Strange Truth (6)
“Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being,’ as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’”
Paul continued to press his point that no god worth his salt could be reduced to an image, housed in a temple or kiosk, or in any way be dependent upon men. That would be a strange way of thinking about the gods we seek to placate and manipulate to our advantage, wouldn’t it? If they’re so puny and helpless, and so easily manipulated by our little acts of obeisance, how can they possibly be worthy of our devotion?
We can imagine the light going on in a few heads out there in the audience: “Well, I never thought about it like that.” But then, before the Athenians could begin to voice an objection or a defense – “That’s just your opinion!”, for example – Paul plunked down two philosophical trump cards designed to strengthen his line of argument. Quoting from two Greek poets, he bolstered his own view of God, and of the strangeness of the Athenians’ view, by insisting that God is vaster and more powerful than ever to require the services of men. He showed them, in other words, that even their own best thinkers would have regarded their views and practices as strange.
Paul’s message, indirectly, is this: It’s silly, if you think about it, to consider that we might, by our many different works, earn favor with gods who don’t really need us. And to reinforce that notion in familiar terms, Paul found two allies among the enemy camp, two of their own philosophers, who had said essentially the same thing. The very thinkers the Athenians admired, to whom they looked for wisdom on all matters of life and faith, agreed with Paul.
The implication of this all was beginning to become clear: Now if our gods don’t need us, yet they require all these various duties from us, then we are little more than their slaves. We have no freedom but must live our lives in abject fear and groveling, daily devoting ourselves to satisfying the petty demands of fickle deities who may or may not accept our offerings and oblations and grant us the favor we seek. Does that make sense? Is this the way a proud, free people ought to act?
The really strange truth, Paul was trying to show, lay in the views of his listeners, who devoted so much of their time and attention to fussing over deities that didn’t need them but that delighted in bullying them around for their own pleasure.
You don’t have to look too hard to find the same to be true of your unbelieving friends. Ask them how they can be so sure that their approach to life is true, and they’ll probably answer, “Well, everybody has to decide such matters for themselves.” But how do they know that? And how can they be sure their views are the right ones, even for them? After all, secular philosophers and scientists continually insist that all truth is tentative and relative. None of us can be sure of anything ultimately, since truth is always susceptible to new discoveries and changing paradigms of thought.
As you become familiar with the views of contemporary thinkers, you’ll stumble across such statements time and time again. Don’t hesitate to point out to your unbelieving friends that there’s no support on their side for the view that whatever they choose to believe about how to they ought to live is true and reliable. In a disenchanted age, men are left only with their best ideas and strongest hopes, and the testimony of the leading lights of this age is that you can’t take any of that to the bank.
How are your conversations going with your unsaved friends? Share what you’ve been doing with one or two of your Christian friends, and challenge them to do the same. Then get back to work engaging your unsaved friends. Listen for things that are truly “strange,” and ask them to account for how this can be so – such as, “How can you be sure that you are the best authority for such views? Why should you – or anyone – trust you?”
Start your own ViewPoint discussion group. This week’s series is available in a free downloadable format, suitable for group study. Request the series “Strange Truth.”
For more information on this topic, get the book, A Primer on Postmodernism, by Stanley J. Grenz, from our online store. Or read the article, “Christian Witness in a Postmodern World,” by Harry Poe.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture references are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.