12 Nov The Unknown God
For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.
This statement was boldly proclaimed to one of the most idolatrous cultures in all of history. The apostle Paul was speaking to a culture which welcomed any god which could be drummed up in the imagination of any man. In Athens at this time, every false god was even allowed a temple and altar. Paul was specifically addressing the Areopagus (the Latin form of the Greek word “Mars hill”), which was the court of justice in Athens at that time. While Paul was waiting to be reunited with his colleagues, Silas and Timothy, he was greatly disturbed by the amount of idolatry which was taking place in Athens.
A significant cultural parallel exists between modern western society and the ancient Athenian culture mentioned here in the book of Acts. Namely, that man can define who or what god is in his own mind, and that every idea of the reality of god is equally acceptable and true, even if the views are in deep contradiction to one another. Man will invent gods in every way imaginable, and in doing so, make himself out be god. If the god you worship is an invention of your own mind, or an altered version of the God of the Bible, then all you have done is made yourself out to be god. Is your god a result of a “deity buffet,” where you have only taken or accepted attributes that you like? Have you embraced traits of your preference, but left behind the less popular attributes, the uncomfortable parts that expose your sin and brokenness? If so, then sadly you’ve claimed allegiance to an idealized version of yourself as god. If you’ve defined god in this way, then you have made an altar to an unknown god. But, like Paul, my ambition is to proclaim to all men that the unknown gods, which are constantly being worshiped, can and will be replaced by the one true God. The God who will not fulfill our list of preferences. Who will not be defined by our limited minds. Who is above all things, and forgives us even when we choose to worship His creation, and all the things in it, more than we worship Him. In His holiness, He reveals Himself to His children, crushing all of our idols the moment we get even a small glimpse of who he is and His insane love for us.
In Acts chapter 17 verse 22, Paul even acknowledged how “religious” the Athenians were. He said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.” We, as people, can adhere and obey any list of do’s and dont’s which we perceive to make us “good.” Sadly, no amount of religious adherence ever saved anyone. If we have set our allegiance to a false god or gods, and have found a way to justify our thoughts, actions, and words based on a lie, then we have worshiped in vain. We can feel self-righteous about how long we meditate, how often we pray, how many rules we keep, how spiritual we are, how often we go to church; and it will all be for nothing if it isn’t based in truth.
Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
What this is saying is that we shouldn’t think of God the way we do about the idols of man, whether they be from precious metals or our own imagination. It’s saying that God forgives us for the times that we worship our own versions of Him, our unknown gods; but it’s also saying that He’s calling those who don’t worship Him to repent. Whether we like it or not, He will judge all of us one day. Thankfully though, when it talks about “a man whom He has appointed,” he’s talking about Jesus. The One who took on all of the punishment for our sins and our desires to do things our way instead of God’s way. It says that Christ is the One who gives us assurance in our salvation from sin. Not because of any “religious acts” we’ve adhered to, but because of Christ’s sacrifice for all of our sins. In the life, death, and resurrection of Christ we have been given assurance of our salvation when we come to know Him. Not just believe in Him, but come to know Him. If we know Him, we no longer have hearts that want to worship created things. Our ambitions aren’t the same anymore because we know what seeking an unknown god looks like, and how the unknown God we’d been seeking or worshiping led to misery, slavery, and death instead of the joy, freedom, and life that is found in the arms of Christ. When the unknown god is being sought, it’s ultimately the One True God whom is being sought, and He desperately wants you to smash your altar which says, “To the unknown god,” and replace it with your life, and give all of yourself to Him so He can make a new inscription on your heart which says, “Beloved child of the one true God.”