The world is full of well-meaning people who have no idea what they are saying.
I was so glad when Facebook added emoticons. Before then the only option available to you for a quick response to a friend’s post was the “Like” button. Sure that was appropriate when someone posted a new baby picture or a graduation shot, but when there is a death in the family does it really seem right to press “Like?” It might be expedient, but also a bit morbid. Still we want to do SOMETHING. We want to show our support and it seems so much more impressive when a large number of people respond. Now, Facebook added these emoticons and you can show a sad face or an angry face or a big heart instead of just “Like.” But even that still doesn’t seem to be enough at times. Usually, I type a little something. Lots of people do. And you can tell they are searching for the right thing to say. Something comforting. Something that will show they care. Inevitably, somebody types, “My thoughts are with you.” At first, I thought this was nice, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like an empty platitude. “My thoughts are with you?” What does that mean? At least that’s not as bad as “Sending good thoughts your way,” which I see all the time, too. That one drives me crazy. Are they facing the general direction of the person when they are sending these good thoughts? What is the person on the other end supposed to be doing with these good thoughts? It’s like the person who sent that message believes in the amazing psychic ability of telepathy but somehow can’t bring themselves to believe in God. Because without God at the other end of those good thoughts, you’d be better off sending money. After all thoughts are only worth a penny and that can’t even buy you bubblegum anymore.
When people say these things I know it’s only meant in the best way.
But without God it doesn’t mean anything. When people are offering their prayers, they are offering something tangible. You might be thinking that prayers are about as tangible as good thoughts, but when we offer a prayer for people, we are offering our commitment. We’re offering our time, we’re willing to go to bat for our friends and family in front of God, we’re willing to humility by bowing before God and asking him if not downright begging him for some kind of intervention. And the person of faith understands that. Even people without faith I find are very appreciative of prayer. Because even if they don’t believe, there’s a part of them that understands the commitment you are making on their behalf. But here’s the thing. I think most people believe in God. I think most people believe in God. I don’t think there are as many atheists as we commonly believe. They might not believe in God the way we understand God, but most people have this inclination to something higher than themselves. And that’s why they say things like “sending good thoughts.” They may not believe in God, they may not believe in the power of prayer, but they believe there is something out there even if they don’t know what that something is.
That’s because we are wired to search for God.
If you have a Bible or a Bible app would you please find the book of Acts in the New Testament. We’re going to read this morning from Acts 17:24-31. Acts 17:24-31. When God created humanity, he put within us this longing to search for him. We want to know God. We might refer to God in different ways, we might understand God in different ways, but we are all pointed in our lives toward God. Does that mean every religion is true? No. Does that mean we all believe in the same God? No. But it does mean that people encounter the Holy Spirit whether or not they believe in it or call it by that name. It means that God is constantly revealing himself to us in and through the world around us. But our hearts have become hardened. Like a callous at the bottom of your foot that naturally forms over time by being constantly rubbed the wrong way, our hearts get hardened too and it makes it more difficult for us to see God. That’s why Jesus told the disciples that Isaiah’s prophecy has come true. We have eyes to see and ears to hear, but can’t seem to do either. But despite this callousness of life, despite our own hard-heartedness, despite all of that, we can’t help but seek God. Because it’s built within us.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 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. 27 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. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[b] As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’[c]
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
The Word of God for the people of God and the people said, “Thanks be to God.” Please be seated.
God created us and gave us life.
And in doing so he built within us the desire to seek him and find him. It’s part of who we are. It’s built into our DNA. If there was ever a way to dissect our spirit, we would find that God put us together with this compulsion within us. God isn’t something you leave behind at church. Instead God is always with us. That’s why Luke wrote in this book that God does not live in temples built by human hands. Because God lives within us! We are just very good at ignoring him. Instead we turn to other things to fill that part of our lives. We turn to other gods and other goals and other desires to fulfill this basic need to search for the divine. It’s so much a part of us that we don’t even realize how it bleeds into how we act and behave. That’s where phrases like “sending good thoughts” or “my thoughts are with you” enter into our vocabulary. There’s a part of us that wants to pray, to communicate with God, but we just don’t know it or understand it. Maybe we’re just flat out opposed to it. Maybe all your life you were told that if you prayed and believed, God would answer and he just flat out didn’t. And so you gave up on prayer. But there’s a part of you that yearns to communicate again. There’s a part of you that wants to appeal to something greater than ourselves either individually or collectively to do something. But we just can’t bring ourselves to do it.
I have found that most people are not truly atheists.
They may not believe in God the way you understand God, but they are not truly atheists. To be sure there are some out there, but most people object to God not because the thought of God is stupid or childish or immature. But because they have found fault with him. God wasn’t there for them in their moment of crisis. God didn’t keep his promises. God allows evil to exist in the world. The God in the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament don’t add up to the same God. And if our understanding of God crashes head long into our experiences in life, God often is the victim. If God can’t uphold his end of the bargain, then he must not be real. But those objections are more about religion than the existence of God. Most people’s objections to faith are more about religion than God. They are more about our understanding of God rather than if he exists. I’ve heard horror stories about people with a horrible understanding of God who are self-professed Christians and sometimes even pastors and church leaders, and if they were my experience with the God of Christianity, I wouldn’t believe in him either. I told you the story about one of my friends who was so turned off by the church because his friend wasn’t allowed to be married by her pastor. She was white and was in love with an African-American guy and the minister refused to do the ceremony because he said it was unbiblical. I don’t know where he got that from, but I know for a fact it doesn’t say that anywhere in the Bible. I told you the story about the grieving mother whose son had committed suicide that my friend was trying to console. My friend was a pastor and went up to her after the service to offer comfort when one of his parishioners came up and told this bereaved woman that her son was going to hell for what he did. By the way, also not in the Bible. These are simply outdated, old untruths that a few ignorant people never bothered to question. And if that were typical of my experience with God, I wouldn’t believe in him either.
Instead people turn elsewhere to connect with God.
They turn to other religions or to other philosophies like Buddhism. They turn to material things like money. They put their faith instead in science. Because people are yearning to connect with SOMETHING even if they can’t put their finger on it. People everywhere are searching for answers. They are searching for meaning in life. They are hoping to find the answer to the eternal question, “Why am I here?” And if they really didn’t believe in something more, if they really didn’t believe in God, they would stop searching because without God there is no meaning. Without God, life simply is. There is no good and evil. Those are just constructs of the human mind. There is no love. That is just a chemical reaction within the body responding to external and internal stimuli. There is no soul or inner self. It’s all just an illusion. And most people just can’t go that far. They believe in love. They believe in themselves. They believe in good and evil. So their objection isn’t to the possibility of God but in how we’ve come to understand him. But this search. This search for answers. This search for meaning. These are things that God put within the DNA of our soul to make us curious so that even the most jaded people amongst us might be tempted to seek him out.
I was watching The Big Bang Theory the other day.
And there was this episode where the guys are trying to buy tickets to the new Star Wars movie. Leonard finds out that tickets went on sale but when they try to buy them, they are all locked out. They try refreshing their screens, they try different websites, but nothing is working so Sheldon – a self-proclaimed atheist – announces that “desperate times call for desperate measures” and he drops to his knees to pray. “Lord, this is Sheldon Cooper. You’re good friends with my mom. I know I’ve spent my whole life denying that you exist.” Suddenly Wolowitz shouts out, “Got it!” And Sheldon concludes, “And I will continue to do so!” There is something in us that believes in something more, even if we are only willing to believe for the moment. There is something in us that hopes for something more. If you’ve never fully explored what that something is; if you’ve felt that pull in your life but haven’t really done much about it, I want to consider that maybe, just maybe God did wire you this way. That he has been tugging at your thoughts because he wants you to be connected to him. And I ask that you simply open up your heart to the possibility of God in your life. I’m going to ask you to take some time to really think about God and to actively search for him in everything you do. I’m hoping you will develop that desire to have eyes that see and ears that hear because I know God wants you to be a part of what he has in store for you. If you’ve already made that choice to open up to God, I challenge you to open your life to him even more. To allow him access to those areas you have always been resistant to, and only you and he know what those areas are. God made you to be naturally curious about life because he wants you to find him. But I won’t be sending any good thoughts your way. Instead, I’ll be saying a prayer for you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.