“E pluribus Unum” was the unofficial motto of the United States until the phrase “In God we trust” was adopted officially in 1956. The phrase was meant to convey the amazing experiment that was America: we welcomed people from all areas of the world and invited them to become Americans. If you came here and became a citizen, you were an American. While we celebrated our original cultures, they took back seat to being an American. In recent years, we have focused on our diversity. We no longer claim the title of “American,” we are “<insert label here> – American” As we have celebrated our diversity, we have become a very religious nation, but have done so by embracing other religious beliefs than Christianity. Our “E Unum Pluribus” status has out us in the situation where our religious beliefs have become confused as we seek to celebrate our American freedom of belief.
We should never be in a situation where we force other people to believe the “right” way, of course. Still, perhaps we can understand the distress of Paul as he came into Athens. Everywhere he looked there was a temple or a shrine to a different god. The Athenians wanted to be sure they didn’t leave any of the gods out of the mix and so they celebrated their religious diversity all across the city even to the point of having an altar dedicated to an unknown god. As Paul debated with the Athenians in the market place, he gained a reputation and was soon invited to the Areopagaus – the big leagues of Athenian debate. He commented on the diversity. “For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.” (Acts 17:23)
Paul seized on an altar erected by someone in Athens that appears to be a sign of humility among the Athenians. I’m wondering if the thought was “We may not have all knowledge – perhaps there’s a god we haven’t heard about.” Paul took that opportunity to preach the news of the God who created everything. He circumspectly didn’t mention that if those other gods existed, God would have made them, too. Paul made it quite clear that the God who created everything was an acceptable understanding within the Athenian culture, even quoting their own poet. As he continued, he proclaimed the sticking point for the Athenians: the resurrection. This caused the discussion to break up because many Athenians believed that the flesh was bad, so the idea that God would want to bring back anyone from the dead to live in the flesh instead of the spirit was ridiculous. Still, many believed.
Sometimes we get so caught up in lamenting the changes of society that we fail to recognize the most important truth: God has created all the different people groups in this world. He created them from one man, as Paul told the Athenians, and they spread out from there. Some get upset when we celebrate holidays from other cultures, but as Christians, we shouldn’t. We should celebrate the diversity of people that God made while reminding people that God made them all. The most important part of that is that if God made all of us, we can’t look down on anyone because of their ethnic background or skin color. God loved and created each person and each people group in His image to make a more beautiful world. So, celebrate our differences, but in the end, remember and proclaim our biggest similarities: we are all sinners and God has provided a way to reconcile ourselves with Him in the person of Jesus Christ.
Thank You, Lord, for this amazing creation called earth. You have made man in Your own image; each person is a special creation made to be like You. Let me show Your love to each one of Your creation.