Searching for God (Acts 17:16-34)
Have you found yourself searching for God, or looking for reasons to believe that he exists?
Is anything out there?
Debating the existence and nature of God or anything supernatural has been a hallmark of human society for millennia. It seems to be embedded into our DNA to question and wonder about the divine.
Religious practices around the globe and throughout history attempt to tap into something transcendent on the basis that something divine must be out there.
Are all these countless people through history mistaken? Is there no such possibility that a God exists?
Paul in Athens
When the apostle Paul stood up on the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17:22) he commented on their devotions to lots of deities. They had even made an altar which they had dedicated to an “unknown god” (Acts 17:23) on the off chance that they had forgotten one. No point risking the wrath of a divine being when you can take out a simple insurance policy like this.
Paul latches onto this and, in his characteristic way of approaching people with the gospel on their own terms, launches into a description of the God that was so far unknown to the Athenians. He quickly gets into explaining why people have the sense that something transcendent exists.
Famous poets were searching for God too
Quoting famous Greek poets Epimenides and Aratus, Paul agrees that by simply observing the world in which we live, we can arrive at the conclusion that “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
They [mankind] should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. 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.Acts 17:27-28
So if Epimenides, Aratus and Paul are all right, there ought to be something about the world around us that makes us wonder and makes us question. And religion and worship practices around the world have indeed latched onto this sense of searching for God in an attempt to find him who is actually “not far from each one of us”. But can we perceive the existence of a God beyond reasonable doubt? Is anything out there? And if there is, how do we know who he is, what he wants from us and how he wishes us to live and communicate with him?
How can we know God?
Well Paul continues his speech and takes his audience to this next level.
Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.Acts 17:29-31
So taking this step by step, according to Paul, it is clear from our existence in the world that there is something important and powerful behind the universe. A creator and sustaining force, that is the originator of everything that exists. You can see this clearly because it’s near to everyone in the world who ponders it carefully.
Identifying the God who is out there
But the identity of that God is largely unknown if you simply search for him in the natural world around you. Largely unknown, that is, until you consider a specific man who has been appointed to bring righteousness to this confused and scary world. How can we possibly know that? Well it’s all to do with a historical claim about this dead man, which quite literally transformed the world, and even continues to do so; the claim that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead on the third day. This man directs us to the identity of the unknown God and his resurrection offers evidence to verify it, giving us the confidence to have an evidence-based faith.
So, we might benefit from recognising that the search for God is in broadly two stages. First; looking philosophically at the world we find ourselves in and recognising that there must be something out there that fits the description of a divine being. And second; being convinced that it is the God of the Bible who is the one, because of the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.
Searching for God
These sorts of topics are huge and they demand very big questions and thorough answers. We love exploring them in the resources that we put together and have made some relevant material that can help you engage in the search for God yourself. You could try starting with this short series of videos and also be sure to check out The God Question episode of the Bible Feed podcast.
Searching for God is well worth the effort. God doesn’t need to remain unknown.