Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Unknown God

Why do you think about God in the way you do?  Perhaps you do not think about God at all.  Some people rarely if ever think about God.  They learned from someone in their lives that either God does not exist or God does not care about human beings.  Perhaps you have an image of what God is like in your mind based upon what someone told you in the past.  Maybe God is a big man sitting in a large chair looking down upon the earth from the heavens above keeping watch in case someone slips up so he can send a lightning bolt where and when it is needed.  I grew up with that image of God that the church of my childhood helped me form and it has taken me several decades to rid myself of that picture in my mind.  Perhaps you were lucky enough for someone to compare God with the Good Shepherd that Jesus talks about in the Gospels- a shepherd who carries the lambs while the mother sheep walks by his side into the place where green grass is plentiful and a stream of pure water flows by.  What a peaceful image of God that is!

The ancient people in the Roman Empire were immersed in the religious thinking of the Greeks.  They believed the stories that we call Greek Mythology and they had temples dedicated to the various gods and goddesses of the tales.  Paul encountered deep thinkers on the Aeropagus, a hill overlooking Athens, and noticed as he made his way to that hill that there were many temples to the various deities and one to "the unknown god" to be sure that they had not missed one of the plethora of gods.  These Greeks would meet on the hill and discuss whatever would be the topic of the day.  Anyone was free to address them but that one had to risk the reaction of the group to what was said.

Paul began to tell them about "the unknown god" that he knew, the God of Israel made real to him in the person of Jesus Christ.  He told them about the God of creation and all that God had provided for humankind and concluded with the idea that God had worked finally by raising a man from the dead.  To this idea, the crowd divided into two camps--one that scoffed at his thinking and another that said they would hear him on another day.  Paul's sermon to them challenged their thinking about what kind of deity he worshiped and if the deities they enshrined were the same as the one he described. 

The unknown god is still alive and well in the hearts and minds of many today.  They want to believe that such a god exists but they cannot seem to wrap their minds around it and explain it in terms that they can convince themselves concerning it.  The idea that a God who is invisible and has all the attributes that we religious folk ascribe to it is beyond their comprehension.  It may even appear as foolishness to them.  On the surface level, they are right about that.  It is foolishness to those who want to rationalize it or explain it in scientific terms.  It cannot be explained.  Paul wrote to the church at Corinth concerning this and said that "to us who are being saved it is the power of God."  (I Cor. 1:18).  This implies that belief in a God such as the one that many of us believe exists requires more than explanation--it requires faith. 

Many people have been wounded by organized religion.  They at one time put their trust in the system that taught them about God but someone in that system used or misused religion to bring harm rather than good to persons within their care.  They may now describe themselves as "spiritual but not religious" so as to explain that they still do believe in something beyond themselves but they no longer need a religious dogma to define it.  They long to experience something transcendental, something extraordinary, but cannot seem to reach out beyond themselves to embrace what has been defined by others from the past regarding the trancendental.  They are still seeking "the unknown god" even if they do not realize it. 

Many of us were taught by others in our lives that our concept of God was to be a limited and limiting one, that one had to fit into a certain, prescribed box or set of ideas in order for that God to love us or to be pleased with us.  The set of ideas were crafted by people who interpreted the Bible so as to provide evidence to make their set of ideas seem to be authoritative for our lives.  Some of the ideas were valid by any interpretation of scripture but others were projected as biblical while they were actually a reflection of the thinking of a certain person or group of persons.  Our image of God was reshaped by life and experience and we shed earlier ideas that had been taught to us and adopted new ones that we felt more comfortable including in our lives. 

There are very few things about God that people absolutely must believe but the few things are important.  First, God is love and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  Second, we should love others because God loves us.  Third, God loves us the way we are and accepts us for who we are and if God does that for us, we should strive to do that for others.  (See I John for more information.)  As St. Paul said to the crowd gathered on the hill in Athens..."what you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you," and modern day persons can find in this image of God one that loves and cares for all of humanity, even those who are not sure what kind of God this one is. 

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