When Saint Paul was visiting the Greek city of Athens during one of his missionary journeys, he noticed an altar dedicated “To the unknown god.” In his address to the men of Athens on the Areopagus, he refers to this altar as testimony that the unknown god is in fact the God he was preaching–the Creator of heaven and earth, the true and only God.
Among his many novels John Steinbeck wrote one entitled, To a God Unknown. In this story, a man named Joseph travels to California to work a homestead. On this property is a tree that Joseph came to regard as responsible for the fertility of the land. A spring at a mossy rock also shares in the mystery of this fertility. It is the heart of the land. His brother, a fundamentalist Christian, girdled the tree to kill it, because it represented pagan religion. After the tree died, the land experienced drought. The sacred spring also dries up. Joseph then believes that he is the heart of the land that insures against drought. As he is dying as the result of cutting his wrists as a sacrifice to the god on the sacred rock, the rains begins to come down.
Such a great contrast exists between a god unknown and the unknown God. One is a god of fertility that demands human sacrifice; the other is creator of heaven and earth. In his sermon to and on the Areopagus (both a Council and a location) of Athens, Paul draws a contrast between the idols made of silver and gold who need us to serve them and the God of heaven and earth, the true God. It is the true God who calls us to repentance in preparation for the day of the judgment of God by the man Jesus Christ who had been raised from the dead.
Worship of idols has not passed away with the ancient world. Many gods are still alive and well in our culture, as Steinbeck testifies. The gods of fertility are especially prominent today as discourse on sex and sexuality have received such great attention in the media and our other institutions to the point of attempting to corrupt our children.
With the Apostle we must witness to the true God, the unknown God whom we know as the God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–one God in three Persons. As we struggle with our own sins and shortcomings as imperfect people, we must repent and announce repentance for the forgiveness of sins by our gracious God. The gods do not forgive sins, but demand onerous and corrupting service for their favors.
Our God is abounding in steadfast love, as the Scriptures tell us. Let us make Him known to a world in great need of Him.
Michael G. Tavella
July 11, 2023
Saint Benedict of Nursia, Abbot