It was in Lystra in Acts 14:8 that Paul told a man “who was lame from birth and had never walked” to “Stand up on your feet” and the man “jumped up and began to walk” (verse 10).
The people who saw it happen “shouted in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have come down to us in human form!’” (verse 11). Paul was horrified. He ran into the crowd yelling, “No, no, no, we’re human just like you. And we’re here to bring you the good news, that there’s a living God you can turn to rather than all these worthless gods of yours.” Which sounds a bit like an insult, but he then says in verse 16,“In the past, God let all nations go their own way.”
Butwhy did he say that? Because it explains why these people in Lystra were so taken up with the idea of the gods appearing to them in human form. It was simply the result of God allowing entire nations to create their own gods in place of him – and end up trusting in these gods of their own making and imagination instead of trusting him. And “in the past” that was the way things had always been for these people – but – Paul was now showing them something entirely different.
He was showing them a God who could heal a man who’d never walked. Their gods couldn’t do that. But these unfortunate people had been living their entire lives in utter dependence on gods that in reality had no power at all. It was just as Paul said, that their gods were “worthless.”
Imagine being told that today too, that all the gods we’ve created and depend on for help and healing, or for guidance in how to live and make life work out well for ourselves, are completely useless and a waste of space.
A person would well ask, then, “But why would God let that happen?” Why, for century after century, would he let us live under this delusion that we can handle life without him and depend on worthless gods instead? Or why, to echo Paul’s words in verse 16, would he “In the past, let all nations go their own way,” and we end up with gods that are no help to us at all?
The answer Paul gives is in verse 17, that “God has not left himself without testimony,” or as another translation puts it, “God never left us without evidence of himself and his goodness.” So, while letting us go our own way and create our own gods, and make a right mess of the planet and our own lives, he never hates us for it – or gets in a jealous sulk and makes sure we suffer for rejecting him.
Amazingly, verse 17, despite us going our own way, “He has shown kindness by sending us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, giving us food and happiness to our hearts’ content.” He doesn’t hate us, and he never has. He’s always loved us, and here was this same living, loving God proving it yet again in Lystra by healing a man who couldn’t walk. Because that’s where God’s focus is; it’s on providing clear “evidence of himself and his goodness.”
In other words, “dear people of Lystra, can you see why we, Paul and Barnabas as ordinary humans just like you, are here? We don’t come to you as gods, we’re here because there’s a living God who is showing you through us that this is what HE’S like, and what he loves doing.” And compare that to their gods too.
So, lifting all this up into our day, when it’s our turn now to ask, “Why would God let us make such a mess of things?” – the same answer applies. We still experience all kinds of good things, good food, good friends, great memories as families, and lovely mornings when the air is fresh, or sunning ourselves and feeling the warmth seep into our stressed out bodies.
The question then becomes, “But why would God let these things still happen to us too, after all the gods we’ve created and looked to instead of him?”
God’s answer to us is what he said through Paul and Barnabas to the people of Lystra: “It’s to show you what I’m like compared to your gods, because I’m all good news. I’m kind and good, because I love you and I always will, and I’m more than willing to show my goodness, kindness and love for you even more when you’re ready to dump your worthless gods and trust in me.”