The unknown God
Some years ago, I went to a talk by Thomas Bandy, a popular speaker and expert on church growth from the US. He was very popular in UCA circles at the time and made regular visits to Australia to speak at various events.
He said in the church, we often lament that society has become overly secular, and people are not interested in God or spiritual things. He strongly disagreed with this and pointed out all the very spiritual things that existed in popular culture. He recited a long list of TV shows and movies with supernatural or spiritual themes, talked about the rise of the New Age movement, with its healing crystals and meditation, the increased interest in Eastern religions such as Buddhism. He pointed to all of these things as indicators that our society was not secular, but quite the opposite. He claimed that people were desperately seeking some kind of meaning or transcendence in all kinds of places, and that the challenge for the church was not to try to interest people in spiritual things, but rather to show why what we have to offer is better than anything else in the massive smorgasbord of spiritual options available.
That was back in the early 2000s, yet I believe Bandy’s observations are still as relevant today as they were back then.
Our Lectionary reading from Acts this week reminded me a lot of that experience. The apostle Paul is preaching in Athens and comments on how religious the locals are. So religious, in fact, that among the many monuments in the city, Paul finds an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” It’s like the Athenians are wanting to hedge their bets, “just in case”. I can’t help but wonder if something similar is going on in our society. People claim, “I’m not religious, but I am spiritual,” and sing along passionately to U2’s song, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.
In Athens, Paul identified the ‘unknown god’, and told the people all about, “the God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth.” (Acts 17:24). The challenge for us is to find creative ways to introduce the people around us to the One we know who can fill the emptiness they are seeking to fill, and provide meaning that reaches beyond what they can see and touch.