Take a moment to think about what defined the culture of the Greeks for hundreds of years. It shouldn’t be an excruciating moment of pondering. You might think about yogurt. That’s good thinking, but a bit too modern. You might think about lots of national debt. That’s true, too, but, again, a bit modern. You might even think about their myriad games that they loved. This, even more, is true and good; however, there is another topic that more inclusively encapsulates their culture. Our history textbooks have labeled this apex of Grecian culture as “Greek Mythology”. I have little doubt that you are faintly-to-intensely familiar with this phrase. You know Zeus and Poseidon; Hades and Hermes; even Perseus and Hercules. The Greeks had deities and heroes imbued into nearly every aspect of their civilization – much like the Romans who came after them – and they were incredibly fervent in their pursuit of pleasing these higher beings. The Bible gives its readers some glimpses into Grecian culture; none of the passages that detail this way of life are incredibly complimentary. Paul brushed shoulders with the Athenians during his travels. He observed their idolatry – as we call it – and was provoked to preach a bit of good news to them. His first remarks to them succinctly describe the culture that has been touched on:
“Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious…” (NKJV, Acts 17:22).
Of course, the famous continuation of this prelude details the stone that the Athenians had set up with the inscription: “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD”. Paul seems a bit humored – mostly taken aback – by this, yet he proceeds to preach about the ultimate God of the universe to the people gathered there. Some of them listened to him; most did not.
Idolatry - as we see it being exemplified by the Athenians in this passage - is one of the most visceral diseases of the spiritual soul. Idolatry has an allure to it, seducing all manner of people. This is a disease that goes deep, latches onto every thread of thought, and resists all forms of extraction with youthful vigor. Paul's little success on the Hill of Ares, therefore, should come with little surprise. According to Christ's parable of the sower and the seed in Matthew 13, Paul was sowing on ground that seemed to be heavily populated with thorns. These people, actually, were too religiously idolatrous to receive or appreciate the truths of God.
What kind of success would Paul experience in your community? If it is anything like the one that I live in, he probably wouldn't find much good ground. Idolatry reigns. Parents sacrifice their children on the altar of athletics and the arts, which often depletes their lives and their souls over the course of multiple years. Men pursue knowledge tirelessly, mimicking the Athenians who "spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing" (NKJV, Acts 17:21). Religious bodies reverence traditions, ceremonies, books, and humans as divine, clinging to dogmas that do nothing but resurrect the Pharisees and their temple. The world is caught up in status and conformity; people eat and drink, diet or exercise, say and practice, and worship or hate whatever pleases the majority. The litany continues; there are 101 ways to be an Athenian.
In the following days, I plan to post some small expositions on the aforementioned topics. The coverage here is brief and generalized, but I hope that it provokes some thought and comment. What kind of idolatry do you see existing in the world? What forms plague Christians the most? Do you see any of the practices that you carry out as idolatrous? What drives idolatry? Is all idolatry so bad? Let me know what you think.