My last post had Paul going to Athens and leaving his missionary team at Berea. When the brethren left Paul in Athens, he told them to tell Silas and Timothy to make haste to join him there . Meanwhile Paul took note of the altar “To the Unknown God” just outside the city and used it as an introduction to Jesus (Acts 17:23).
Well, Paul’s efforts were met with mixed reviews. Before he left, however, some of the Athenians did become believers (Acts 17:34), but what strikes me about this passage is the whole idea of what is “unknown.”
Certain philosophers there wished to know more about what this ‘babbler’ (which is how they referred to Paul) had to say, so Paul spoke to many of them at the Areopagus (Acts 17:18-19). This was the place where the city elders met, sometimes to try criminals. The point being made here, I believe, is that the men who wished to hear more of what Paul had to say were men of prominence. They were considered the heads of state there, although others could have witnessed what occurred, just as many could witness what occurs in a courtroom or the city and state legislatures in our own country.
In the past I have frequented two discussion forums, and I find that it is not rare to find people there interested in what I have to say about Jesus, not so much to learn about him as to know how I formulate my understanding. This, so they can enjoy mocking or justify their own understanding of our origins and/or responsibilities by attempting to poke holes in mine. There, too, I have found people who are very curious and sincere, not necessarily ready to jump into the Christian camp, but honestly looking for understanding of the Christian Gospel.
I find a curious parallel in this chapter of Acts to these discussion forums. It seems people generally like to revel in the ‘unknown’ and believe this is wisdom. If anyone gives the ‘unknown’ a name or otherwise sheds light on the darkness of their understanding, they take issue with that one in order to either enjoy offering insults or to get a grip on the ‘formula’ of the Christian understanding in order to debunk it, thus giving their own wonder for the ‘unknown’ (darkness according to Scripture) some justification which they view as wisdom.
This is the sort of people that Paul met in Athens, the Epicureans who mocked at the idea of God and the Stoics, who more or less believed everything that has occurred has happened before, and we are on a vast merry-go-round type of life which we are destined to repeat again and again ad infinitum. These, as the Scripture says, “…spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21).
Things haven’t changed much over the centuries. We still wish to discuss new things, not for the sake of knowledge, but to keep from getting bored. We seem to quickly tire of matters that can be known, so we treasure the “wisdom” of the darkness (the unknown). Who created the world? I don’t know, but let’s talk about how it might have occurred. What is the meaning of life? I don’t know, but it might be fun to discuss different ideas. Who knows? it is probably like climbing up different sides of the same mountain—we all could be correct! What happens after this life? I don’t know, but let’s talk about what it might be like!
I can only marvel at the foresight of the word of God which says: “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, but men loved the darkness!” (John 3:19). God help us.