The French philosopher Voltaire wrote, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” He argued that belief in the existence of God was beneficial to society. Christians know that it is not enough to believe in a deity imagined by humanity. According to today’s passage, we must believe in the God who truly exists. An invented god is merely an idol.
The apostle Paul challenged the idolatry of his own day when he spoke to the philosophers of Athens. Outraged at the sight of so many idols, Paul began to debate with the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers there. The Epicureans believed that the ideal life was one free from pain and distress. The Stoics emphasized duty and resignation to one’s circumstances.
In our day people would probably describe the religious thinking of Paul’s contemporaries as “open” or “tolerant.” They even had an altar dedicated “to an unknown god,” in order not to anger any god they might have missed. Yet according to the apostle this was merely a reflection of their ignorance. Paul boldly proclaimed to them the God who has revealed Himself in creation and in Scripture.
In his message to the philosophers, Paul emphasized several key attributes of God. God is distinct from His creation and is not dependent upon anyone or anything for His existence (vv. 24–25). He exercises sovereign control over all He has created but is also near to us and willing to be found by those who seek Him in truth (vv. 26–27). Most important of all, He has commanded all people everywhere to repent and believe in the risen Christ, who will one day judge the world with justice. Now that God has revealed Himself definitively in Christ, ignorance is no excuse (vv. 29–31).