“For God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, “We are his offspring.’” (verses 24-28)
The first century Athenians, as Paul acknowledged, were “very religious” (verse 22). They had idols everywhere. Greek mythology was chockablock with gods – these Athenians sought to honour every last one. Lest they failed to do so, they had added one extra altar: “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.”
Taking this as his cue, Paul springboards off it to inform them of the one true God. Several things stand out:
(1) “The Lord of heaven and earth” (verse 24). The Greeks had gods and goddesses for every possible aspect of existence from love and pleasure to bloodshed and violence, from arts and music to marriage and childbirth, from heaven to hell, from the sun to the moon. But Paul affirms that the Lord himself “made the world and everything in it” – he is sovereign over it all, nothing left out, nothing falling to the control of another deity.
(2) “He is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything” (verse 25). There is a sense in which the Greek gods were simply glorified humans with all our strengths and weaknesses writ large. They were jealous, proud, possessive, conniving. They required gifts and appeasement from humans. They were, in many ways, needy. Paul says that the Lord God Almighty isn’t. Not at all. There is nothing lacking in his own person or circumstance that requires the input of human beings to fill up or satisfy. And yet, we’re told that he determined things in such a way that we would choose to seek him and reach out for him and find him. He doesn’t need us, but he loves us.
(3) “In him we live and move and have our being” (verse 28). He doesn’t need us, but we absolutely need him. We are wholly dependent, in each instance and for every breath. We think of ourselves as independent beings – but we’re not. Without his power and presence sustaining us each and every moment, we would simply expire, give out, cease to be. My Dad used to sing a song as I went to bed at night with this profound, memorable line: “without him, I can do nothing.” That’s Paul’s point, viewed inside out. Viewed right side round, his point is that we owe him thanks for every single thing we have and experience. Life and movement and being – it’s all dependent on him.
This is our awesome God – King of the universe, Creator of the cosmos, Sustainer of all things. He is completely other than we are. We would have no hope of ever knowing him. And yet, he has built into us a desire to reach out to him, that we might find him.
The further part of the story, of course, is that he himself has reached out to us. Crossing the distance, overcoming the barriers, he reached right into our experience. When we were his enemies, while he was still unknown, he sent his Son. His intent was to rescue us out of our darkness, to win us into his kingdom, to secure it for all eternity.
Oh, what a God.
Sovereign God, I honour you as the Lord of heaven and earth. You have made the world and everything in it. When I could offer you nothing, you offered yourself for me. I stand in awe. Praise be to your mighty name.
Reflect: “In him we live and move and have our being.” Take this line, repeat it till you know it, and recite it all day. Remind yourself of your absolute dependence. Praise him at every step.