God cannot be manipulated

Paul preaching at Athens by Raphael

Paul preaching at Athens by Raphael

Paul was a first-century preacher who appeared on the scene shortly after Jesus was crucified and came back to life again. He wrote about one quarter of the New Testament. He was especially gifted when it came to announcing the God of the Bible to the polytheists who dominated the culture of the Roman imperial world. So we find him, for example, in the great city of Athens, carefully explaining what a difference it makes to see that there is but one God and that he cannot be manipulated. At the time Athens had the reputation of being the most learned city in the Roman world, followed by Alexandria in Egypt.

When Paul gives his address to some philosophers and teachers in Athens, he explains what he holds to be the truth. Theirs is a world of gods, and the very nature of their religion is “you scratch my back, I scratch your back.” But Paul says, “The God who made the world and everything in it [thus you find him articulating the Bible’s teaching about creation from Genesis 1–2] is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands” (Acts 17:24). Paul does not mean that God may not disclose himself in a temple if he chooses to do so. What he means is that God cannot be reduced to the temple where he is manipulated and domesticated by a priestly class. You cannot get him into a position where you can manipulate him to do your will by providing cash to a certain class of priests, connected with a temple, who are allegedly experts in figuring out what the gods want. The God of the Bible is too big for that; he made everything, he is sovereign over the whole lot, and he cannot be manipulated.

D.A. Carson, The God Who is There, (46)

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