God is not far
Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,
‘For we too are his offspring.’
Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” ~ Acts 17:22-31
This is a favorite passage of mine. This is Paul at his best - explaining to Greeks about God in terms that they would understand, using the framework of Greek philosophy. Good advice here, from Paul: speak to those who don't understand about God in terms that they would understand, rather than our own 'churchy' language.
I think that advice works for us in our context too. How can we speak about God in terms that fit with our 21st century understanding of the world, as opposed to outdated language in which God was an old man in a beard living in the sky over a flat earth?
Today, with what we have learned about the world from science, there are all kinds of ways in which Paul's explanation about God as the one in which we "live and move and have our being," can become alive for us.
We can still "grope around and find God." And we can also say "God is not far" in ways that are accessible and understandable both to us, and to those in the world around us.
There are also ways in which we can talk about "eternity" with God in terms that make sense in a way that the "pearly gates" don't.
Einstein said that eternity was not endless time, but instead was an absence of time. The way in which we calculate time is in fact a human construct by which God is not limited.
I think Paul could get behind this. Just as God was not limited by the Greek's objects of worship, so God is not limited by our time and our space and our understanding.
God instead is the very ground of our being, as Paul Tillich said.
God is not far. We can grope around and search for the right language, but even when we stumble over it, God is there: living, and being and loving.
Holy God, even when I don't understand completely, who you are, you are near. Help me to share this good news with others in language that makes sense to them. Amen