Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For 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. The 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, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From 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, so 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. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said. (From Acts 17)
When Paul was speaking to the citizens of Athens (that’s Greece, not Kentucky), he said that people search for God, when truly God is quite close by.
Searchers. Isn’t that what we all are? Maybe not everyone searches for God. There are those who search for God, those who search for meaning, those who search for joy. Some seek health and happiness, some look for family and belonging, some seek peace and solitude. There are people who long for fame, and people who want nothing more than quiet anonymity, people who want to be rich, and people who are ready to simplify their lives by getting rid of possessions.
Most of us, at some time or other, have a feeling that something is missing. And we go searching, at least in our minds. It seems that we are not unlike the ancient Athenians. They were looking for something. They were a pagan society, and had erected structures to every god represented in their pluralistic society, even one “to an unknown god” to cover all the bases. Were they still searching? Paul seemed to think so.
Searching isn’t a bad thing. It signifies that you care about deeper meaning. Are some quests more noble than others? Probably. Shallow goals typically produce shallow results. Fame and possessions, for example, don’t usually yield deep satisfaction. Those pursuits, the shallow ones, can turn into idols when they replace the deeper searches for meaning. We Americans tend to be pretty good at the shallower pursuits. Ads reach into our need to seek something, but they generally offer solutions that aren’t particularly meaningful. False idols. It’s the easier road, but it isn’t often fruitful in the long run.
What if we took Paul’s advice to look for the God who is not far away, but actually close by? What if our inward looking led us to see the places in our souls where God has already been at work, stirring in us the desire for meaning? What if our outward searching led us to see the places where God has already been at work in the world? What if our searching could lead us to recognize meaning, happiness, peace, belonging, and all those other things we need, that aren’t that far away at all?
In God we live and move and have our being. The object of our search is right here, with us and within us.
© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2011