Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, “Men, why are you doing these things? 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. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.
(Acts 14:8-18 ESV)
Juliet: O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I'll no longer be a Capulet.
Romeo: [Aside] Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?
Juliet: 'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
I take thee at thy word:
Call me but love, and I'll be new baptized;
Henceforth I never will be Romeo.
n Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2
C.S. Lewis, in the wonderful conclusion to The Last Battle wonders out loud about the possibility that a devout person raised to love the fictitious god Tash might find himself ultimately in heaven; that his honorable character and his unswerving faith in a false god might actually be credited to him as faith toward the true God.
Could it be? It is a good question. Acts 14 suggests another, more difficult answer to the question. In the modern world we have been taught to believe that perhaps all devotion is ultimately offered to the true God, whatever he/it is called. If the earliest Jews called God elohim because they didn’t know any better, so the argument goes; and if over time God revealed himself to them as El and then finally as YHWH, then it stands to reason that this is merely a question of the light that has been shed in the hearts of certain people. Some have enough light to understand God as Jehovah (YHWH). Others only have enough light to understand God as El, and so on. So, aren’t all devout people really worshipping the same God?
For the past three years, Jama and I have been living in a beautiful home on an unmarked cul-de-sac. Get on Ridge Road, just off Rt. 4. That’s the easy part. Everyone gets that. Go 1.7 miles. That still works for anyone with an accurate odometer. It is at that turn in the road that we consistently have trouble. You see, Ridge Road ends right there. I always tell people that Ridge turns sharply to the left, because it would take way too long to say, “but that’s actually Shelburne Hill Road.”
Shelburne Hill Road is still a nice, typically pot-holed, paved country road, just like Ridge. And frankly, if you continue down Shelburne Hill Road you’ll end up back on Rt. 4, not too far from where you started. You can go around in circles in Northwood, New Hampshire that way all day. The problem is: call it Ridge or Shelburne Hill or Range or Bow Lake Road (it keeps changing names), and the only place you’ll ever get to is right back where you started. You’ll never get to my house that way.
I’ve told tons of people to take a right hand turn at the end of Ridge Road, exactly 1.7 miles up. Hardly anyone trusts that the only possibility is the correct one. It is another road. It isn’t marked in any way whatever -- AND about 150 yards straight ahead, it turns into a rutty dirt lane with an ominous sign that says, “Not a town road.” Most people who trust enough to start down this road stop when they see that sign. That looks dangerous. I could break an axle on that road. You simply have to go all the way TO the place where the dirt road starts before you’ll ever see the beautifully manicured entrance to Gaviat Green Estates, just to your right. From there it is easy. We’re the second almost brand-new house on the left.
IS the name the most important part? Probably not. But trust and being on a real road that actually doesn’t just go around in circles is. Paul and Barnabas practically had a cow (which you can call a bull or an ox if you’d like) when the people of Lystra tried to worship them as Zeus and Hermes. The god they represented had a character so completely different from Zeus and Hermes that the two couldn’t possibly be the same. Miss the meaning of the turn 1.7 miles down Ridge Road, and you can take every other right-hand turn on Shelburne Hill…Range…Bow Lake Road, and you’ll never ever find my house.
The great thing about Paul is that he never scolds them for taking a wrong turn. He doesn’t say, “That’s not the way to God!” He does say, “Woah! Don’t worship us! We’re just men like you are.” He identifies with them and then spends the time to compassionately walk with them until they understand that all roads don’t lead to the same God.
The last fellow who tried to find my house went around the loop three times before he called me. I suggested we meet back at the corner of Rt. 4. I never had to tell him how to find my house. I went to a place that was recognizable to both of us and we drove in the 1.7 miles together. I drove the road with him because telling him would take just a little too long.