The Nature of God

May 21 2017

                                                               THE NATURE OF GOD

People throughout the ages have tried to imagine what God is like, and then have created religions around the answers. The search for something that is bigger than we are actually comes out of an attempt to explain several things. Some religions have grown out of attempts to explain what happens after we die. Some concepts of God have grown out of attempts to explain things that were unexplainable at the time – things like lightning, thunder, earthquakes, eclipses, why things grow or don’t, why it rains or doesn’t, why good things happen or bad things happen.

The Greeks had gods for virtually everything. They even had a statue in Athens labeled “To an Unknown God.” Because the other statues of gods were idols to Paul, he immediately assumed who that unknown god was, and tried to take advantage of a situation to explain God. But Paul messed up because he approached them from the wrong aspect.

He starts out on relatively good footing by telling them: “God is never far from us because in Him we live and move and have our being.” He also tells them that we are all the offspring of God as even the Greek poets have said. By using this approach, it seems that Paul started out from a spiritual standpoint.

But then Paul messes up. He assumes that the Greeks worship the idols and not the gods whom they represent. So Paul switches over to another approach. “I’m Paul, and I’m going to tell you the real truth about your unknown god.” He, in essence, calls them ignorant, but now he is going to  tell them the real truth. He can tell them who the true God is. Then Paul threatens them that this true God is requiring them to repent, and is going to punish them and judge them because of their bad behavior.

The first question that I would pose to you today is: “Why would they listen to him?” Would you if someone came along and told you how bad you were and that this God you didn't even know about was going to punish you for your bad behavior? Maybe this unknown god that they were looking for was incarnate in Christ. But they walked away, and we don’t hear anything else aboout Athens in the Bible.

While we certainly know why Paul went to Athens, and we know why he used the example of an unknown god, Paul really messed up because he did not understand the basis of faith which is questions about life and death, and questions that need to be answered within the framework of understanding that an individual possesses and a culture presents. Religion is a function of culture. Most religions have a basic moral framework, but it is developed within the understanding of their culture.

Paul messed up. He tried to give them a black and white explanation for a gray world. It was an absolute in a world in which there are no absolutes. It was an understanding of the God of the Jews that Paul tried to explain to the Greeks. He would have been better off talking about the nature of all of their gods and then attempting to relate that all of their attributes are contained in the God that Paul was trying to describe. He would have been better off talking about the spiritual side, as he started, instead of threatening them.

And therein lies the problem of determining the nature of God. We run into problems taking an issue of faith and making it into a concrete absolute. We try to take infinite concepts that our finite minds cannot comprehend and then explain God to people. We feel that the only way to talk about God is through absolutes. We assume that if God is in charge, then God must do the same types of things that we do. We think that we are so good that God must be like us, so we give God our attributes and then wonder why we cannot relate to God when the so-called bad things happen in our lives.

My second question is: “Would they have ultimately discovered God without Paul?” or, put another way, “Would the message of how we should live our lives learned through the examples set by Jesus have reached them sooner or later?”

Unless individuals are atheists, the concept of God is pretty much a concept that most people understand and, if it is important to them, try to find the right answer for them. For us, the entity that we call God was most revealed in the person of Jesus. And if you had to sum up his life in one word, what would it be? Would it be compassion? Would it be judgment? Would it be love?

We say that God is love. But if we really believe that, what are we doing in our lives to mirror his and the love he shared with the people?

If our answer is ‘yes,’ then we ought to be able to draw parallels between choices Jesus had to make and experiences in which he acted a certain way towards God and towards people. We ought to be able to say without doubt or equivocation that Jesus lived a life of love for God and others. We ought to be able to understand that God shows God’s very nature by the love we feel, the good we perform, and the support we give to others. We ought to be able to understand that while we can experience God in nature, it does not necessarily follow that when nature goes awry, God is punishing someone. We should be able to understand in this day and age that people come to God in ways that are understandable to them, that relate to them, that are a part of their culture.

The issue is simply that we cannot describe God. But in our finite ways we attempt to do that. We forget that God is a Spirit. We also forget that religion is a function of culture. While people may not worship God in the same ways that we do and may not use the same names, that does not negate their faith in God.

So I leave you with these thoughts - if you had been in Paul's shoes, what would you have said? If you are ever in Paul's shoes today, what will you say? Will the explanation of God, as you understand God, be an absolute in a finite and imperfect world, or will you give people the benefit of the doubt and help them find their special relationship with God in their own time and their own way? What will you say? Amen.