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"...[W]hat may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--His eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made so that men are without excuse" (Rom. 1:19-20)
"The fool says in his heart, `There is no God'" (Psalm 14:1)
This is the first in a series of articles concerning man's knowledge of God. This series will cover such topics as: man's innate knowledge of God, the universality of the knowledge of God, man's knowledge of God through the study of His creation, man's knowledge of God through His revelation to us, classical proofs for the existence of God, the irrationality of atheism and agnosticism, and man's proper response to his knowledge of God. This article will serve as an introduction to the series by touching upon some ideas that will be expanded upon in subsequent articles. These articles will be more philosophic in nature than usual for this journal. Most of the material was gleaned from the following resources, all of them fine books: The Existence and Attributes of God by Stephen Charnock; Institutes of Christian Religion by John Calvin; Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas; Systematic Theology by Charles Hodge; and Systematic Theology by John Miley.
It is valuable for us to study the topic of man's knowledge of God because atheism is becoming so prevalent. In days passed, atheism was looked down upon; now atheism is becoming respectable and theism is looked down upon by many people. In studying this topic, we will find that, in fact, atheism is not rational. God has revealed Himself to man in so many ways that, to deny His existence, is to think irrationally. Be assured: atheism goes against rational logic and intelligence. As David points out: "A fool says in his heart, `There is no God.'" (Psalm 14:1). And Paul says of those who come to deny the existence of God: "Although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened." (Rom. 1:21). By considering this subject, we can strengthen our faith in God, and be reassured that our faith is based upon undeniable evidence; we can be more diligent in our obedience to God, and be reassured that our obedience is not in vain; and we can persevere in our service for God, and be reassured that our service is not futile.
Belief in God is the foundation of true intelligence. One cannot be wise as they live in this world if they do not have an understanding of the Creator of the universe. It is self-evident that those who have a close relationship with the Creator and who are walking in His counsel will be wiser as they live in a world that He has created. Despite this, many, whom God has given an aptitude for intelligence, use this intelligence to further theories of science that begin with the premise that there is no God. The Lord warns these people through the prophet Isaiah: "Your wisdom and knowledge mislead you when you say to yourself, `I am, and there is none besides me.'" (Isa. 47:10). They are self-deceived by the intelligence that should lead them to God.
We must be careful not to be deceived by them. We are warned: "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ" (Col. 2:8). Unfortunately, the wisdom of the world is at odds with Godly wisdom, so much so that those who believe in God are seen as fools by the worldly wise. But Paul warns: "Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a `fool' so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight" (I Cor. 3:18-19). Despite the opinion of the world, God is known to us, not only by faith, but also by reason, as we shall see in this series of articles.
God is known to us because He has gone out of His way to reveal Himself to us. Every person who has ever lived upon the face of the earth has had a knowledge of God. As Paul says, "[W]hat may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them" (Rom. 1:19). God has revealed Himself to man in three basic ways: 1. God has given man an innate knowledge of Him; 2. God has revealed Himself through His creation; 3. God has given man a direct revelation through His Word and His Son, Jesus Christ. Each of these will be dealt with in detail in a separate article, but I will introduce them here.
The first basic way that God has revealed Himself to us is through an innate knowledge of Him that He has given each of us. From a very young age, we know that there is a God. We have an awareness of our own being and we conclude, "I have been made by someone." We consider ourselves--our soul and our body--and we realize, as the Psalmist, that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Ps. 139:14). We also have the voice of the Spirit of God speaking to us our entire life through our conscience, giving us a built-in sense of right and wrong, a law written on our hearts and our minds. This innate law points to a Lawgiver who has established the laws that have been put in our hearts.
The second basic way that God has revealed Himself to us is through His creation. We cannot help but notice the marvelous design of the universe. And where there is such a design, there must have been a designer, for no trick of chance could have produced such an intricate, wise design. The creation also reveals much about the character and attributes of the Creator: His wisdom, His mercy, His perfection, His omnipotence, etc. We see miracles of nature every day, miracles that have through familiarity become commonplace: the miracle of a sunset and a rainbow, the miracle of a bird in flight and an emerging butterfly from a cocoon, the miracle of a spider-spun web and a perfumed rose. Who can see such things and not admire their Creator?
The third basic way in which God has revealed Himself is by His direct revelation to us through His Word, the Holy Bible, and through His Son, Jesus Christ. God's revelation of Himself to us through our innate knowledge of Him and through the creation are subjective revelations, liable to be reinterpreted by our sinful nature. Therefore, God has revealed Himself to us in a clear and objective way--through the Bible and by sending His Son--in order to clear up the misconceptions we have developed concerning God. The Bible gives us a clear explanation of God's plan of redemption for His creation, as well as a written description of the attributes of God. The Bible also gives us the law in written form, confirming and supplementing the law written on our hearts. Then, God's revelation through His Son, first, demonstrated God's love for us. Paul tells us: "But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). God's revelation through Christ also, by His behavior, demonstrated God's character to us. When Philip asked Jesus to show him the Father, Jesus replied: "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). In addition, Christ, through His life, demonstrated God's law to us, for "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth" (I Peter 2:22).
All three types of revelation are necessary for us to gain a full understanding of God. The creation, by its marvelous design, leads us to believe in the existence of God. Our conscience gives us an awareness of our sinfulness and, thus, our need for God's salvation. God's direct revelation informs us objectively about God's plan of redemption through Christ. Although God's direct revelation through His Word contains all we need to know about God's character and plan, we still need God's revelation through the creation and through our conscience in order to accept and appreciate the Word of God. No one accepts the Bible as God's Word until they first have a belief in God, a belief they received through the other methods of God's revelation. Moreover, no one accepts Christ as their Savior until they first have a belief in God and also an awareness of their sinfulness, which they receive through their conscience.
So, our knowledge of God comes in stages and from all three methods of revelation. First, we have an innate knowledge that there is a God, so we desire to seek Him. Then, we become assured of His existence and, to some extent, learn of His attributes through the creation. Next, our consciences inform us that we need His salvation. We seek His salvation and find it in Jesus Christ. This plan of salvation, we find, is the theme of the Bible, and so we find in the Bible, objectively written, all we need to know about God and His plan for His creation.
Certainly, even given our innate knowledge of God, the revelation of God through His creation and His direct revelation through His Word, there is still much we do not understand about God. But that's OK! He would not be God if we could understand all His ways. Who would want a God that they could understand fully? Who would want such a small God, a God that could be understood by our feeble minds? So, do not despair if there are things about God that you do not understand. What is important is that we take advantage of the ways that He has revealed Himself to us. We must meditate on Him in our hearts. We must behold His creation and let it speak to us through its wonderful design. We must study His Word so that we understand all that it has to say to us. And then, after we leave this world, I am certain that we will understand much more about Him when we join Him in His kingdom.
And so, Father, we praise You that You are a God that may be known by us. Thank You for the many ways that You reveal Yourself to us. Speak to our hearts by Your Spirit, speak to us through Your creation, and speak to us as we study Your Word. Give us the time and opportunity to learn all that we are capable of understanding about You. Help us to use this knowledge to bring others into a relationship with You. In the name of Jesus, we ask these things, Amen.
(We will continue this study in the next issue with an article
concerning man's innate knowledge of God)
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