Midweek Musing 5/10/2023 Being open to changing our minds
I recently came across a blog post written by Rev. Teri McDowell Ott which referenced organizational psychologist Adam Grant. In her blog, she shared the following quote from one of his many books.
“Reconsidering something we believe deeply can threaten our identities, making it feel as if we’re losing a part of ourselves … We favor the comfort of conviction over the discomfort of doubt, and we let our beliefs get brittle long before our bones.”
She used this quote and several others by this writer when she looked at the story of Paul as he visited the city of Athens (Greece, not Georgia) found in the 17th chapter of Acts. It is only 16 verses, but there is a lot packed in there, and I certainly will not cover it all in this Musing, but I think it is an excellent example of why we as humans need to be constantly open to near understandings of God and creation, and also be open to considering that we may not always be right. In fact, perhaps the most faithful thing we can do is admit we were wrong and thus our need to repent.
However, please know that repentance is not a thing of shame. Actually, it is quite a beautiful thing. The Greek term for repent that we find in scripture is metanoia, which denotes a change of mind, a reorientation, a fundamental transformation of outlook, of an individual's vision of the world and others. In metanoia or repentance, we find a new way of loving others and God.
16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons and also in the marketplace[d] every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, “What does this pretentious babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.” (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) 19 So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.
22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely spiritual you are in every way. 23 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. 24 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, 25 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. 26 From one ancestor he made all peoples to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps fumble about for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 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.’
29 “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. 30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 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.”
32 When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed, but others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 At that point Paul left them. 34 But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.
Again, there is a lot in this text. But I will only focus on a few ideas.
Paul, in his argument to the gathering of intellectuals at Areopagus, for only one God – the God of Abraham and Jacob who was made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth—does not need anything from us. If God is indeed God and creator of all that is, God does not need us to build God a home or provide God a meal. A true god should be all-powerful, or the fancy church term is omnipotent.
Now this does not mean God does not want the gifts of our time, talents, and resources. God certainly wants us to partner with God in the building of the kingdom and the creation of the beloved community.
However, to say God needs them would contradict the idea that all things we have, including our life, come from God. Indeed, God, if God, does not need shrines made by human hands to live in.
Whether or not the God Paul is pronouncing as the one God is the actual God might be a subject for debate among the intellectual elite in Athens. However, the argument that God needs humans for anything – well, logically, that would mean such a god is only a creature and not God. God creates.
Paul’s argument, if nothing else, is purely logical. It makes total sense, and yet it seems most Athenians are so stuck in their beliefs that they cannot see the facts of Paul’s argument. Even though the evidence is clear, they reject truth in favor of lies that have been repudiated by fact.
I believe God is continually revealing who God is to us every day, and that is much of the reason I am part of the reformed tradition of the Christian Faith.
One of the rallying cries of the reformation was Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda! Translated, it means “the church reformed, always reforming.” While I am linking an article that shares more information about that, for me, it means that I never have all the answers or a complete understanding of God.
I have learned that as a human, I never know it all, and thus I need to approach everything with humility, understanding that it is entirely possible I might be wrong and that there is always more to learn.
And at least for me, the greatest lesson I think I have discovered is that I can never fully comprehend God’s unrelenting love and amazing grace. A love that continues to love me even when I mess up time and time again. A love that reaches out to me even when I have rejected it from God. Like everything, God does not need my love, but God wants it, not so that God might be comforted but that God might have a relationship with us. And in that relationship, God could be close enough to comfort and support us. God’s deepest desire is that we might know (at least in part) the depth of love that God has for us.
And thus, we can experience the hope and peace our Lord provides.
But to experience this, we must let go of our thinking that we have all the answers and instead continue in faith to search for God, even if we sometimes fumble about in our search, remembering that God is not far from each one of us.
And thanks be to God in this search; we have confidence in knowing that it is in our creator that we live and move and have our being. As some poets have said,
‘For we, too, are his offspring.’
Yes, we all are Children of God, and the miracle is that God loves us each as if we were the only child God had to love.
I hope all of you are having a blessed week. Please continue to hold each other and our world in prayer.