Reading: Acts 17:22-31
Verse 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.”
Paul’s witness to the people of Athens begins with a general description of God: created the heavens and earth and everything in it and gives all people “life and breath and everything else.” These two components are almost givens for all people everywhere. Ever since mankind has been trying to make sense of their world they have been crafting creation stories that frame their understanding of the world and their existence. In this sense God’s story is far from unique.
Then, in verse 27, Paul says, “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.” Here Christianity begins to differ significantly from the pagan, native, and polytheistic norms about the god(s) and the people of the earth. In almost all religions or belief systems there is a desire to be close to the divine. But there is a healthy boundary. In most cases this forms a transactional relationship: I’ll sacrifice this animal, you make it rain… Most people groups had many gods – a god of fertility, a god of war… When one needed this, one went to this god. But what Paul is offering and speaking of is something different. Paul is implying that you can have a relationship with this God. One can seek and search and actually find God – because God is close to us. Not far away and distant in the heavens, but close to each of us. Whoa.
And then, once again connecting to the Athenians, Paul quotes from their culture: “For in him we live and move and have our being.” Here too Paul connects their world into an invitation into a personal relationship that God offers to all people. As our passage closes, Paul steps back towards the unknown, back into the mystery. He speaks of Jesus: the one God appointed to judge, the one God raised from the dead. Huh?! The known followed by the unknown. This jars some – it is too much – but it draws others towards more conversation. In these the Holy Spirit is at work.
Prayer: Lord God, you are known in so many ways, often in great depth. And yet so much remains unknown. There is ever so much more to know about you. And in this mystery, you offer to walk with us in a personal and intimate relationship. Even so, we cannot fully describe you. We can tell about parts of you, but our words fall short of the whole. Continue to draw us deeper into you, to be our all in all. Amen.