Good News from Mars (Part 2)
Paul is led up a 512 ft. hill, Mars Hill, also known as Areopagus, and there he faces the Epicureans and the Stoics (and others). These intellectual giants represented the philosophical thinking of the day in which Paul lived. And when these PhD's saw Paul, they sneered and considered him a vain babbler (seed picker). They had given Paul audience merely to amuse themselves by listening to what he had to say.
Now, the Stoic religion, founded by Zeno (c. 300 B.C.), was rooted in the art of living wisely. Their teaching suggested that the ultimate principle of the universe and the ideal of the ethical life is to live in harmony with reason. Reason will keep each man under control. God was thought to be the indwelling reason, the soul of the universe and apart from it, God had no existence. So according to stoicism, the fundamental injunction laid upon man was to follow the law of nature and maintain self discipline by listening to the voice of reason.
I think the Stoics made a good point because if we investigated the doctrines and practices of most of the major religions, we will find something comparable to the teachings of Christianity. We can look at Buddhism or Confucianism or Hinduism and find teachings against murder, stealing, adultery and so forth. And so the Stoics believed there was something in our natural thinking process that would lead us to do the right thing. Paul contemplated this philosophical leaning and came up with a gospel that seemed to undercut what the Stoics believed. I imagine Paul saying something to the effect: Men of Athens,
I can appreciate your philosophical thought that there is something in the laws of nature that will lead us to do the right thing. I understand what you are saying concerning the laws of nature, but I do not think you have considered human nature. You see, just because we know what is right does not mean we will do what is right. Just because we know we should not lie does not mean we will not lie. Just because we know we should not gossip on each other, stab each other in the back, dig ditches for one another, does not mean we will not do it. But my gospel takes into account human nature. Because I discovered the other day that even when I would do right, even when reason does lead me to do the right thing, evil is always present.
As intelligent as we may consider ourselves, we cannot afford to rely solely on reason. When we have done all the thinking we can do, we will realize that there are some things beyond reason. We know this because if we stop to think about it, we would have to admit that the virgin birth is not logical. The turning of water into wine is not logical. It is not reasonable to accept the idea of a man walking on water. But the gospel transcends logic. The doctrine of the gospel is a great mystery of godliness. It is out of the road of the enquiries of human reason; it transcends the finiteness and limitations of man.
The Epicureans were also on Mars Hill. They believed in the art of living happily. They considered pleasure of mind and body to be the highest good in life. Life to the Epicurean is simple fulfillment of natural desires which they felt rendered a life of security and lasting pleasure. They emphasized and sought to maximize the happiness of the majority and did not worry about the rest. For them, the chief end of man was to eat, drink and be merry.
Well, I can hear Paul telling the Epicureans,
There is nothing wrong with wanting to be happy. It is great to want to maximize the happiness of the greatest number, but my gospel also considers the few. There may be a few folks out there who cannot afford the cost of an education. There may be a few folks out there who are struggling trying to make ends meet. There may be a few folks out there who are not listed among the fittest; because under the evolutionary program, only the fittest will survive. If you are not fit, you'll be lost. But under the Gospel that I represent, it does not matter who you are, God cares.
Unlike man, God's love is not conditional and not predicated on who you are, where you are, where you live or your education. You can be the President of the United States or you can be a sanitation worker for the city, God cares for you. It doe not matter where you are - you can be on top of the mountains or you can be on the bottom of the barrel, God still cares. It does not matter what street you live on. You can live in the richest neighborhoods or you can live in the ghettos of America, God still cares. Maybe you do not have a degree behind your name, maybe you do not know how to make the subject and the verb agree; God still cares for you.
Paul looked at the surroundings he was in and could hardly believe what his eyes were seeing. Athens was famous for their temples that were exquisite works of art. There was no other place on earth at the time where so many idols were exhibited. It was often said that it was easier to find a god than a man in Athens. Paul observed the many temples, surrounded by statutes of deities and gods of many natures. There were thousands of public statutes and thousands more in the Parthenon. Athens was not only the home of the great philosophical thinkers; it was the home of the Greek gods of mythology. Many deities were housed in the temples and shrines of men's hearts and minds including Zeus, Apollo, and Narcissus. So Paul challenged them with the preposterousness of all the idols. What he said to them was tantamount to:
I've noticed you have a lot of idols up here. Everywhere I look, I see idols. I have even noticed an altar with the inscription - To the Unknown God. Here you sit like you have all the answers, like you have a monopoly on wisdom and yet the true God is an unknown God. Well, let me tell you about this unknown God.
The Good News from Mars (Hill) is that God cares. He cares for you in a personal and intimate way. It does not matter who you are, where you are, what your circumstance, God cares.
Rev. Saundra L. Washington, D.D., is an ordained clergywoman, veteran social worker, and Founder of AMEN Ministries. She is also the author of two coffee table books: Room Beneath the Snow: Poems that Preach and Negative Disturbances: Homilies that Teach which can be reviewed on her site. Her new book, Out of Deep Waters: My Grief Management Workbook, is expected to be available in July.
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Blessings to all!