The Unknown God made known
Acts 17: 22-31 (NIV)
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 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. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
We always think we have God in a box. We know him. He called us. We/He are/is His/Ours. But then Paul comes back from the Athens Tourist Walk talking about an Unknown God. And like a theological whodunnit, Paul wants to reveal his identity. We might think he is going to say: “He’s Jesus!” But he doesn’t. He talks of a mysterious creator God, a God who is beyond us, a God who gives us life and breath. A God who creates a world so that its inhabitants will reach out for him. But a God who is only a breath away. The whodunnit is not going very well. Paul keeps on being mysterious. He might as well be talking about the Force: ‘in him we live and move and have our being’. Who is this unknown God who is so close to us, we could almost reach out and touch him? A God known to us in the world around us. A God known to us deep down in the mysterious otherness we all know when we stand under the stars and wonder why we are here. A God who transcends human places of worship. A God who fills all creation with his numinous presence. A God who calls us his children. This is going so well. Numinous, present/absent God, unknown but known to us all as his children through life and breath and being.
But then Paul changes tack – something decisive has happened. This God has allowed for us to be ignorant up to now but now all is different. He commands a change of heart. He threatens judgement. He means it. He has raised his appointed one from death. Despite all the mystery, the unknown God has revealed his appointed one, Jesus. He has revealed his own identity, Jesus. He’s revealed the very source of life and breath and being, Jesus. It’s all been about Jesus, after all. Jesus. The Unknown God. To whom we are always known. Always loved. Always his child.
God, who calls me his child
God, who knits me together in my mother’s womb
God, who holds me to his cheek and teaches me to walk
God, who hears my cries, wipes my tears, sets me on my feet again
God. Father. Mother. Parent. I rejoice to be yours. I am glad to be your child.