TO AN UNKOWN GOD

“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.  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.'” Ac 17:22–23.

There are two basic versions of the story of “God and man.” The first version presents man on a spiritual quest in search of the “unknown god.” In the second version of the story, the roles are reversed, and we discover God, “the hound of heaven”, in relentless pursuit of his beloved creature, man, who continues to wander and hide. The problem with both Christian legalism and todays popular, neo-gnostic spirituality, is that they both affirm the first version of the story. In fact, the majority of religious programs are based on the “religious seeker” formula. It is Jesus Christ himself, who puts the matter to rest when he assures us that God is indeed the “seeker” and we are his “sought ones”  – “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Lk 19:10. In fact, the traffic in the Gospels always moves from north-to-south, God the “seeker” moving toward man the “sought one” – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son . . .” Jn 3:16.

The ground and grammar of our life in Christ is, ‘revelation and encounter’, in that order. For we only truly encounter those who are first willing to reveal themselves to us. But when we get the roles of ‘seeker’ and ‘sought ones’ confused, we end up going on the proverbial, ‘goose chase.’ It is our refusal to simply be God’s ‘sought ones’, the objects of his grace, that gets us into so much trouble. For, when we insist on being the ‘seekers’, the ones trying to track down and identify a nameless, faceless, “unknown god”, the ‘seeking’ and ‘self-revealing’ God isn’t even on our radar and Jesus Christ, simply fades to the background. But thankfully, there is a remedy to all our compulsive spiritual seeking. Just this morning I was comforted in recalling the following words from John’s epistle:

“This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice . . . ” (MSG) I Jn. 4:7-8

When we say, God’s love is unconditional, we are not simply saying that God loves us in spite of our failures, but we are saying that God’s love for us is not conditioned by our love for him! For in Jesus Christ, we discover a God who loved us and pursued us, even while we paid him no mind. This blows a hole in all our “ladder climbing” spirituality and “seeker-centered” religious programs, which is to say, it blows a hole in all of our spiritual ambitions, where we fancy ourselves as the pious and devoted, ‘seekers’ of the “unknown god.” The God of Jesus Christ is the God who calls, reveals, initiates, restores and sustains his relationship with us, and he is not impressed with our attempts to earn the love he lavishes on us freely.

Finally, the self-revealing God has not come to us in the form of a law or a principle a program or a goal. When scripture says, “He (Jesus Christ) is the visible image of the invisible God” (Col.1:15), it means that we no longer need to guess or speculate as to what God is really like. Christ himself tells us, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (Jn 14:9).  For as Baxter Kruger says, “There is no god hiding behind the back of Jesus Christ.” Therefore, since the ‘self-revealing’ God comes to us personally in the person of Jesus Christ, it is time that we demystify our understanding of faith. Faith is simply the word to describe our encounter with and our response to this divine “other”, the one who both “seeks” us and “reveals” himself to us in the form of a knowable person.

One thing that God and my neighbor have in common, is their ability to place a claim upon my life (claim on my time, energy, material resources and attention). God and neighbor both do for us what we could never do for ourselves, namely, call us out of the small story of “self”, and into the epic adventure of “living in the land of others.” I have made the mistake of putting faith in my reason and in my ‘faith’, but gradually I have come to discover that faith is not a set of static ideas, nor is it the acquisition of the best religious information. Faith is a whole-hearted response to the revealed presence of the living “other.” Faith is a vulnerable response to the one who calls me into relationship with himself and with my neighbor. So, my definition of faith is two-fold: “faithful response to the ‘seeking and revealing’ God; and learning to live in the land of others!”

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