Summary: Paul on Mars Hill - "To the Unknown God". Everyone in the audience is building a memorial of some sort - a shrine in their life. The question is - to what? What ideal - what unknown god - consumes their time, energy, and focus?
22 Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; 23 "for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD…. Acts 17:22-23a (NKJV)
It is said that in Athens during Paul’s day there were 20,000 gods. We look at the ruins of Athens today, and see fragments of many statues. We view and protect them as art. We learned about Greek gods in school, and we call it mythology.
The sad thing is – to the Athenians, these were not just fables, or works of art. They were gods. They worshipped them. They built monuments to them.
I am privileged to travel to India often… It is said that there are some 3.5 million gods in the Hindu pantheon. Of course nobody knows all of them – and I’m not quite sure where they came up with that number. But all over India you will see statues.
I often eat at an Indian restaurant here in town, and just inside the front entrance is a statue of a pot-bellied figure, with four arms and the head of an elephant. This is a statue of a Hindu god named Ganesha.
According to Hindu mythology, Ganesha’s mother was Parvati, the incarnation of the great goddess. Her husband was Shiva, revered as one of the three prime deities in Hinduism. There are many stories of how Ganesha supposedly got his elephant head… The most common story is that Parvati was taking a bath, and instructed her son Ganesha to guard the door of her quarters to keep out intruders. Shiva came home, and Ganesha would not let him in. Shiva was infuriated, and struck Ganesha with his trident, decapitating him. Parvati came out, and was so furious at Shiva, she demanded he restore his head and life. The problem was, Shiva had flung his head so far away with his trident, that they could not find it. So Shiva took off the head of the first animal he found – an elephant – and placed it on the boy’s shoulders.
Because of his role at the entrance to Parvati’s quarters, Ganesha is revered by Hindus as the protector of entrances. Worshipping Ganesha is thought to bring success to the entrance, or start, of any venture, and so businessmen will often enter their office and pray to Ganesha as they start their day.
When I first started visiting the great country of India, I actually liked the statue of Ganesha – it is to me a very interesting work of art. And to many that walk into the Indian restaurant here in town – that’s all it is. But I think I may feel a bit like Paul did, walking around the streets of Athens. I’m sobered – even grieved – when I walk into the lobby of this restaurant. Because I know it is not just a work of art to the owners of that restaurant... It is a monument to their god.
Remember I said that there are some 3.5 million gods in the Hindu pantheon? What that means of course – is there are a lot of gods that are unknown. And there is endless quest, in the Hindu mindset, to come to a greater awareness of these unknown gods. That’s what yoga is all about.