Did God Overlook Certain, Ignorant Times?
Did God at one time allow unbelievers into Heaven?
Acts 17 says: 29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.
This passage is spoken by St. Paul as he is evangelizing to the Greeks in their local, trendy, hotspot, the Areopagus. If we read it wrong, it can make it seem that God overlooked ( He gave a pass) to people who weren’t aware of the sins they were committing and didn’t understand that He was to be worshiped as the one, true God. But, nothing can be farther from the truth. We are all created by God whether we like it or not, and the inward knowledge of right and wrong will point us to the one, true God if we remove the bias of selfishness and sin.
What St. Paul seeks to communicate to the philosophical elites of the day is that there was a time and place where God removed His presence from complete idolatry and apostasy. He understood that no amount of prophetic intervention would sway the people to repentance and reconciliation with Him. They should have known the God to worship, but they chose to listen to falsity instead of truth, no matter how difficult it was. So, He handed them over more fully to their idolatry and allowed them to continue to destroy themselves. There had been a point where the message had been brought, but it fell on deaf ears. God did not punish, with earthly punishment, to the degree in which they deserved, but He also did not overlook their sins in eternity. When He overlooked them, He overlooked the people, not the sin.
But now, in Christ, prophetic voices were going to abound, so that no one would be left to a lack of understanding or a call to repentance. In Christ, there could be no disagreement between the message of forgiveness vs. the distance and distraction of sin. God would seek for salvation to be a hope for all. God would choose not to leave people to their selfish desires without the opportunity to hear the words of life that so easily allow for us to be forgiven.
Today, the far reaches of humanity have prophetic voices, in concert with the Word of God, calling people to Jesus. We have before us today, as never before, the great gift of reconciliatory prophets that can’t be ignored. God does not want anyone to doubt the certainty of salvation, and so He raises up those around us to remind us that we have the opportunity for life that leaving the sins of the past gives in God’s grace. The assurance springs, as St. Paul said, from the Resurrection of Christ.
God does not overlook us, but sometimes we work in such away that we wiggle (or believe we wiggle) out of the eyesight of Him who sees all. We believe we can hide and contend for a default to the ignorance of God’s Word, that we can barter for our salvation. We must put these ideas aside for the sake of the eternal Kingdom.
Join with St. Paul today to put away the idols of man for the Son of Man. Seek His righteousness, that His judgment be found worthy in your sight, and your opportunity for life in Him found to be of gain. Amen.