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The more you know about the creation, the more you will see the hand of the Creator, and come to know the God of the Bible more closely.
During his ministry in Greece and Macedonia, Paul traveled to the great city of Athens. While there, he made this comment about the “religious” atmosphere of the society: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:22–23).
What was Paul talking about? On Mars’ Hill—also called the Areopagus—was found a temple dedicated not to one of the major Athenian gods such as Zeus or Athena, but rather to “the Unknown God.” The Athenian religion included the idea that there were other gods unknown to the Greeks, but sought to appease even those unknown gods and to gain their favor.
In the ancient world it was commonly believed that there were many gods—gods that ruled over various parts of the heavens, such as the sun or moon. Some thought gods were more local, and that they only had power within a particular country. Some think of “the Unknown God” as more or less a placeholder for any and all gods not known to the worshiper. Others identify it with a specific-but-unidentified being outside the Greek pantheon.
What a contrast this is to the Bible’s account, which proclaims that the God of Israel is the only God and He is the Creator—the One who rules over everything on this earth and in the heavens above.
So, do you know the unknown God—the one whom Paul proclaimed on Mars Hill?
Are you sure?
Many religions claim the Bible as their guide. But they often present wildly conflicting and even contradictory ideas. So, can we trust the Bible as the source of ultimate truth? Consider for a moment the scientific alternative. Much of modern science posits a world without God. The universe is a large and complex place, but scientists have tried to explain it without need for a Creator. But even most scientists today believe that there is no past eternity of matter, and that our universe was formed in a “Big Bang” about 14 billion years ago. Canadian science journalist and author, Bob McDonald explains:
“According to the Big Bang theory, the universe was born out of an unimaginably hot soup of energy with pressures so high that nothing with mass could exist. Even quarks, the smallest particles known, would have been squished into pure energy.… Somewhere along the line, energy turned into matter. That is, into quarks, protons, electrons, atoms, molecules, particles, planets and, eventually, human beings trying to figure the whole thing out. If the universe hadn’t developed these interesting little lumps, we wouldn’t be here” ( “It’s not a ‘god’ particle,” CBC News, December 16, 2011).
According to many scientists, energy somehow turned into matter, and matter turned into us. But where did all that energy come from? What was its origin? Science has no explanation. Neither does science know how and why energy, which apparently was around forever, came to the point of the Big Bang.
When we look at us we see the marvel of design. The human body and mind give evidence of intelligent engineering, function, and planning. The same goes for all living things: whether we look at birds, insects, reptiles, fish, or mammals, we see beauty, design and purpose. We also see an ecosystem on this planet that works together in harmony to support the existence of all life forms.
Is it really that difficult to see the hand of Intelligence in all of this? Paul affirmed to the Athenians that there is a God behind it all. “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things” (Acts 17:24–25).
Is Life So Simple?
Have you ever wondered why scientists are unable to duplicate even the simplest forms of life? Consider. We are told that somehow, by accident, various non-living chemicals came together in some primordial soup and began to link up in a manner that produced life. But is it that simple? If so, why are scientists unable to duplicate this process? After all, they know which chemicals make up life.
Let us suppose that they could bring all the right chemicals together and connect them in just the right way, kind of like putting together a complicated puzzle. Now let us suppose that they could hold them all together for a few moments. In order to create a living cell, they would need to wrap this amazing puzzle in some kind of specialized bag or membrane to hold it all together. This is sometimes portrayed as a bubble, something we might see in a pool of water. Sorry my friends, but we must burst this bubble. There is nothing simple about the membrane that surrounds a cell and the idea that this would happen by chance is a bit insulting to our intelligence. Think about it. For this cell to survive, its DNA would have to contain detailed instructions on how to make this protective cellular wall. So which came first? The cellular wall that holds together the DNA and all the other structures of the cell, or the DNA that gives instructions on how to build the cellular wall?
Even if all this somehow just happened without any intelligent oversight, would we have life? The answer is, no. You can have all the parts of the organism in just the right configuration, but you still do not have life until something gives it life. Science writers often speculate that a spark (perhaps a bolt of lightning) suddenly jolts our puzzle to life. But so far man, with all his intelligence, has never been able to put the puzzle together from scratch, much less jolt it to life. In fact, we have difficulty giving life to whole organisms that were once alive. Occasionally when someone stops breathing we are able to bring him back, but unless the heart starts beating and the lungs start pumping rather quickly, rapid deterioration sets in and any hope of restoring life ceases.
One day, in a biology course I was taking, our professor explained how scientists had mixed various chemicals and produced simple amino acids—the building blocks of proteins, which are the building blocks of life. He did not explain that they had carefully mixed just the right chemicals together in a very controlled environment, nor the fact that we do not see this happening anywhere in nature. But aside from that, he then began talking about the first single-celled life. I then asked: “How did you go from a few amino acids to a very complicated and fully developed functioning cell?” His surprising answer? “That is the biggest gap in evolution, but since we are here, we know that gap was bridged.”
Of course, we are not disputing the fact of our existence, but the means by which we came to exist. Without dispute, he was promoting as fact a theory that he had to admit contains a huge problem. Unless evolution can explain the first cell (it cannot), how can it possibly account for all the remaining marvels of life?
There Is a Source!
Paul and the Bible claim that there is an alternate explanation, an Intelligence at work who created the universe and gives life. This is the God the Athenians did not know. Furthermore, that Intelligence has a plan for man: “…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 17:28).
Offspring? This should give us pause to consider. Why did He create man in His image and His likeness? What is God’s purpose in this?
A purely materialistic view, also called naturalism, would claim that there was a time when only energy existed. Where it came from no one knows, but somehow in the course of time, they say, energy became so concentrated in one location (no one knows how or why) that it burst forth in a big bang and somehow changed from energy to matter. This matter rattled around, forming stars, planets, and a host of other heavenly bodies and systems. On one of these planets, non-living chemicals somehow came together to form an elaborate puzzle. It had no life, but before it could deteriorate, it was jolted to life by a spark of some unknown kind, a very tiny spark because our single-celled critter-to-be was very tiny.
Then this very lonely single-cell organism somehow knew it needed food and where to find it from non-living matter. It knew how to consume food, and it survived long enough to somehow reproduce; though how it knew it had to do so and how it learned to do so no one knows—it just did, because by chance when the puzzle was put together, it had all the necessary DNA codes and structures! And over the course of millions of years it eventually produced all the life forms we see today.
The alternative to blind chance producing such an end product is super-naturalism; in other words, God. The God that Paul and the Bible teach made man in His image and likeness. Why?
King David asked this question: “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained. What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor. You have made him to have dominion over the works of your hands; You have put all things under his feet” (Psalm 8:3–6).
This was God’s intent for man from the beginning (Genesis 1:26), but for what purpose was man made to rule? The Apostle Paul answered King David’s question: “For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him” (Hebrews 2:8).
Today, we see that much of planet Earth is indeed in subjection under mankind. Human beings have domesticated wild animals to use as beasts of burden, as pets, and even as food. Yet it is also evident that mankind’s current rule is very limited, and does not extend much beyond some very simple aspects of physical life on our planet. Ultimately, we know we are physical beings and are destined to die, so why has God placed us in this unique rulership position? The Bible answers this question.
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Romans 8:14–17). And also: “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:18).
Consider what you have just read: we are described as children of God, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, sons and daughters; and God is our Father. Can we not begin to see why we are made in the image and likeness of God? While we try to lower God to be in our image, after the imagination of our hearts, He is in the process of making us in His image!
This process involves learning our Father’s ways and developing His very character so we may live in harmony with Him for all eternity; and sometimes this character development involves pain and suffering. Sadly, sometimes that is the only way a loving Creator God can get our attention. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
What is this glory that shall be revealed in us? What could possibly excite us to want to learn more and to worship the Creator? It is that we look to a future time when we will be in a harmonious family relationship with Him: “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now… even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption [sonship], the redemption of our body (Romans 8:19–23).
The Grand Design
If we are the product of blind chance, then living for today and forgetting about the future may make sense. But, if God is real, perhaps you should consider living for a future in the Family of God. Human beings were not created as mere animals to live and die without hope. We are different! Faith, hope, and conscious planning for the future are part of what makes us different. Romans 8 tells us that Christ was only the firstborn among many brethren: “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren… He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:29, 32).
This is the plan of the “Unknown God” that Paul proclaimed to the philosophers at Athens—the God who is still unknown to most of the world today.