In the last post I remarked on the uniqueness of the address that Paul gave at the Athenian Agora in Acts 17.16-34 (often referred to as “Mars Hill”). It was a remarkably diverse group that assembled there – both religiously and culturally – and it must have been extremely challenging to preach to. Yet Paul enthusiastically engaged them in conversation, giving one of his most intriguing sermons (at least in my opinion).
As was the case everywhere Paul preached, the primary subject matter of his address was the proclamation of the resurrected Christ. The crowd he was speaking to was fairly “religious” (v22), but that didn’t translate into much knowledge of Jesus. This conversation was, in their words, “new teaching” and full of “strange ideas.” Therefore they asked Paul to further elaborate.
This is where it gets really interesting to me. Each time I read the text I find myself wondering how I would engage such a diverse group of people in conversation about Jesus. Surely they all had different questions, unique objections, and distinct sets of challenges.
Paul begins by talking about the power, majesty, and sovereignty of God. He tells them that God is the giver of life, and that Jesus cosmically rules over time, space, location and context (v22-26). It’s all good stuff. But it’s what he says next that has sooo impacted me over the past few weeks.
This verse is quite simple at one level, and yet profoundly deep at another. While speaking to this really diverse crowd about the character and motivation of God, Paul climaxes with this:
“God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” (Acts 17.27)
What makes this verse so powerful for me is thinking about it in reverse. Though many of us come from different religious, cultural, and economic backgrounds, there is a nagging suspicion that remains the same for all of us.
We wonder if God is really there.
That doubt comes across in many different variations. Some of us question whether God actually exists. Others of us trust God exists, but question if God is really present. Others of us trust that God is present, but question if God is actually active and involved in the world. Others of us trust God is active and involved in the world, but question if God is active and involved in my life.
I think some form of this doubt lives in every person. I used to wonder if there was a highly religious class that somehow escaped it, but I’ve since come to believe that even they are just as susceptible to it as the rest of us. I’ve counseled with too many people who have spent their entire lives immersed in extreme religious activity only to still feel tremendous anxiety about whether or not they have done enough to please God.
Do you feel some level of doubt about the activity of God in your own life? Do you ever find yourself wondering if God is some combination of elusive, angry, abstract, unknowable, distant, removed, or uninvolved? Or do you ever find yourself wondering if you are too sinful, have made too many mistakes, carry too many doubts, or are not holy enough to actually engage with the presence of God?
My hunch is that we all do from time to time.
Which is why this single verse is so precious to me. Though he is speaking to a group of people that come from tremendously different backgrounds, Paul assumes that they all need to hear this same truth:
God is present.
God is knowable.
God has revealed himself with the hope that we would in turn seek him.
God has revealed himself with the hope that we would in turn reach out for him.
God has revealed himself with the intent that we would find him.