Are we worshipping at the altar of the ‘unknown god’
Look how many gods there are in our market place. gods for instant gratification, gods for the greedy, gods of indulgence, gods of nationalism, gods with all the answers, gods of magic, gods of institutions, gods to bolster the political system, gods to support the opposition, gods to keep the poor happily poor, gods for the curious, gods for those who are not sure, gods to support prejudice, gods to perpetuate fear, gods for the righteous indignant, gods of the next great thing to cure all ills and gods pretending not to be gods at all, all these gods we find in our own market places, political system and cultural life and sometimes in our churches and homes. And in the midst of it all there is the altar to the unknown god. Is this a case of ‘just in cases’? We might have missed one, so throw up an extra altar to be safe, like the catch all clause ‘errors and omissions excepted’. The one god for whom no label is given. Paul uses the opportunity at the Areopagus to be bold, (no surprise there then) and gives a name to the God at the unknown altar. In my imagination, as Paul is preaching to them about Jesus and describing how God had been revealed through him, someone, quietly in the background, is creating a new altar to the unknown god. Is it a case of ‘Just in cases’?
The image of the altar to the unknown god is a powerful one. Against all the certainty, assuredness, dogmatic assertions there is a simplicity of this image that overrides all of our claims to the unadulterated truth. Paul uses a poem by Aratus, from his poem Phaenomena, written about 270 BC in Athens. He speaks of the God he has experienced through Jesus as the one “In whom we live and move and have our being” Barriers, often barriers constructed by religion itself are torn in two. The whole world is God’s creation, the playground of the Spirit. The whole world is the object of God’s love, the love incarnate in Jesus Christ. Every attempt by human beings to capture God in images, in a book, in a temple, in a people or culture, in a religious experience or in an institution, is a denial of the Spirit. It is a futile assault on God’s power in the name of human power, another desperate bid borne of fear, to define the undefineable, the unpredictable, the unmanageable future God promises us and actually this is what is so refreshing.
Most people have a space in their life for god. They might not call it that, but there is a spiritual dimension. We often hear this now, ‘I have a spiritual side’, But don’t give it a title. I’d like to have spiritual experience, but don’t expect me to do anything specific. I’ll visit any number of holy or sacred sites, even go on pilgrimage, but don’t sign me up to believe anything in particular. If we are going to be part of the Mission area of St. Asaph or whatever it might be called, this is our Areopagus – and we will be called to stand up and say Men, (and Women) of St. Asaph Mission Area, I perceive that you have a spiritual side and have found in your midst altars to the undefinable, unfathomable ‘unknown’ God. And so we say – Join us on the journey, who knows where it might take us!