I’m bracketing out all critical questions and saying that Paul wrote the Ephesian letter and that he wrote it to the predominately non-Jewish Ephesian church of Acts 19. Paul never apologizes for agreeing with Jesus and Peter in saying the gospel of God was to the Jew first (Romans 1:1-4, 16; 11:16-24; 15:27; Acts 13:46-47 and elsewhere). In Ephesians he has particularly non-Jews in mind (1:12-13; 2:6-19, with the above texts) who were invited into the new covenant made with Israel (Hebrews 8:6-9 and then 2 Corinthians 3 with the “Jews first” texts above and Ephesians 3:1-7). With that behind us we have Ephesians 2:12 where Paul speaks to Gentile Christians in their pre-Christian state.
“Atheoi”. That’s what he called them. A plural noun, atheists! To citizens of Ephesus of all places; people whose world was permeated by magic and gods of all kinds; a city that boasted as being the home of the famous temple of Diana (Artemis), the goddess known throughout the world. Atheists? A people for whom everything was a god; the ground they walked on, the water they drank, the trees and crops, the sun, moon, stars, the very sky itself, animals and even humans; anything that walked or crawled or did nothing—all gods! And he calls them atheists.
It was commonplace in the world of the psalmists and prophets to hear the nations mock them and protest, wanting to know, “Where is your god?” (Psalm 42:3; 79:10; 115:2-3.) With Israel under someone’s heel or experiencing calamity the jeer went up. There wasn’t an idol in sight when Israel honored GOD. For the nations that worshiped on any hill or by any river; for those who worshiped anything that was necessary to keep human existence in order and catered for and with shrines and idols everywhere, it was Israel that earned the name atheists and it was commonly used of Christians who “emptied the universe” of its gods—these were the atheists!
What nerve this Jew had! Poor fool! Poor deluded fool! Yesssssss, with one phrase, with a single phrase, he obliterated its gods! Still, he speaks of the existential reality that people worship their own creation and says (1 Corinthians 8:5-6), “Even if there are gods many and lords many…to us there is one GOD…and one LORD.”
I understand that I’m stretching the word “worship” and its characteristic use but to put one’s entire trust in the power to order the world and life is close enough to “worship”. If we can use the word to speak of “worshiping” our beloved ones who make life fully livable it’s probably all right to use it of our “worshiping” ourselves or the elements around us.
Einstein was a pantheist who used the word “God” to speak of the harmony and consistency of the laws of physics. Michio Kaku the noted cosmologist and physicist goes in the same direction. Steven Weinberg, maybe the preeminent and leading prize-winning physicist in the world, shared the Nobel Prize in 1979 for his work on elementary particles. He’s an outright atheist and critiques his scientific colleagues who use the word “God”—he called it “religious coloration.” Why don’t his colleagues, he would want to know, why don’t they just own up to their atheism. He has a point! That fine sort of a person I couldn’t help admiring, Carl Sagan, astronomer, wanted to know why we need a God when we can provide for ourselves all that we need? Poor thing. His world was huge but he didn’t know how wondrous humans are and what our “needs” are that need to be filled. He wouldn’t have seen the movie E.T. and the long bulbous finger pointing into the sky and wistfully moaning, “Home!”
In any case, Kaku, Einstein and Sagan looked mainly to the vast dimensions of the still (?) expanding universe and came back without God. Weinberg and his colleagues focused on the tiniest area of the universe, we might say, the heart and center of it. They came back saying, there is no God! Tiny or colossal, not only did they come back with no God, they came back with a mindless, thoughtless, feelingless and blind “thing”. They never came across a baby laughing up at its mother, they never heard a galaxy weep or shout encouragement to a lovely deed well done, they came back with no report of a quasar protesting injustice, not in all the innumerable and endless corridors of unimaginable darkness did they find a door to welcome wanderers and they never heard a black hole that whispered forgiveness to profound regret and repentance. That you only see or hear on this, “the visited planet.”
One day, it’s been imagined, all the quasars, black holes, Giant Reds, spiral galaxies and everything else in the heavens will file past the little planet earth and nod their respect to this smaller than miniscule home of ours.
BUT the Christian finds in Luke 10:21 the blessed Lord Jesus Christ, throwing back his head and joyfully shouting skyward, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth…” He stamped the entire universe with the name FATHER! No wonder Weinberg once confessed that he was sad that for him the heaven no longer declared the glory of GOD. Wolsley Teller, atheist, a long time ago said when we look at the heavens the only thing we see is a skull, a death’s head. Creation, he said, either cares for our coming or our going. He was looking at the right thing in the wrong way Jesus looked at it and saw a FATHER’S work.
Atheists, Einstein, Weinberg. The visited planet, E.T.