Can't I find God on my own?
Sermon Series: God, the Fairytale | Passage: Acts 17:22-34
Although the Bay Area isn’t a very “religious” context, that doesn’t mean most people here don’t believe in God. 68% of people who check the “none” box on a religious census also call themselves “spiritual”. 55% of people in the Bay Area consider themselves a “religious” none, meaning they don’t know God, but they feel like they are spiritual.
Many believe God can be found however we want to discover Him. We can find him hiking in the mountains or out on a lake while fishing. We can find him during yoga, meditation or in another religion. In the western world, we believe we get to decide how we find God and on our terms. But this begs a significant question: If God is real, wouldn’t He have an opinion on how we engage Him?
In Acts 17, Paul deals with a similar context as the Bay Area in Athens. The Stoics and Epicureans were smart and intelligent. They sought for God, but claimed he was “unknowable”. They believed they could find Him in the arts and in nature. Throughout our passage we see several insights Paul makes while interacting with the people in Athens.
1- Their desires to find God and be happy were good
All human beings have a desire to matter and belong in our world. As a result, we will seek truth about ourselves. These are good desires. The truth about God is made plain to everyone, no matter what they believe (Romans 1:19-20). As we seek God, we sense His creation: His mountains, His oceans, His people etc. Just because someone hasn’t found the truth about God yet, doesn’t mean they are the enemy. It means they sense “God” is real on some level but don’t have the full truth. We should acknowledge this in people and in ourselves.
2- The God we seek can be found
While the athenians believed God was unknowable (Acts 17:22-23), Paul believes the God of the universe can be found. This may challenge the worldview of you or someone else, but it doesn’t mean it’s not true. Many of us have started a search for God, and stopped after a short time. Don’t stop. Keep learning. Just because someone has always believed God is not real, doesn’t make them right. In verse 27, Paul says God is “actually not far from us.” In our fatigue of exploring religions and faith, we may have stopped just short of finding the true God.
3- To find God we often look in the wrong place
Paul says the Athenians were looking for God in the arts and in temples (v. 28-29). That may sound primitive, but we often do the same thing. We may look at a combination of religions, philosophies and political leanings and synthesize a belief that we want to believe. But what if that’s the wrong place to engage God? If God is real, wouldn’t he care how he is approached by us?
We wouldn’t approach our spouse on our own terms just because that’s the way we choose to love them. No! We find out how they care to be talked to. We find out their needs and desires and seek to engage them in a way they appreciate and respect. If God is real, this is no less true for Him. He is a person and asks to be approached through one specific lens: Jesus (John 14:6). While our motives aren’t always negative for engaging God on our own terms, we can see how deciding how to engage God without asking Him how seems short-sided at best, and arrogant at worst.
4- God proves He is real with Jesus
It make sense for a person to be skeptical about engaging a God we can’t see, especially in the western world. Paul explains that God proves His validity with a divine act of grace: the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection is a definitive act in history that, if it happened, changes everything about us and the world.
Paul makes the case that if the resurrection is real, this God is worth giving everything up for. But, if the resurrection wasn’t real, Christianity is a complete waste of time (1 Cor. 15:17). So, Christianity is either validated and worth being a part of, or it’s a farce. There is no in between. The Bible doesn’t claim the resurrection was an allegory, or a fable, it states it as a historical fact, and all of history it’s been believed as truth by the church. This means we can’t simply take it as a story or allegory, since the Biblical authors did not intend that to be the case. Jesus provides for us our most basic desires in this world. We all want to matter and belong. Jesus provides joy and love beyond our longings. If he can answer life’s most pressing questions, then it is worth exploring Christianity for a little longer.
5- Keep the conversation going
32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 So Paul went out from their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.
There were three responses to Paul’s message of the resurrection from the Athenians: mockery, belief, or a desire to keep learning. Maybe you are not there yet with believing the full message of Jesus. Don’t quit. The truth of God can be found. Maybe today you’ll say, “we will hear you again about this.”
1. Why do you think so many people in the western world claim to be “spiritual” despite not believing in God? What does that say about God, if anything?
2. The athenians believed God was “unknowable”. Why do you think such an intellectual and wealthy culture would see God as unknowable? Do you see any links to the Bay Area in Athens?
3. Why is the belief that we can engage God however we want to so popular in the western world? What is the problem with this belief (if any)?
4. How can “engaging God on our own terms” cause us miss him altogether? Why is engaging Him through Jesus so necessary?
5. We often search for God in the wrong place. The Athenians searched for God in the arts, and in temples. What are some ways we look for God in the wrong places today?
6. How does the resurrection validate (or not validate) the story of God in the Bible? How can we use the resurrection to help people come to know God
7. Why is it important to continue the conversation about God? Why do so many people stop searching or never start in the first place?