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Knowable God

God is living, active, present, and knowable.

Written by Mike Biolsi on .

Notes

In 1985, songwriter Julie Gold penned a song that would take the title “Song of the Year” in 1991. It was made famous when Bette Midler sang it in 1990, and it seemed to resonate with people during the Gulf War era. The words of that song reflect on a created world that should be peaceful and yet is not. The chorus is “God is watching us… from a distance”.

‌The view that God created the earth and now is watching to see what we do with it but in no way interacts with creation is called “deism”.

Deists believe in the existence of God but consider Him to be distant and not actively involved in the daily affairs of the universe. According to Deism, God created the world and set it in motion but does not interfere with the creation thereafter . This view contrasts with theistic perspectives where God is seen as both the creator and an active participant in the universe and its events. Deism gained prominence particularly during the 18th century and is often associated with the Enlightenment period, where emphasis was placed on reason and science over revelation and religious dogma.

https://bellatorchristi.com/2016/11/21/4-views-on-how-god-interacts-with-creation

Many people, still today, have this view of God. They believe there IS a god, but that whatever god it is, it is not active and not something or someone we can know.

While the title “deism” is relatively new, the concept has been around for a long time. his was the view of the Epicureans - and many in the Roman world while Paul was on his missionary journey, and today we head to Athens… ⭐

Acts 17:16–21 (CSB)
While Paul was waiting for [Timothy & Silas] in Athens, he was deeply distressed when he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with those who worshiped God, as well as in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also debated with him. Some said, “What is this ignorant show-off (or babbler) trying to say?”

‌⭐Others replied, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign deities”—because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.

‌19 They took him and brought him to the Areopagus, and said, “May we learn about this new teaching you are presenting? 20 Because what you say sounds strange to us, and we want to know what these things mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new.

‌Let’s fill in a few details:

‌ATHENS: [map ⭐] - the capital of Greece and home to the Acropolis [image ⭐]. On the Acropolis is the Parthenon - a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena [image ⭐].‌

It should be no surprise that Athens had idols and temples. What distressed Paul was how many and how inundated the culture was. So he spoke out, both in the temple as well as in the marketplace, or the Agora.

‌AGORA: [image ⭐] This was the center of commerce and a VERY busy place for politics, business, manufacturing and trade. It was a great place to connect with a large number of people.

While Paul is speaking to the crowds in the Agora, he encountered at least 2 groups of philosophers:

Epicureans: emphasized that happiness comes from moderation, simplicity, friendship, and community. They believed that the ultimate goal of life is to minimize pain and suffering, and that happiness comes through friendship. Death, to them, meant complete extinction; life after death does not exist. Man is made of atoms and not a living soul. SCIENCE not religion - God is not active in his creation.

Stoics: adhered to idea of “living in agreement with nature”, which included with other humans. They believed virtue was the path to a happy life. The Stoics focused their beliefs on the concepts of nature and reason, repressing their emotions and desires, indifferent to pleasure and pain. (https://www.worldhistory.org/Roman_Philosophy/) The did believe in a divine force controlling all things, but did NOT believe in life after death.

When these people hear Paul, some call him an “uneducated” lunatic, or babbler. But the phrase in the original language was a slur and was like the idea of a bird picking up seeds that have fallen on the ground. They are basically saying that Paul is taking bits and pieces of what he has heard in the marketplace and is trying to use them to gain an audience with people. He is third rate, uneducated and doesn’t know what he is talking about.

‌Some thought he was teaching about different deities… which he was! He was teaching about Jesus and the resurrection from the dead. The Christian gospel, and the God of the Bible are much different than other gods:

‌FIRST - Christianity is the only religion that has a compassionate God that died for his own creation. That would sound weird!

‌SECOND - the philosophy of that day was that there was not afterlife, so resurrection was another crazy idea.

‌Wanting to know more about his rantings, they took him to the Areopagus. ⭐

‌AREOPAGUS: this was a hill that was above the Agora and below the Parthenon. It was a place there philosophers and leaders met to discuss, debate, and even have court. This was also referred to as Mars Hill.

‌Acts 17:21 (CSB)
21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new.

‌Athens was a region known for philosophy and learning. Because they loved to hear new ideas and, most likely, to debate them, the brought Paul to their council.

‌However, there could have been a more sinister meaning behind it:

‌The Areopagus is a rock outcropping in Athens that was used in Paul’s time for conducting public trials. Here the Athenians wanted to discern if Paul was introducing a new religion into their city as Paul’s preaching about Jesus and his resurrection seemed to indicate. Introducing a new religion was considered corruption, a serious crime in ancient Athens; a charge that resulted in the death of Socrates in 399 BCE. https://thefaithfulagnostic.blogspot.com/2024/03/epimenides-unknown-god.html

‌The Mars Hill Sermon ⭐

‌What we read about next is perhaps one of the most famous sermons on all time! We will read the whole thing and then pick it apart: [not on the screen, follow in your Bibles]

‌​Acts 17:22–34 (CSB)
22 Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said, “People of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect. 23 For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed, ‘To an Unknown God.’ Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it—he is Lord of heaven and earth—does not live in shrines made by hands. 25 Neither is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives everyone life and breath and all things. 26 From one man he has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. 27 He did this so that they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 For in him we live and move and have our being, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also his offspring.’ 29 Since, then, we are God’s offspring, we shouldn’t think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image fashioned by human art and imagination. 30 “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has set a day when he is going to judge the world in righteousness by the man he has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” 32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some began to ridicule him, but others said, “We’d like to hear from you again about this.” 33 So Paul left their presence. 34 However, some people joined him and believed, including Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

‌Let’s go back to verse 22 and unpack this: ⭐

Acts 17:22 (CSB)
Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said, “People of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect.

‌Paul understood the people.

‌As a society, they had many gods, temples, idols, and religious beliefs. Paul did not start his message by yelling at them for their practices. He recognized that they had a desire for the spiritual and for religion. It was just misplaced.

‌Paul was commending them for their religiosity as opposed to condemning them for their idolatry.

We should be so careful to acknowledge the desire in people to live for a greater good, a higher calling, wanting to make a difference and even for having religious beliefs other than ours. However, that should not prevent us from sharing the good news about Jesus. ⭐

Acts 17:23 (CSB)
23 For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed, ‘To an Unknown God.’ Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.

‌Paul understood the history and culture

As Paul stood on the Areopagus, he could look down at the Agora, ⭐ where these altars would have been, and point to them.

‌What is this “altar” to an unknown god?

‌Around 594 BCE, there was a plague in Athens. Most believed it was a punishment from one of the gods. The people consulted the Delphic oracle which led them to seek out a seer and poet named Epimenides and call him to Athens to purify the city. There is a lot of lore around this, but here is what I could find on it:‌

…they sent a ship and Nicias the son of Niceratus to Crete, to invite Epimenides to Athens; and he, coming there in the 46th Olympiad, purified the city and eradicated the plague for that time, he took some black sheep and some white ones, and led them up to the Areopagus, and from thence he let them go wherever they chose, having ordered the attendants to follow them, and wherever any one of them lay down they were to sacrifice him to the god who was the patron of the spot, and so the evil was stayed; and owing to this one may even now find in the different boroughs of the Athenians altars without names, which are a sort of memorial of the propitiation of the gods that then took place. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/mercynotsacrifice/2020/06/28/epimenides-and-the-plague-of-athens/

‌Why would Paul reference and altar and a historical seer and poet?

‌First, to nullify the claim that he was teaching a new religion. The altars went back over 600 years, so to explain that the God he is teaching is the God Epimenides made those altars to is to claim his message as ancient. While Yahweh is the Ancient of Days, and the worship of him is the most ancient, Paul could not use that as a reference to a Greek culture. He could go back to their history, however.

‌Second, the gods of those altars are the ones who gave life instead of death. THAT god was the one who was more powerful than punishment and able to defy death. This is also part of Paul’s message.

‌Paul refers back to a piece of their history and can point to the place where these altars stand, and can prove that he understands the people and the religion of Athens. ⭐

‌Acts 17:24 (CSB)
The God who made the world and everything in it—he is Lord of heaven and earth—does not live in shrines made by hands.

‌He immediately claimed there is a deity that is greater than all other creation. The one who made creation, all of nature, is Lord or ruler over all of this. If you are a stoic, you are hearing that the nature that you are part of has a divine order and a divine purpose. This aligns the God of the Torah with the stoic beliefs. So it is not a new belief.

‌PERSPECTIVE: Paul said that this God does not live in shrines made by hand. As Paul is standing on Mars Hill which is right in front of the Acropolis. ⭐

‌He could point up the hill at the Parthenon, or Temple of Athena - the goddess of wisdom. He could have pointed to the Erechtheion which was the shrine to various agricultural deities. He might have pointed to the Temple of Athena Nike.

‌This God is the lord of the heavens (where Zeus and the gods come from) and also the lord of earth, where the agricultural gods have their realm. All of those gods are beneath this God who created the space in which they occupy.

‌Could you imagine having one of the greatest temples in the world and Paul stands and says that as great as it is, there is someone greater that doesn’t need to live in s space like that? ⭐

‌Acts 17:25–26 (CSB)
Neither is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives everyone life and breath and all things. 26 From one man he has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live.

‌Many people in Athens would have made a living serving their gods and serving in the temples. Paul’s God does not need servants. He is the one who gives life and breath to all things.

Acts Explanation of the Text
There is nothing that human beings have or can do that God the Creator needs. Paul agrees with the Epicureans, who rejected the offering of sacrifices to the gods with the argument that a deity does not need human things. Paul also agreed with the Stoics, such as Seneca: “Let us forbid men to offer morning salutation and to throng the doors of temples; mortal ambitions are attracted by such ceremonies, but god is worshipped by those who truly know him. Let us forbid bringing towels and flesh-scrapers to Jupiter, and proffering mirrors to Juno; for god seeks no servants. Of course not; he himself does service to mankind.”

‌Paul has taken the themes of both parties, affirmed them, but, again, points out that they are misdirected… they need to be focused on THE God who created the heavens, the earth and all that is in it.

The idea of appointed times and boundaries is a foundational teaching of the Stoics. There is an origin and an order and it all stems from a God. ⭐

Acts 17:27 (CSB)
He did this so that they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.

‌Lucius Seneca, Roman philosopher and Stoic, wrote many letters. One one of his letters he said this, ⭐

‌“You need not raise your hands to heaven; you need not beg the temple keeper for privileged access, as if a near approach to the cult image would give us a better hearing. The god is near you—with you—inside you.” https://pressblog.uchicago.edu/2022/01/26/margaret-graver-and-a-a-long-on-senecas-letters.html

‌Seneca was born in 4BC was was in Rome while Paul was in Athens around 51BC. But his letters were not written until the last few years of his life, around 65 AD. So, while Paul was not necessarily quoting Seneca, he is certainly well versed in the Stoic belief that God is near each of us.

‌Paul addresses this concept as a good concept, just misguided. God IS near us, and if we accept Jesus, God comes and dwells within us! ⭐

1 Corinthians 3:16 (CSB)
Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s temple and that the Spirit of God lives in you?

Paul said that God placed man where he was and arranged his days. He created order, something the Romans liked! The next logical step is for you to know the God of order.

‌The use of the words “might seek” implies that humans do not know God and they they do not know where to find God, but it also implies that there is a desire to know God. We should keep in mind that many around us are seeking to find and know God.

Then Paul makes a very unique statement: ⭐

Acts 17:28 (CSB)
For in him we live and move and have our being, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also his offspring.’

‌There are actually at least two quotes in this verse. The first is a curious quote that would have been a reference to something that was said about Zeus, which Epimenides wrote:

‌They fashioned a tomb for you, holy and high one, Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies. But you are not dead: you live and abide forever, For in you we live and move and have our being.

‌In alluding Epimenides, Paul was stating that there is someone more powerful than Zeus who allows all things to live and move and have their being. Also, since their own poets say that Zeus did not die, it should not be a surprise that the God who is above Zeus would also not die, thus giving validity to the raising of the dead and the teaching on eternal life.

‌There is a second quote in this verse. It is from the Roman poet Aratus, a stoic, and it comes from a poem he wrote about Jove or Jupiter - the Roman counterpart to the Greek god Zeus: ⭐

‌“Let us begin from Jove. Let every mortal raise

‌His grateful voice to tune Jove's endless praise.

‌Jove fills the heaven—the earth—the sea—the air :

‌I We feel his spirit moving here and every where.

‌And we his offspring are. He ever good

‌Daily provides for man his daily food.

‌Ordains the seasons by his signs on high,

‌Studding with gems of light the azure canopy.

‌What time with plough or spade to break the soil,

‌That plenteous store may bless the reaper's toil,

What time to plant and prune the vine he shews,

‌And hangs the purple cluster on its boughs.

‌To Him—the First—the Last—all homage yield

‌Our Father—Wonderful—our Help—our Shield”

https://ia600603.us.archive.org/18/items/phenomenadioseme00arat/phenomenadioseme00arat.pdf page 18

Paul shows his knowledge of Greek literature, and also makes the claim that we are the offspring not of Zeus, but of a God greater than Zeus. The God who created everything. The God who warded off the plague and preserved life. The God who made each human and animates all things. The God that is knowable. ⭐

‌Acts 17:29 (CSB)
Since, then, we are God’s offspring, we shouldn’t think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image fashioned by human art and imagination.

‌But if we, humans, are the offspring of God, then God is not an inanimate object. God must be something similar, yet more than, human. Our desire for creativity, our art, our passions, they are a reflection of the God who made us… not gods in themselves.

‌Have you ever thought about that? Our desire for order comes from a God of order. Our desire for beauty, art, creation, nature, science, knowledge, pleasure - these are reflections of the very nature and nurture of the God who made us. They are not meant to drive us away from God, but to point us TO God.

‌God is not something we create, but someone we were fashioned after. Paul would take this line of argument because he is next going to talk about a God, in human form, that both died and was resurrected from the dead. ⭐

‌Acts 17:30–31 (CSB)
“Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has set a day when he is going to judge the world in righteousness by the man he has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

‌The call is to repent. To turn from following worthless idols to the God who created everything, including you and me, and the God who is in control of all things. The very real proof, that was attested to by hundreds, was the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

‌God has revealed himself to all of mankind, even through the nature that the Stoics worshipped: ⭐

‌Romans 1:18–20 (CSB)
For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, 19 since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, that is, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what he has made. As a result, people are without excuse.

‌Paul says the people must repent, or turn the other way. They need to abandon their idols and lesser gods and choose to live for the God that was prior, UNKNOWN to them. Now that they know, they are no longer ignorant and must make a decision. ⭐

Acts 17:32–34 (CSB)
When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some began to ridicule him, but others said, “We’d like to hear from you again about this.” 33 So Paul left their presence. 34 However, some people joined him and believed, including Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

‌At the conclusion of Paul’s message there was a mixed response. Some rejected. Some were curious and wanted to learn more. Others accepted and believed, including one of the members of the council, a prominent woman and some others.

‌When people hear about Jesus, there are generally three responses: ⭐

‌Believe - accept Jesus, repent and follow him.

‌Reject - continue living for the creation, not the creator and face judgement.

‌Investigate - keep seeking answers to your questions so you can make a decision.

‌What camp are you in regarding Jesus? I pray it is not the rejected. If it is the curious, I encourage you to continue to listen, study, ask questions and feed that curiosity.

‌If you have never believed by want to ....‌

If you have already believed - learn from this message! The people around us that do not KNOW God, certainly SEE God in the creation around them and ambition within them. Learn from Paul’s approach:

‌recognize where they are

explain to them the truth

call them to repent

Do not give up when you see a society that is overrun with things that are opposed to God. Do not fear sharing the truth. The reality is that there is a desire in the heart of man to know God, and he is a knowable God! They do not have to feel that God is watching them from a distance, or that the greatest goal of life is their own pleasure.

You and I were made to KNOW God, and so are they. ⭐

James 4:8–10 (NLT)
Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. 9 Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.


Knowable God