Jerusalem and Athens
What hath Jerusalem to do with Athens? Much in every way. On the negative side, we would do well to remember that the citizens of God’s city, like those in the city of man, are still sinners. Though we are indwelt by God’s Holy Spirit, though we have been given hearts of flesh, we remain sinners on this side of the veil, not unlike those around us. Thus Jesus, in His Sermon on the Mount, enjoins us not to do that which still comes all too naturally to us, to fret and worry about our food or our clothing. Such things, He tells us, the heathen worry about.
On a more positive note, Jerusalem and Athens have this in common: they are ruled by the same Man. That is, Jesus is Lord of both. There is no city over which Jesus does not reign. He is Lord over all of creation. We must be zealous to make this affirmation with boldness. We must, however, do so with care.
That Jesus is Lord of Athens does not mean that all is well with Athens. We cannot safely assume the city to be safe because our Lord rules over it. Instead, remembering the antithesis, the biblical truth that the seed of the woman and the seed of the Serpent will war against one another until the kingdom comes in its fullness, the reign of Jesus over Athens means Athens is in trouble. The city belongs to Jesus, and yet it rebels against Him. His lordship is less an imprimatur over the city and more a Sword of Damocles, a constant threat of judgment.
There is a third thing these cities have in common. Not only does Jesus rule both, not only are both cities populated by sinners, but both are populated by those who bear God’s image. Though the seed of the Serpent is at war with God and His people, they still bear His imprint. We see this theme repeated several times in the Bible. God calls His children to exercise dominion over the creation. The wicked line of Cain is not lazy with respect to exercising dominion. Bearing God’s image, it goes to work, turns mud into bricks, and builds a tower to make a name for itself. That this line does not labor for God’s glory but its own is a sign of sin. That it builds at all is a sign of God’s image. The same is true with respect to worship. In Romans 1, Paul belabors both that all men everywhere worship and that outside of Gods’ active grace in our lives, we all worship creatures rather than the Creator. Because we are God’s image bearers, we worship. Because we are in rebellion, we worship falsely.
This ought to inform our understanding of how these two cities relate. We do not send out envoys of peace against the enemies of God, beating our swords into plowshares. Neither, however, do we allow our sense of antithesis to cloud our common humanity, or better still, our common bearing of God’s image. Thus, we do not determine that piety demands that we who worship the risen Lord ought to walk on our hands, because the children of darkness walk on their feet. We do not assume that the right thing is for Christians to hate their children because unbelievers love their children. Instead, we thank the Lord of all for all that we still have in common. Instead, we encourage all that is good, true, and beautiful in Athens, knowing that, in the end, it all must belong to the Lord.
The Athenian Plato was not, contra those who would forget the antithesis, a sadly uninformed but brilliant man whose wellintentioned philosophical meanderings can be richly gleaned for wisdom. He was instead, as we all were prior to the work of the Spirit of God in us, an enemy of God. His philosophical thoughts had as their end goal the denying of God. Plato was, with respect to wisdom, deaf, dumb and blind. He could not, according to the Scripture, even see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). There is wisdom, however, in that nugget that suggests “even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then.” Plato did not tell us anything we did not already know when he first suggested that the three high virtues are goodness, truth, and beauty. He did, however, speak well, truthfully, and beautifully in so saying. Plato, in drawing our attention to goodness, truth, and beauty, made manifest the image of God in his own life, and in turn taught us how to better recognize that image in others. When unbelieving firefighters act heroically — when they exhibit the good — we have no reason for shame. When unbelieving scientists speak truthfully, we have no reason for shame. When unbelieving musicians create moments of beauty, we have no reason for shame. For these things neither belong in the end to Jerusalem nor to Athens. Instead, they belong to the One who is Lord of both.
Plato recognized the goodness, truth, and beauty of goodness, truth, and beauty. Jesus is goodness, truth and beauty, and every other perfection infinitely. If we would pursue goodness, truth, and beauty, we must pursue Him. We must seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto us.