02.05.17 How God is Known Acts 17:22-31 Sermon Summary
You can look to creation and discover God as powerful and ordered. You can look inward to find God as love. But to know God as Savior, look to Jesus Christ.
- Two ways of knowing God and their limitations
- A third way revealed in the Bible
God is known in many different ways, which leads to various ways to talk about God. These ways are all provisional and conditional, and they are complementary to one another.
One way to know God is through nature. It basically derives from observing creation. Doing so suggests a God who is powerful and ordered. Knowing God this way leads some people to fear, and others to trust. In our passage, Paul refers to this God by stating, “From one ancestor God made all nations, and allotted them times and locations with the hope that they would reach for God and find him.” In other words, noticing creation and our limitations within it, we might search for and find the Creator.
Another way to know God is to look not outside ourselves at creation, but inside. Introspection leads some people to discover sparks of divinity, for God has made us in the divine image. Paul acknowledges but also has reservations about this way of knowing God when he says, “We are God’s offspring, but we should not think that God is an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.”
These two ways of knowing God—looking outward at creation or inward to the divine image—will lead to what Augustine called “vestiges” of God, or to what Paul identifies in Romans 1 as “inferences” of God. They yield some knowledge of God. But can we know even more?
The context of this passage has Paul in the city of Athens. He acknowledges the extreme religiosity of the citizens, finding shrines and idols everywhere and to every deity, including—just in case they might have missed one—an altar “to an unknown God.” Paul desires to focus our fuzzy understanding of God.
Whatever other gods there may be, Paul says, there is a God who is creator, who is Lord of heaven and earth, and as such is not confined by religious buildings, religious dogma, or maintained by religious rituals. This is a God who transcends all these and yet, Paul says, is not far from anyone.
How does Paul know this God? Such knowledge is beyond natural theology and introspection. The God Paul knows, he knows because God has revealed himself to Paul. Paul had a direct and personal experience with this God.
What did he experience? On the way to Damascus with papers in hand to arrest wayward Jews who had begun to follow “the Way” of Jesus, the resurrected Christ confronted Paul. Over the course of the revelation, Paul discovered the God who saves.
Jesus doesn’t appear to many of us in such dramatic fashion, but we have Paul’s testimony. And we have the testimony of others, going all the way back through scripture.
Psalm 67 begins, “May God be gracious to us and bless us, and make his face to shine upon us, that your ways may be known upon the earth, and your saving power among all nations.” When God wants to be known beyond creator and beyond our divine image, God reveals himself, and what God reveals is that he is Savior.
What God said to the ancient Israelites God says to all of us in Christ: “I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You will know that I am the Lord your God who has saved you from slavery and sin.”
Returning again to Psalm 67 to conclude, “Let the people praise you, O God; let all the people praise you.”