creation. This is a God who allows the dog to jump and cushions the blow. This is a God that is in relationship– a true relationship, a give and take relationship.

Let us stop striving to create bomb-proof systematic theologies and allow each scripture text to move us as it sees fit. When in Exodus 32, let us fall in love with a God who could be moved. When in James 1, let us feel strong that we have a God who does not shift like shadows. Both are true and both have something very amazing to teach us.

Does God Have A Big Toe?

The following is an excerpt from the children’s book Does God Have A Big Toe?


When God first made the world, nothing turned out right, so God decided to start all over again. When the animals heard about hti, they were frightened. They decided to ask God not to end the world. But none of them knew where God lived, so they all flew and flopped, rolled and ran, jerked and jumped, crept and crawled, slithered and slid to the different places they thought God lived.

The elephant said, “I am the biggest animal, but God must be bigger than I. Surely I will find God in the biggest thing.”

The elephant came to a mountain. “This is the biggest thing around, so it must be God!” And the elephant asked the mountain not to end the world.

The eagle said, “I can fly higher than any animal, but God must fly higher than I. Surely I will find God in the highest thing.” The eagle flew higher and higher– far higher than any bird had ever flown before.

The ealge saw a fluffy white could that was even higher than he. “This is the highest thing, so it must be God.” And the eagle asked the cloud not to end the world.

The lion said, “My roar is the loudest animal sound, but God must be louder than I. Surely I will find God in the loudest thing!” SO the lion roared and roared and roared and roared.

Suddenly the clouds gathered together, turned black, and sent out thunder and lightning. “This is the loudest thing, so it must be God.” And the lion asked the thunder not to end the world.

Soon the elephant realized that the mountain wasn’t God because it didn’t answer him.

Soon the eagle realized that the cloud wasn’t God because it blew away.

Soon the lion realized that the thunder wasn’t God because it stopped.

Soon all the animals were yelling, “We have to find God or we’re done for!”

Then the fish spoke up. “In the oceans and sea and rivers and lakes where we live, water is everywhere. There is water all around. If the water is everywhere, God must be everywhere too.”

When God heard what the fish said, the whole world shone and the black clouds blew away. Then God said to the animals, “When I end the world, I will save two of each kind of animal so that when the world starts over, you can start over too. But as for the fish… I will save all of them, because only they knew where to find God.

Competing Voices in Scripture

I spend the majority of my bible reading time in the Old Testament.  Since I was a young boy I have always been fascinated with the many stories found in this first testament.  When I was a teen, I found it perplexing that Proverbs seemed to have a different message than the prophets and that the prophets had a different message than the historical books, and the historical books a different message than the Torah.  As I have studied more throughout the years, I have begun to understand the reasons behind these different messages and voices.  Here is a list of competing voices:

  • Voice that supports sovereignty of ruling class and kings
  • Voice that places Law/Torah above all else
  • Voice that emphasizes the role of Aaronic priesthood
  • Voice that emphasizes the role of Levitical or other line of priesthood
  • Voice that places the pursuit of wisdom in the world above all else
  • Voice that emphasizes the immediate voice of God against the status quo of society
One can probably list more or group a few into a similar lump.  The point is that as you read through the OT, you find various voices and they each have a message that they elevate above all else.  Voices originate from various social and political situations– the people left in Canaan/Palestine after the captivity, the people who return after the captivity, the middle class, the ruling class, the impoverished in society, etc.  Sometimes they have overlapping messages.  More often, they have competing voices.  Proverbs seems to indicate that wisdom is sought and found by searching creation, nature, life, etc.  Psalm 119 emphasizes the role of God’s law and precepts (which some other passages would attribute to the law given by the king, other the law given by the priests, and for others the idea that a Torah was given in the past and passed down).  The prophets hear a direct message from God and emphasize obedience to this message above all else.