From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.
- Acts 17:26-27
People often inherit their religions. They’re raised in a ________ family in a primarily ________ nation and so, as an adult, identify as a __________ person. You can fill in the blank: Christian, Islamic, Jewish, Buddhist, pagan, Hindu, etc.
Today’s passage challenges the notion that there’s any country, any family, any birthplace where people don’t have access to God: “he is not far from any one of us.” Paul preached these words to pagan philosophers in Athens, hundreds of miles away from the homeland of Jesus and the Jewish temple. And these words resonate throughout the world and on down history.
God’s missionary people traveled into lands unknown to them with expectant hearts, hoping to discover ways that people are seeking God and reaching out for him. And time and time again they stumble across a sign or cultural marker or symbol that points directly and explicitly to Jesus. Those same missionary encounters happen in coffee shops and workplaces and neighborhoods and family reunions right here in Chatham County. God is at work, actively, creating opportunities for people to connect with him.
This perspective radically changes our posture toward people of other faiths. We don’t argue with them about whether or not they’re right. We listen and watch with hope that we’ll discover the on-ramp God gave them to connect with him.
You’re not going to change someone’s deeply-held, raised-to-believe-it, religious identity with one or two slick arguments. But your thoughtful questions and charitable words can be used by God to create the sort of curiosity that encourages people on their journey toward Jesus.
Many of us need to repent of our addiction to being right. We use our religious rightness to prop up our self-esteem and our confidence in Jesus. And yet, we’re not valued by Jesus or loved by him because we got the religious stuff right. Our obsession with being right keeps us from being loving and, in effect, keeps us from experiencing full and deep and rich intimacy with Jesus.
Where in your life do you need to repent over an addiction to being right? Where do you need to be more charitable, more patient, more willing to pay attention to where people are coming from? What difference do you think this might make for your relationships with people of other faiths?