An Unknown God


“For we are indeed His offspring” – Read Acts 17:16-34




As soon as they are out of prison, Paul and Silas are obliged to leave Philippi. They arrive at Thessalonica, but, after three weeks, they are again forced to escape by night to Beroea, where they manage to preach the Gospel successfully. Also from this place, pursued as he finds himself by fanatical enemies, Paul is forced to flee, escorted by the brethren until Athens, where he remains alone. Persecutions seem to scan the time necessary to found a community: they even look like the motor that carries the Gospel here and there. The fuel is the fire that burns in the Apostle’s heart.

Not by chance, Paul was told: “I am the Jesus whom you are persecuting.” These words are, for him, the whole revelation about God and humanity. The Crucified and Risen Christ is the One he is persecuting in His disciples. The Son of Man, condemned to death as a blasphemer, is “the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Jesus made Himself servant of all and identified Himself with every human being who is rejected and persecuted. Now, Paul also has become like his Lord and Master.

Although reduced to a small town of about five thousand free citizen, Athens is still the center of the world from the cultural point of view. Paul enters into discussion with the Jews in the synagogue and, following the habit of the Greek philosophers, speaks with the people in the marketplace. With Paul’s discourse at the Areopagus, the Gospel enters into dialogue with the Greek philosophy. Do the meager results signify that it is a wrong route or only a difficult one? Certainly, we must “become all things to all men” ( 1 Corinthians 9:22). This is what Paul did and many others after him like Fr. Robert De Nobili in India and Matthew Ricci in China.

Dialogue doesn’t give away the message, but improves it. By comparing the Gospel message with the Greek culture, Paul discovers that there are different types of wisdom. With him, the Greek Logos finds its fundamental distinction: there is the Logos of the cross, word of love, gift, pardon and life and the Logos of the powerful, word of selfishness, possession, violence and death. What most beautiful the human intelligence has produced – the human rights with the ideal of freedom, equality and brotherhood – is fruit of the impact of the Jewish-Christian culture on the Western one. The cultural comparison is always fruitful: to communicate is always a mutual give and take. 

Paul’s words at the Areopagus touch the heart of every person: in all people everywhere there is the shrine to “an Unknown God.” He is unknown because different from any human representation; yet, He is “the non-other from every other one”; “intimate to us more than we can be to ourselves.” “In him we live, move and have our being.” Many think they know Him and reduce Him to a kit of pocket-size ideas, usable at their convenience. We forget that Jesus, even if often used by us in order to aim at power, was killed as a blasphemer and a subversive by the religious and political establishment.

We must always maintain the dimension of the “Unknown God” – the Deus semper maior or, better, the Deus semper minor. Only, thus, will we be able to meet Him in every human being who is God’s unique and true shrine. Otherwise, instead of preaching the Gospel, “we sacrifice and eat” the other human beings in order to assimilate them to ourselves. Proselytism is true cannibalism!

The “Unknown God” reveals Himself in our desire, which is common to all, of loving and being loved. Only this makes us pass from an unhappy, ugly and evil existence to a happy, beautiful and good life. Such a desire is God’s seal, our likeness to Him, imprinted in every human being. We are called to be what we already are:”Children of God.” Not, however, of the god of the powerful, who is madness of death, but of the God of all human beings, who is Living Wisdom.

All of us, like the inhabitants of Athens, long to know the last pieces of news, the last novelties. Such a curiosity, however, remains sterile if what is new is not translated into a sense of wonder which can change our life. God is present in what is new. Not so much in ideas but in reality. God is love. And love shows itself more in deeds than in words.  © Popoli –


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