Strangers in our Times (6)
“And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope 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 also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’” Acts 17.26-28
All truth is God’s truth
A measure of truth can be found in every unbelieving worldview. People cannot help themselves. Even those who deny God, resist His Word, and insist there are no final and absolute truths, nonetheless require truth to make sense of their lives. And this is so, even if the truth they hold contradicts other convictions, beliefs, or practices in their lives.
This is a function of our being made in the image of God. We could no more exist without truth than without breath. And, while people may deny God and His truth, they will borrow freely from it as it suits their purposes. They may not realize or admit this is what they’re doing, but they not only will do it, they must. Part of our task in understanding the times is to observe glimmers of truth in people’s worldviews, and to show how these contradict other of their convictions or practices. We may find these bits of truth and contradictions to be useful as thin entering wedges for the larger teaching of God’s truth, and for the Gospel.
Let’s see how Paul did this.
Light on the subject
Before the Athenian philosophy club, Paul continued to press his point that no god worth his salt could be reduced to an image, housed in a temple or kiosk, or in any way be dependent upon men. That would be a strange way of thinking about the gods we hold to have power over every aspect of life, wouldn’t it? If they’re so helpless and dependent, and can be placated or manipulated by our little acts of obeisance, how can they possibly be worthy of our devotion, or depended upon to meet our needs?
We can imagine lights going on in a few heads out there in the audience: “Well, I never thought about it like that.”
To reinforce his view, Paul turned to their own authorities. Quoting from two Greek poets, Paul bolstered his view of God – that He is great and powerful, and the Creator of all, dependent on none (vv. 24-27) – and he exposed the strangeness of the Athenians’ views. He showed them, in other words, that even their own best thinkers regarded his view as correct, and their views and practices as strange.
The implications of this were beginning to become clear, at least for some of Paul’s audience: If our gods don’t need us, as our best thinkers insist, yet they require all these various duties from us, then they do need us, and those authorities we look to are wrong, and we are fools for believing them. Or, if they don’t need us, as our thinkers explain, then the gods simply take perverse pleasure in watching us perform these constant acts of obeisance, to which they may or may not respond. In which case, we are fools.
Yeah, that’s strange
The strange truth, - the folly – Paul was trying to show, lay in the views of his listeners, who devoted so much of their time and attention to fussing over deities that didn’t need them, but that delighted in jerking them around for their own pleasure. Or else they believed revered thinkers who had it wrong about the gods, and therefore may have gotten much else wrong as well.
You don’t have to look too hard to find the same situation among your unbelieving friends. Ask an unbelieving friend how he can be so sure that his approach to life is true, and he’ll probably answer, “Well, everybody has to decide such matters for themselves.” That is, human beings are responsible for their destiny, precisely as the Scriptures teach. There’s the glimmer of truth.
But wait: Don’t your friend’s best authorities insist that there is no purpose to life, and everything is the result of mere chance? In such a case, how can we be responsible for anything? Or how can we be sure about anything? After all, the secular philosophers and scientists to whom your friend defers for the big ideas undergirding his worldview, insist that all truth is tentative and relative. None of us can be sure of anything ultimately, since truth is always susceptible to new discoveries and changing paradigms of thought.
And that, they insist, is the absolute truth.
As you grow in understanding the times, and the views of contemporary thinkers, you’ll observe such strange admixtures of truth and contradictions time and time again. Don’t hesitate to point out to your unbelieving friends that it’s unreasonable to insist on contradictory notions, and to build one’s life on the claims of self-contradicting authorities.
In a disenchanted and secular age, people are left only with their own best ideas and strongest hopes, and the testimony of the leading lights of this age is that none of that will get you beyond the grave. If all we may hope in are our own best ideas, or the best ideas of the best minds of the age, then we are doomed to knowing nothing for sure.
And that’s the truth.
1. Modern science insists it is the way to truth. Yet it also insists that there are no final truths, and no purpose for the cosmos. Thus, we can only make observations, not moral prescriptions. Can both these views be true? Explain.
2. Our secular age insists that truth is relative, yet it passes laws to direct and constrain moral behavior. What’s right about this, and why? What’s wrong about this?
3. “There are no absolute and final truths.” If that were true, would that be a true statement? But people say it all the time. How might we point out the contradiction of holding such a view?
Next steps – Conversation: How are your conversations going with your unsaved friends? Share what you’ve been doing with one or two of your Christian friends, and challenge them to do the same. Then get back to work engaging your unsaved friends. Listen for things that are truly “strange” in what they believe, and ask them to account for how these contradictory notions can be so. Don’t challenge; just ask and listen.
Do you understand the Gospel? Feel confident in proclaiming it? Our booklet, The Gospel of the Kingdom, can help you share the Good News with confidence. Order your copy by clicking here. While you’re at it, order a copy of Joy to Your World! and see how you can conduct a consistent witness of joy to the people God sends you to each week (click here).
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.