Saturday, May 03, 2008

Groping for God

Acts 17:22-31
22Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’

The Greeks worshipped many gods – some if them may seem familiar to us. There was a god in charge of drunkenness and serious partying. Gods who were known for lust and manipulating others into satisfying their sexual urges. Gods who were quick to anger and getting even. Gods who tricked people into doing things they normally wouldn’t do. Gods who insisted on being in control of everything and everyone around them. And if they weren’t properly worshipped they’d turn on even their most devoted followers. Paul saw how religious the Greeks were but he also saw that they had a yearning for something different, because in their temples there was always an altar to the unknown god. So he set out to teach them about that god they didn’t know.

Paul said that people were expected to grope for God, and that makes a lot of sense to me. Because this God that other people talked about – a loving, caring, forgiving God who actually wanted good things for me – was totally unknown to me! The first time I approached Step Two, my sponsor asked me write down what I believed about God right now and then to write down what I would like God to be. They were VERY different lists – the one I believed in was judgmental and hateful and punishing and unforgiving. I was less than a bug under his metaphysical foot. Even the loving God I hoped for then was a pale shadow of the God I have finally come to believe in.

You will have noticed that Paul said that the unknown god they yearned for didn’t live in temples. God wasn’t present in statues. God didn’t need the gifts people took to the temples to keep their gods from being angry with them. God didn’t need anything from us, because everything that exists came from God in the first place.

That’s all true. God isn’t here in this building – at least, not any more or less than everywhere else. For many who are newly coming to believe in a power greater than ourselves, we find God in each other. We look to the combined knowledge and experience of those who know more about God and about how to live to teach us and to lead us forward. Eventually we are able to find that unknown God, but we still rely on the others we know and trust to help us continue to grow, and to understand what God’s will for our lives might be. We rely on others who believe as we believe to strengthen and sustain our belief. We come to this place and other places like it to be with those people, and to study together the teachings found in scripture that can help us grow. Even to argue – in loving care, not in anger – with each other about what God said about how to love each other.

And once we do believe – really believe – in that God we’ve been told about, we can make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to God’s care. We can begin to trust that we will find the guidance we need to go in the direction God desires for us.

It’s fairly easy to turn the big things over. The state of the world economy, the question of whether our economic impetus checks will actually be delivered to the right address – these are things we know we have no real control over. It’s easy to let God handle them.
But there are all those little things . . . math tests, family members, situations at work . . .

I don’t like to travel. I like to be other places, I just don’t like the getting there part.
I flew to Indiana this week, and while I was on the plane I wrote down some of my travel quirks. The more I wrote, the more I had to laugh at myself!

I don’t trust myself to pack properly or hang on to a boarding pass
Don’t trust the security people to guard my belongings when they’re out of sight
Don’t trust the baggage people to get my stuff on the right plane
Don’t trust the pilots to do what they’re trained to do
Don’t trust the mechanics to take care of the plane
It seems like I don’t trust God to take care me at all!

It’s one thing to make sure I have all my things taken care of, that I’ve taken the necessary steps to do whatever it is I have to do. It’s another thing altogether to worry myself into an anxiety attack about things I have no control over. That’s what God is for! One person I shared my anxieties with shared her fear of flying and said she just keeps telling herself “No matter what happens, I’ll be fine. God’s in charge.”

Paul reminds us that in God we live and move and have our being, for we are God’s dearly loved children. All we have to do is remember that! Making a decision, every day, to turn our will and our lives over to God’s care is how we remember it.