I remember asking about all those people who didn’t know about God as a precocious Pastor’s Kid back in the day. I must have been at least 6, maybe older. My parents, obliquely, referred to Acts 17, letting me know that people have ways to know God even if they don’t have the same information we do. It comforted me. But I can’t help but think that this unknown God, is the same God for all of us. We humans are bad at embracing the unknown, we hate mystery.

I think this is because we were designed to be namers, co-creators, learners. I like to think about that all fields of studies are acts of naming: Science, Math, Reading, Social Studies, etc.

Why did God make us this way, ever-seeking answers, if the sum of God’s parts are impossible for a  human being to learn? This is the God in whom we live and move and breathe. Our hunger to know the world, is no doubt a hunger to know God.

I think we like idols, because they are so easy to grasp–literally and figuratively, unlike God. I can hold a gold statue, I know what it looks and feels like.

What does God look like? If one touched God, would sparks fly? Would you feel so comfortable you’d fall asleep? Would you fear for your life? The unknown God is definatly not one we can tame or control. i.e. “He’s not tame but he’s good” -Mr. Beaver, The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe

Maybe this is why Paul has come to the Athenians, because Jesus has already appeared. Godself was so very difficult to understand, so God translated God’s very self into human, so we could understand.

The irony is, we still don’t know all the things. 2,000+ years after Jesus and here we are, looking at the world,  listening to the word of God, trying to figure out how all of it fits together and what its purpose is.

How does it all fit together?

How do all of these people think that they know God? How do people, who don’t even know anything about Jesus and have no name or history behind God, still have access to God? Do you think the unknown God is essential for faith? Do you think that different people understand God differently? Do you think God has different aspects? How might God translate differently in other cultures and communities? Otherwise I’m probably playing the “What might this be?” picture game, where an object is so magnified that one can no longer recognize it for what it is.

For me the queer God is the unknown God, for I am a straight cis-woman.

Similarly the God of Color is the unknown God, because I’m white, I don’t know a God who is not Westernized, American and mainline Protestant.

I know a little bit about the disabled God, because my son has autism, but its only because he gives me a little bit of window into that unknown God.

How do I praise a God I cannot fully know?


Found Twitter @unvirtuousabbey via @MinnieKittyCat

How about you, what are your idols this week? Where are you finding the unknown God? How do you live & move and breathe in God? Let us know how this passage finds you this week!



Katy Stenta is a solo pastor at a tiny church that is bigger on the inside in Albany, NY which she has been enjoying for over seven years. When she is not dreaming up projects and ideas, some of which creep into the church, she plays with her three boys-boys or goes and visits her husband at the library, while he works, to read.

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4 thoughts on “Narrative Lectionary: Unknown God (Acts 17:16-31

  1. I was originally going to go somewhere with the known/knowable and yet unknown/unknowable God (and that may yet be a part of my sermon) but my focus is moving toward “how do you tell the story/explain the faith in a culture where the story and the faith is foreign? This pericope shows Paul doing a great job of doing that. And yet it is problematic. Where does using the context to shape how the story is told verge into cultural expropriation? Example: one of my favourite Christmas Carols is the Huron Carol, which tells the Nativity using First Nation imagery. Is that making the story real in a new setting or is it appropriating the culture of another for our own purposes?

    THe other danger in Paul’s approach is that it opens the “unknowing Christians” line which is often used, sometimes inadvertently, in multi-faith dialogue. The altar to the “unknown God” is not an altar to the God made known in Jesus, the Athenians who erected it were not unconsciously worshiping the “one True God”. BUt sometimes it sounds like that is what Paul is suggesting.

    How do we share the faith in a culture that does not know the stories, the background, the understandings in a way that engages the idioms and understandings and language of that culture but does no simply overlay our understandings on it to “correct” them?


  2. I learned that my beloved systematic theology professor, Rev Dr James Cone died today so I am preaching a tribute to him tomorrow. As Paul spoke of an unknown God to the Athenians Dr Cone enriched who God is for me. God became bigger when I was challenged to imagine the perspective of indigenous persons, African Americans, Queers and so many more. As Paul showed us the importance of listening and speaking in a way that the Athenians would understand Dr Cone taught me the Gospel is Good News of freedom from bondage for all of us.
    I pray I am half as articulate as he was and that the message is good news to those listening. Amen.


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