When being troubled is good

 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was troubled within him when he saw that the city was full of idols. Acts 17:16

There are things that happen in human history that make us pause because they demonstrate a darkness among us that is so terrible we cannot fathom it.

Like 9/11.

Like Ferguson.

Like last week in Oregon.

And because it troubles us all, we are willing to talk about it. We do talk about it. We read articles. We find out about the victims. We celebrate heroism. We reach out to those who are hurting in the aftermath.

Those are good things.

But we must not stop there.

It does no good for us to pause and feel the lostness around us unless we then enter into it with the gospel in a way hurting people can understand. There are moments like this, not devastating on such a widespread scale necessarily, but moments every day where the lostness of the world should make us pause.

Athens was one of those moments for Paul. The city was like a modern-day Paris or New York in terms of cultural influence. There were more idols in Athens than there were people, and when Paul walked through the streets and saw the idolatry firsthand, it troubled his spirit. I picture Paul exasperated to the point of tears in the middle of the city street because of its lostness, much like when Jesus looked out over Jerusalem and wept (Luke 19:41).

I’m not advocating that we walk around crying our eyes out every day, but we do need to acknowledge how dire the situation is. We will not step into darkness to bring light if we do not acknowledge the seriousness of that darkness.

Ephesians 2:1-3 lets us know the hopelessness of every person’s condition apart from Christ. Sin doesn’t make us pretty bad off. It makes us dead. We are not mostly dead. We are dead-dead. John Piper puts it this way, “We’re in the morgue, not the doghouse” with God.

Our lost friends aren’t simply needing to make some good choices to turn their lives around; they are dead in their sins.

Our country isn’t simply headed in the wrong direction in need of moral leaders; our country is dead in idolatry.

But before you decide this blog post is a real downer and close this window because you’d rather just come back for List Wednesday, consider this – where sin brought death, Jesus brings life (Ephesians 2:4-10).


That’s why Paul didn’t plop down in the middle of the street in despair. He didn’t throw his hands in the air and leave that place, either. He recognized the seriousness of their condition, and he also knew he had the answer they needed.

So Paul took Jesus right into the heart of Athenian culture (Acts 17:19-34) and confronted their idolatry, sharing the gospel in a way they could not help but understand. In doing so, he brought the life and light of Christ to a dark and dying place.

And so can we.

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