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Observations About an Unknown God

Is there anyone here today who would say, "I never win anything"? You go to the concert and the door prize is never for you, and the service club raffle always goes to someone else? I have good news for you. You are a winner! Just the fact that you are here is proof. When you were conceived, you know that the chances that egg would be fertilized by that sperm was a millions to one long shot, but here you are! You are one in a million...or more! Feeling better? I hope so.

Here is another calculation of long odds:

In A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson marvels at what makes up human life:

No one really knows, but there may be as many as a million types of protein in the human body, and each one is a little miracle. By all the laws of probability proteins shouldn't exist. To make a protein you need to assemble amino acids?in a particular order, in much the same way that you assemble letters in a particular order to spell a word. [For example, to make collagen,] you need to arrange 1,055 amino acids in precisely the right sequence?.

For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship,

I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.
Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. 
The God who made the world and everything in it  is the Lord of heaven and earth
and does not live in temples built by hands.    Acts 17:23-24       


Is there anyone here today who would say, "I never win anything"?  You go to the concert and the door prize is never for you, and the service club raffle always goes to someone else?  I have good news for you. You are a winner! Just the fact that you are here is proof. When you were conceived, you know that the chances that egg would be fertilized by that sperm was a millions to one long shot, but here you are! You are one in a million...or more!  Feeling better?  I hope so.

Here is another calculation of long odds:

In A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson marvels at what makes up human life:

No one really knows, but there may be as many as a million types of protein in the human body, and each one is a little miracle. By all the laws of probability proteins shouldn't exist. To make a protein you need to assemble amino acids?in a particular order, in much the same way that you assemble letters in a particular order to spell a word. [For example, to make collagen,] you need to arrange 1,055 amino acids in precisely the right sequence?.

The chances of a 1,055-sequence molecule like collagen spontaneously self-assembling are, frankly, nil. It just isn't going to happen. To grasp what a long shot its existence is, visualize a standard Las Vegas slot machine but broadened greatly'to about ninety feet, to be precise'to accommodate 1,055 spinning wheels instead of the usual three or four, and with twenty symbols on each wheel (one for each common amino acid). How long would you have to pull the handle before all 1,055 symbols came up in the right order? Effectively forever. Even if you reduced the number of spinning wheels to two hundred, which is actually a more typical number of amino acids for a protein, the odds against all two hundred coming up in a prescribed sequence are 1 in 10260 (that is 1 followed by 260 zeros). That in itself is a larger number than all the atoms in the universe?.

Yet we are talking about several hundred thousand types of protein, perhaps a million, each unique and each, as far as we know, vital to the maintenance of a sound and happy you. 1

A pessimist would just become all bent out of shape at that when you think of all the things that could go wrong.
On the other hand, it absolutely astounds me at how little does go wrong when you consider the complexity of a human body.

It sort of makes me think that there might be intelligent life behind it and intelligent life sustaining it.
That in and of itself does not rise to the level of proof of a creator, but ought to point us in the direction of wondering.

In the text in Acts this morning, Paul is in the city of Athens and is preaching to people about Jesus as the promised Messiah and the Lord not just of the Jews, but Gentiles as well.

Athens was not in its hey day at this time, but is still a prominent city noted for its intellectual flavor and its schools of philosophy.
Luke mentions two groups who engaged Paul--members of the philosophical schools of the Stoics and the Epicureans.

His approach was that the notion of a creator should be evident from the creation and that this curiosity should be enough to send people looking for the nature of their creator.
He notes that they do indeed have spiritual notions, but that their curiosity in itself has not led them to the source of creation.

The fact of human spirituality is nothing new. To say that we have a spiritual part of our nature is like noting we have an intellectual side to us, or a social side or that we are sexual beings. We have a spiritual side because that is how our creator made us. That curiosity alone does not lead us to the creator.
I read that Robbie Williams the British rock star prays to Elvis before every concert. He and his crew bow and pray that Elvis will guide them and give them a good concert.

Paul makes a point that Athens is full of statues to gods of all variety, including one to an unknown god.
Statues to unknown gods is not unusual in the ancient world. It was a way of hedging their bets so to speak, in case they had missed someone important.

Paul says,  that they have indeed missed someone important. They have missed the identity of the God who our creator and sustainer, the one who he says "in whom we live and move and have our being".

But you can not begin with the creation and lead through human wisdom and ingenuity to a full knowledge of the creator.
We may come within an approximation, but it is incomplete.
At its worst, human spirituality teamed up with the human inclination for perversity...read the newspapers for examples of that, can lead to some pretty awful places.

In Solomon's time, in spite of his great wisdom, he allows himself to be seduced by the influences of the Caananites and their gods. First Kings mentions two in particular: Chemosh and Moloch. They were gods who were worshipped to gain a good harvest, protection from their enemies and to promote general well being. Both had a very dark side. They both involved child sacrifice. Moloch particularly was a nasty piece of work. The god was represented by a hollowed out bronze statue with outstretched hands. A fire was built inside the statue and first born children would be brought and placed on the red hot hands of the statue as a living sacrifice. Pipes and tambourines were played to drown out the screams of the children.

You say, but we would have nothing to do with anything like that. Maybe not. Maybe not yet anyway.
About three weeks ago, I quoted from an interview with Peter Singer, the professor of ethical philosophy at Princeton University who  New Yorker magazine calls the most influential philosopher alive, and New York Times says no other living philosopher has his kind of influence. In that interview, Dr. Singer said he saw nothing inherently immoral or wrong with killing a new born infant to harvest its organs for an older child. He said he would have problems with parents who were so emotionally distant they would raise children for that purpose, but there was nothing inherently immoral with doing so.

You see the problem is that beginning only from what we know, we cannot reach God our creator or the fact that we are morally accountable before God.
That comes only from revelation. The Bible end to end is the history of the God of creation revealing himself to us through prophets, kings, apostles and as Paul is telling the people in Athens, through Jesus who was born, died to give us forgiveness for our real ethical guilt and rose from the grave to give us eternal life as a gift. An interesting little statistic you may have received as a forwarded email message--did you know that the middle verse in the entire Bible is Psalm 118:8? It is.
And do you know what it says?
It says, 

 It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in man.


Apart from God showing us the way, we can't get there from here.
And an attempt to use human reason alone can lead us into some very monstrous places, whether it is the gods Moloch and Chemosh or the ethical relativity of Peter Singer that opens the door to modern monstrosity, or Robbie Williams and the silliness of praying to Elvis.

But God does show us the way. God reveals his identity. God does not have to be unknown.
The way is in the person of Jesus, who died but was resurrected.
Paul says that with total confidence. Why? Because Luke or someone told him?
No, because in his own words, he met Jesus himself, after his resurrection on the road to Damascus.
I can say this with total confidence because I have met him too. Not bodily, but just as real and just as convincing.
And you can too. I cannot say how God will connect with you and your life, just that if you ask, the door will be opened.
Jesus says in Revelation. Behold, I stand at the door and knock.

Why not open the door. I guarantee you it won't be Elvis who has long since left the building.
It will be Jesus who is ready to change your life and lead you where you cannot go alone.
Pray with me quietly to yourself.
Lord we want to find what is good and right for our lives and not get sidetracked into silliness or worse. You say you will come and make yourself known to us in our lives. We ask this in the name of Jesus who lived, who died and has risen again. Amen


Preached  May 1, 2005
Dr. Harold McNabb
West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia


Notes
1.  Bill Bryson, "The Rise of Life", A Short History of Nearly Everything, pp. 288-289, cited in Preaching Today.

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