I find it interesting that throughout the Bible, God is referred to as “The Living God.” For example, in Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas are preaching in Lystra. After Paul miraculously heals a crippled man, the townspeople begin referring to him as Hermes and to Barnabas as Zeus. The priests of the temple of Zeus in that town bring gifts to sacrifice to their gods. Paul, of course, is incensed. In his admonition of these people, he says:
We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. (ESV, Acts 14:15)
When we boil it down, Paul makes two statements about other gods (i.e., Zeus and Hermes in this case):
- They are vain or empty — worthless. (Explicit argument.)
- They are not alive. (Implicit argument.)
Do these worshippers of Zeus realize this? If Paul is speaking the truth here, then they must come to understand that Zeus is not alive. Is this a surprise to them?
When we try to translate this passage into our modern context, we don’t rub up against these problems. We replace Zeus and Hermes with our 21st century gods: sex, money, power, etc. Most people would probably agree that an obsession or lust for these is unhealthy. Is it the same case for Paul’s priests? Do they realize that service to Zeus or Hermes is bankrupt?
Again, this makes me think of some of the hermeneutical issues that I’ve been having (see my previous article “Canonizing Culture” for more on that). God’s word here seems to have a different impact now than it might have then.
What do you think? Do you think the “Living God” is a more or less scandalous term now than it was then?