A young member of my family calls herself and her friends “spiritual” people. I know the Bible definition, but wondered about her understanding of that word. My online dictionary says spirituality is about the spirit or soul as distinguished from the physical nature. It often pertains to spirits or to spiritualists who are considered supernatural. This definitions shows how people can be “spiritual” without any interest in the Creator who is Spirit, or in His spiritual realm, the part of His creation we cannot see or experience unless He grants new life to us. This regeneration is needed because sin has made us “spiritually blind” even dead to that realm.
The apostle Paul spoke on Mars Hill to the people of Athens. He understood that they too were spiritual, but not in the same way as Christians are spiritual…
Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us… (Acts 17:22–27)
These were tactful words. These people knew there was more to life than the physical, and that a God existed that was beyond their knowledge. They wanted to worship this God, perhaps because the worship of their gods left them empty, but they didn’t know who or what it was that tugged at them. They called it the “unknown” God because that is what He was to them.
Paul spoke to them in love. He was bold in declaring God, yet his feelings for these people would not allow him to do anything less. They needed to hear about this God that they did not know.
He also knew they were close. They felt the mystery of life and built their altar to this unknown something. They were on the brink of faith without believing, close to it and to true spirituality, yet they missed it and even knew that they missed it.
Today’s devotional reading says that I could take two views concerning their darkness (and that of my family member). I could consider such a view of “spiritual” as being frivolous and insincere, even mocking true spiritual truths. Or I could be impressed with their reverence and feel compassion that they are so near yet so far.
What makes the difference between these two views? If I take the first one, I see no God, only vain and aimless dissatisfaction that is contemptible. Such a view makes me look down my nose, forgetting that I once was like them.
If I take the second view, it is because I can sense God is at work in their lives. He is making a claim on them and drawing them through His Spirit. They feel this wooing God, even though they do not know that it is He whom they feel. This makes their restlessness, desires and doubts significant, and thinking this way makes me pray for them and worship the God who is seeking their hearts.
Paul essentially tells the people of Athens, “You are restless and discontented. Your restlessness, your impatience, your discontent, however petty the forms it takes, is serious and not petty to me because of what it means. It means that God is not far from every one of you.”
As I pray for those who consider themselves spiritual but have rejected or neglected the God of spirits, I need to remember that they are at least acknowledging the desire of their hearts. God put in them the knowledge that there is more than they can see. In this claim of being “spiritual” they even might be seeking Him.