“…the world through wisdom did not know God…” I Corinthians 1:21
Epicurean and Stoic philosophers brought Paul to Areopagus so he can expound on this “new doctrine” that he was preaching to the people of Athens. Along the way, Paul’s spirit was provoked within him when he saw the city teeming with temples, where people were worshipping idols.
From his observations of the city, Paul found a springboard from which to launch the Gospel Message: “Men of Athens, I perceive in all things that you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD”. Acts 17:22-23. Paul explained to the people that this Unknown God was in reality the eternal and true God.
“The Unknown God” was the God the Greeks could not quite comprehend. There were many other gods to worship: Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite, Poseidon, to name a few, yet these gods were not sufficient for them. There was this Other Being that needed to be worshipped, but they could not fathom or characterize this “Unknown God” the way they conceived the other gods.
Here was the paradox of it all. Athens, the great seat of learning, where minds were directed and trained by reason and logic. Athens, the mother of Socrates and Plato and Aristotle and a host of other magnificent minds, the birthing place of diverse philosophies where reason and logic were to reign supreme, was teeming with temples and idols.
Philosophy failed. It only brought the Greeks to the place where they felt there was still an emptiness, something lacking that cannot be explained by past nor prevailing philosophies: there was this “Unknown God” that they felt they needed to worship. But who is this Being, and what is His nature?
The world through its wisdom cannot know God.
The mind of man is inadequate to know God. As John Stott remarks, “Man is an insatiably inquisitive creature. His mind is so made that it cannot rest. It is always prying into the unknown. He pursues knowledge with restless energy. When man’s mind begins to concern itself with God, however, it is baffled. It gropes in the dark.”
This is not surprising, according to Stott, because God is infinite, while we are finite creatures. But God took the first step to reveal Himself to us. Stott portrays the first four words of the Bible, “In the beginning God”, as a key to understanding the Bible as a whole: everything starts with God; God takes the first step.
God in His infinite love took the initiative of creation, of bringing forth light out of the darkness: “Let there be light” Genesis 1:3. He took the initiative of revelation, by revealing His Word through the prophets, and ultimately, through His Son, Jesus Christ, the Light of the world. Finally He took the initiative of providing a way of salvation through Jesus Christ, to free us from our sins and to give us everlasting life. (John Stott, Basic Christianity pp. 11-12)
What is this everlasting life? In the words of Jesus, it is to know God: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. ” John 17:3
It is only through faith in Jesus Christ that we can know the only true God, to enter into a loving relationship with Him, to know Him as our very own Father.
*** photo: Temple of Poseidon by Chris Kotsiopoulus