As I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with the inscription, “To the unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. (Acts 17:23)
What a place Athens, Greece must have been in its heyday. The Athenians were rich in their thinking, exorbitant in their architecture, and comprehensive in their spirituality. They spared no expense and were careful never to leave a potential deity unrecognized. Having built temples, altars, and statues for all the known gods they could conceive, they set up one final just-in-case-altar. Scrawled upon it was the inscription, “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD”. Talk about covering all your metaphysical bases!
Today we know better. We refuse to believe in some pantheon at work behind every minutia of life. Far be it from the modern man/woman to ever find ourselves bowing before the altars of made-up divinities. No, we’re a much more down-to-earth, concrete people.
Clearly there can be no comparison between Paul’s Athens and our America. We’re a fairly Christian nation. We claim One God only. And for those Americans who believe one god is one too many, atheism is the preferred alternative. So you see, we couldn’t possibly have the problem of idol worship. We’re simply too enlightened for all that.
That is, unless you count all the things we trust the most. Or all the things we love the most. Or even those things we fear the most. If you decide to count all those things, well it might be a different story. We may find ourselves in breach of the Commandment, “You shall have no other gods”. Put another way, we should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.
Many Americans I know love money and they trust the almighty dollar is able to get them out of most any pickle and the only thing they really fear is being without. That’s kind of the definition of a false god though, isn’t it? Many other Americans who I know love the stuff money can buy them and trust that their stuff will fill up empty homes and lives and their only fear is a freak tornado. Other solid Americans I know love their kids above all else and trust that if they can get them on the right traveling team this summer they’ll be set for college, and, well life, and the only thing they fear is a major injury.
The American pantheon may be something like: money, possessions, security, health, science, government, work, knowledge, kids’ sports, and sexuality. And if a modern-day Paul were to come looking for our places of worship, he’d find them driving down the road, or in our insurance policies, or on Facebook, or at the local ballfields, or in our hyper-sexualized advertisements and product consumption. I can imagine Paul proclaiming the God we’ve made unknown. A hefty bankroll can be bled dry; Jesus’ gifts are endless. Our valuables aren’t impervious; only Jesus lasts. The perfect scholarship to the perfect school that provides the perfect job doesn’t lead to a perfect life; only Jesus provides. All the good feelings are fleeting; only Jesus is True. Only Jesus is completely for you!
Lord Jesus, you are unknown to so many in America and the world. Please tear down our idolatrous altars and replace them with Yourself. Amen.