Today, on the first guided tour of our summer in Greece, we went to the Acropolis of Athens. A few prior visits to Athens had already given me the impression of ancient ruins towering above the modern European city, so I was somewhat disappointed when I did not immediately spot the white columns of marble as I rose out of the metro. Instead our group had to walk a block before we trued left onto the street running along the south of the rocky outcrop.
Before we began the climb we stopped at the Acropolis Museum to meet our guide, James, and learn about the design of the Parthenon. The museum was suspended over the ruins of an ancient neighborhood that was visible through glass panels in the floors. The first two floors displayed artifacts found around and on the slopes of the Acropolis, including five of the six statues that formed the columns of the porch on the Erechtheion. The Erechtheion was one of the more interesting exhibits to me because I didn’t realize it was a separate temple from the Parthenon until I was on the top of the Acropolis. But the most interesting part of the museum was its highest level which was built according to the dimensions of the Parthenon itself.
We began the hike up to the original structure a few moments later. As we climbed we could look down on the sites of the births of music and drama, philosophy and education, and even democracy. All these places stood in the shadows of the temples to the gods. Needless to say, these buildings were magnificent. Even after millennia of decay, the massive blocks towered overhead as a reminder of the power, knowledge, and prestige of Athens. And yet this was only one point in a triangle of Athens. The other points were formed by the marketplace and the meeting place of the Athenian democracy. In the center of this triangle stood a rocky hill named after the god of war that served as a meeting place for the ancient Greek philosophers.
As we walked down to the Areopagus (or Mars Hill) our guide James reminded us that when the apostle Paul walked along this path he was surrounded by the massive monuments to Athena, Nike, and Poseidon, the world’s most prestigious schools of thought and politics, and the economic power of an empire. And yet Paul wanted to speak about a seemly small “Unknown God.” Before we climbed to read that speech on the very spot it was delivered our guide explained its meaning. Standing before the most well educated men of his time Paul spoke from literature and philosophy that would have been ancient even 2,000 years ago. Nonetheless, most of his audience did not consider his message; they thought they already knew the truth.
As James spoke I thought of what Paul would write to the Corinthians a few years later. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” This in turn reminded me of my dad’s last words to me before I left for college for the first time: “Don’t ever become so smart that God can’t tell you anything.” As our group of “HUGers” continues to learn more of ancient times, modern customs, and the lands that served as the cradle from which our civilization sprung, we should look for opportunities to let education open our minds to find deeper truth and avoid false pride that can come with knowledge.