The Revised Common Lectionary gives us a gift just about any time a reading from The Acts of the Apostles is assigned for a given Sunday. Today we had Acts 17, which tells of the Apostle Paul visiting Athens.
Apparently, many of the fine citizens of Athens were on a head-trip, and held up for consideration and discussion ideas, philosophies, and religions the way a wine connoisseur examines a cherished vintage -- gazing at it from all angles, marveling at its hue and tint, savoring its scent. These were idea people, and after sipping on notions for a while, swishing them around on their palates, they set them aside and turned their attentions to others.
We read in Acts 17 of the numerous icons and monuments to various religions in Athens, including an altar inscribed, "To an unknown god." Paul noticed this one in particular and, in a meeting with local intellectuals, took the opportunity to make the case for God who created Heaven and Earth.
Frankly, I can't be too harsh with the Athens crowd, because it seems to me that even we post-modern 21st Century Christians have difficulty understanding God. While some folks make a caricature of our faith, sometimes saying things like, "You worship a pretend old man in the sky," we ourselves devalue God by creating him/her/it in our own image.
It might not be too far from the truth if we also were to admit that God is "unknown" to us.
Is God a spirit? A being? An intellectual notion? Well, it depends on who you ask. What does God look like? It depends on, again, to whom you talk. Even Moses couldn't get a straight answer at the burning bush. When God said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh and tell him to let my people go," and Moses wondered, "Whom shall I say is sending me," God replied,"I AM WHO I AM," or "I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE."
Thankfully, we have Jesus to reveal God to us. His words, priorities, and actions give us a picture of God. Prophets from Old Testament days were clued in to God, as well, looking at the world with God's sensibilities as a frame of reference. But, prophets said things that weren't always polite or soothing. The problem, then, becomes that people who understood a lot about God had a way of getting themselves killed.
My sense is that we never can or will fully understand God, and maybe God doesn't want us to, anyway. As much as God loves us and desires to be in relationship with us, there still is a division of labor here. We get ourselves into difficulty when we try to climb the ladder. The higher we think we're ascending, the deeper we sink into trouble. There is room enough only for one God.
Perhaps rather than making a run at God's job, we might pay attention to Jesus and the prophets, learning how to be the people God had in mind when God dreamed us up in the first place.