In this chapter, the evangelistic efforts of Paul, Silas and others continues. They are preaching, arguing and witnessing to Jews, Greeks and women as they travel into Greece. Chapter 17 reveals how they were received differently from synagogue to synagogue and by non-Jews. This was to be expected in that their message was contrary to authoritative Jewish teaching and differed as well from varying Greek philosophical beliefs. So, some received the evangelizing as a threat to the status quo and others were intrigued.
Numerous things from this chapter were interesting to me. First of all, Paul, in his travels was noticing the differing religious practices and beliefs of different groups. Rather than coming across as condemnatory, he communicated that he “perceived in every way that “you” are very religious ( by virtue of their philosophical interests and the worshiping of idols) and by the creation of an altar to an unknown God”. I believe that Paul understood that it is man’s nature to understand himself in relation to a higher power and, therefore, he was, in a way, complementing them for their pursuit. Paul’s effort was not to ostracize but to reveal the “Living God” to them: to make God known as opposed to worshipping the “unknown God”. “ God who made the world and everything in it, ….. does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to ALL men life and breath and everything.” The chapter goes on to say that all this was done so “that they should seek God, in the hope that they might find him. Yet he is not far from us for In him we live and move and have our being”. In essence we are already of God and that God, by virtue of our very creation is in each and every one of us.
We do not need to look for God in symbols, physical structures and traditions. We need only to look within and to seek God there. The message to me is that the purpose of life is to find our way back to God, to reveal what is true, lasting and knowable and to discard all else which cause us to deviate from this path. I feel certain that all of us have wrestled with understanding “what life is all about” and I feel that Paul is validating that purpose but, through his witness, wanted to guide his audience, both then and now, to a path where God could be truly known. He was transformed by the power of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and he believed that this transformative love of God was and is intended for All mankind.
Do you feel as I, that indeed our purpose in this life is to find our way back to God and to be strengthened by the journey itself? I sense that all of us, from time to time, are aware that this is not our true home, that something is missing and that we have some level of recognition of what is missed. Does this ring true to you?