I readily confess to a play on words borrowed from the Apostle Paul in Acts 17 verse 23. While Paul was in Athens he passed the Athenian temple dedicated to the “Unknown God”. When he made his famous address to the listeners at the Areopagus he mentioned seeing an alter with the inscription “To the unknown God”. He went on to tell them about the God they did not know. The Areopagus was a gathering place for almost continuous speeches on all sorts of topics. The Athenians, and likely many visitors to the great city of Athens, had an unquenchable thirst for anything new. (Things haven’t changed much have they?)
The God Evangelicals claim allegiance to in our day is just as unknown, in the sense he is hardly recognizable when compared to the God of the Bible. Many of us are quick to point out the obvious excesses and extremes of those who are blatantly peddling their wares on TV and radio in the name of God so they can sit in gold plated chairs, drive Rolls Royce’s and Bentley’s, and enjoy lavish lifestyles at the expense of the ignorant. Meanwhile the God we profess to know, while slightly more moral than the one of the “you write it and I’ll cash it for Jesus” crowd, is a dependent weakling compared to the God of Holy Scriptures.
The God of the vast majority of self proclaimed “Christians” is one who thinks humans are the center of the universe and his chief purpose of being God is to make them happy and prosperous. You know, the God Joel Osteen supposedly speaks for every Sunday on TV. You don’t hear much about God followers being thrown to the lions or being sawed into from Osteen and others like him. Even those who don’t approve of Joel Osteen because of his perceived weakness on “sound doctrine” still largely buy into his grand idea of a man centered world populated by people, each of whom can have a heavenly father who is no more than a supernatural concierge who is waiting to supply their next wish list.
Christians are often personally offended when some happening in life is inconvenient or diminishes their pleasure in living. At once, while blaming God, they cry out to Him, “Why me?” What today’s average Christian wants from God is at a minimum an upper middle class lifestyle with two weeks paid vacation, healthy and bright children, no sickness that a trip to Rite Aid can’t cure, and an even more lavish home someday in heaven. They don’t really like being told much about how they should live their lives and certainly don’t entertain any thought of personal sacrifice for God. Are you kidding? Have you not heard that God is a loving Father full of grace and gifts to make me happy? Do you not know that God created us so he could have some friends, and that the reason he does so much for us is so we will love him? He was lonely in his big old young universe and he made us so he would have someone to talk to and do things for. He just wants us to love him back. He wants us to go to church, not get drunk, stop cursing, be nice to people we like, and tell other people about how nice he is to us. The bottom line is we are to imitate Jesus but God knows we can’t really do that so that is why Jesus died for us so God wouldn’t be mad at us.
This God we imagine has many of the limitations of humans. He doesn’t know what we will do until we have done it. And, he has made it so that pleasing a pastor or an elder is more important than pleasing him. This God gets his feelings hurt easily and in a fit of anger might just cause us to get cancer if we don’t toe the line. He doesn’t really like it when we cheat on our income taxes, tell dirty jokes at the office, and have a habit of lying, but He really will not do anything about it because he is all about love and good things.
This sort of God is an “Unknown God” to the pages of the Bible. The God of the Bible is far different. The center of the universe is God who is self sufficient and needs nothing and His chief end is His own glory and praise. We humans were created and recreated to that end. Ephesians chapter one gives the rationale for the redemptive scheme of God in Christ bringing sinners to himself.
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
“The praise of His glorious grace”, “the riches of His grace” and “the praise of His glory” are the reasons why God chose to lavish His love on us and to make us holy in Christ. The focus of God’s redemptive scheme is not us, but rather Himself. Paul explains further.
“For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
Paul wanted the Ephesian believers to know how truly great and powerful and majestic and worthy God is. The emphasis of the unfolding revelation is never focused on us. We are only a means to an end which is God’s unmatched praise and glory demonstrated in us because of Christ’s work for us and in us.
The greatest good of man is to bring glory to his God. The truth that God does hear us when we pray and grant requests that meet His approval is not about us but about His glory. The reason for the salvation he freely gives us based upon the merit of Jesus is not about us but about Him.
When Paul described God to the Athenians he said these words:
(He is)“ The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being”. (Acts 17:24-28)
The God Paul talked about was hardly a God who needs anything, especially puny little us. In Revelation chapter 4 we are given a glimpse of the continual, eternal praise and glory of God with the shouts of “Holy, Holy, Holy” which never stop. Even in heaven, so far removed from sin and its curse, there are no words to describe the glory of God fully so that for eternity they must be repeated without ceasing.
Jesus in His humanity was the fullness of the godhead bodily, the express image of His person and His demands of those who would follow him are far, far from what our “unknown God” demands. Instead of prosperity He promised persecution and rejection by our fellows. Instead of a crown he demanded that we bear a cross, an instrument of death. Instead of delightful “things”, He demanded denial of self and self interests. All of this so that in the end, when those who have believed God’s record of His Son, and have depended on Him, are raised from the dead and given immortal bodies, they might show the richness of his grace to the praise of His glory.
Two or three hours a week and a small percentage of our gross income hardly measures up to what the Creator God who provides everything we have deserves in gratitude.
Do I, do you, serve and worship the God of the Bible who delights in Himself? Or, do you and I give allegiance to the “Unknown God” who is a creature that only exists in our imaginations?