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A Topical Study - Man's Knowledge of God, pt. 2

This is the second article in a series concerning man's knowledge of God. This article deals with man's innate knowledge of God and the universality of this knowledge.

Man's Innate Knowledge of God

"...[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)

"For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything." (Heb. 4:4)

The knowledge of God is the most important kind of intelligence that we can seek. He is our Creator. It is obvious that those who have an understanding of their Creator and who are acquainted with His purpose will, from the Creator's point of view, live more wisely. Fortunately, God has not hid Himself away. In fact, He has gone to great lengths to make Himself known to us.

In the last article, we gave an overview of the three ways that God has made Himself known to man: 1. God has given man an innate knowledge of Him; 2. God has revealed Himself through His creation; 3. God has revealed Himself directly through His Word and His Son. Correspondingly, there are different levels of knowing God: bare knowledge of the existence of God, which is attained from our innate knowledge of God; inferred knowledge of our Creator's attributes, which is gleaned from God's revelation through His creation; objective knowledge of His attributes and His plan for the creation, which is learned from the revelation of Himself in the Bible; personal knowledge of Him, which can be gained through Jesus Christ. In this article, we will look at what we can know about God just through our innate knowledge of Him.

"God does not show favoritism" (Rom. 2:11); He has revealed Himself to all mankind without exception: to the young and the old, to the rich and the poor, to the simple and the educated. None lack a knowledge of God. Innate knowledge of God is a gift of God to all men. Through it, He has given all an opportunity to know Him. Much of our innate knowledge of God comes through reason, a gift God has given only to man among the creatures. Not all have access to God's direct revelation of Himself in the Bible, but all have reason.

God has given us the ability to reason so that we may know Him better and so that we may have a meaningful relationship with Him. "He that hath given us the faculty whereby we are able to think, should be the principal object about which the power of it should be exercised."[Footnote #6] Unfortunately, so many of those who have been given by God the intelligence to understand the workings of the universe, use this intelligence to "reason" Him out of existence. They begin their reasonings with the assumption that there is no God (it's no wonder that they conclude that there is no God), and develop scientific theories based on this assumption. They use their intellect to bolster man's position in the universe (thereby, bolstering their own egos), rather than using their intellect to give them a greater appreciation of their Creator. A detailed scientific knowledge of the Creation can be a great aid in the worship of God. I have found that the more I know of the workings of the universe, the more I appreciate God as a Grand Designer.

Although a scientific knowledge can give one a great appreciation of the Creator, such knowledge is not necessary in order to know God. God is not elitist; He does not give only the highbrow a knowledge of Him. Rather, a knowledge of God is available to all by using the most rudimentary tools of reasoning. If you can say, "I am", you have enough reasoning ability to conclude that there is a God. To say "I am" reveals an awareness of our own existence, which in turn reveals an awareness that we have a soul. In other words, we are more than just raw materials, randomly thrown together; we are a designed being, a composition of flesh and blood with somehow (and we do not understand how) a soul living inside. Now if, as is obvious to all, "every house is built by someone" (Heb. 3:4), then it is obvious that we also have been built by someone, we being much more complex than a house. Someone with life gave life to this flesh, blood, muscle and bones. Someone with intelligence greater than ours (for "the builder of the house has greater honor than the house itself," see Heb. 3:3) gave us the reasoning ability to come to the conclusion that "I am".

If you can say "I am", you can also survey your own body and conclude that there is a God. Consider your hands. Open them up and close them. Pick up a piece of clay and mold it in your hands. With it, fashion a face. You may not be skilled in modeling clay, yet anyone would recognize your creation as a face. And anyone finding that imprecise face that you made would know that it was molded by human hands. Clay just is not, by chance, found in the shape of a face.

Consider your eyes as you watch your hands shape the clay. Through your eyes, via very complex processes, you take in the world around you. The light waves that bounce off the objects in your vicinity reflect into your pupils. Somehow, these light waves that enter your eyes are turned into a three-dimensional picture of the world around you. This world consists not only of the physical objects that you see, but also of ideas, feelings, ambitions, hopes and a myriad of other abstract concepts. You can look at a chair, made simply of wood, and seeing that chair can generate a host of remembrances, triggering emotions as you replay these remembrances in the world of your imagination. Maybe that chair resembles one that you sat in as a child in grade school; you see the original chair; you see all the other children in their chairs; you can even smell the damp odor of the classroom from that rainy day in which you sat in that chair; you feel anxious, as you did then, because you weren't prepared for the teacher to call on you... All these thoughts whirl through your mind in a moment of time as you look at that piece of wood in front of you.

Consider your ears. Vibrations of air, even right now as you read this, bombard your eardrums. Listen. You are not sitting in silence. You can hear the tick of a clock or the whirring of the ventilation system or the breath of a child nearby. Each sound speaks to you and triggers a rush of musings: the clock reminds you that you're late for dinner, the ventilation system cause you to realize that you're too hot sitting there, the child's steady breath tells you that she is finally asleep. All these thoughts are a result of slight movements in the air.

The world is made up of more than the physical. We are more than just atoms brought together by chance. We have being; we have spirit; we have soul. We are complex, designed beings. This is clear to anyone with even the most rudimentary reasoning ability. Now we, though intelligent beings, can never create anything as complex as ourselves. Again, "the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself" (Heb. 3:3). Chance could not create intelligent beings, only a being with much greater intelligence could do so. Chance could not create a being that sees and hears, for chance can neither see nor hear.

We can also conclude that there is a God from our moral nature. We all know right from wrong. The difference between right and wrong is instinctive and God-given. Paul says, "Indeed, when Gentiles. who do not have the [written] law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for the themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them" (Rom. 2:14-15). And who wrote the law on our hearts? None other than the Supreme Lawgiver. From our moral nature we have a sense that there is a perfect moral standard, there is an absolute good. And what is that good? We know that no man attains this good. Again, "the builder of the house is greater than the house itself." This highest good must be God. He defines moral perfection.

Moreover, because of our moral nature, we all feel a sense of moral responsibility and accountability. We feel that we will be taken to task for our moral shortcomings. But to whom do we feel accountable? Whom do we fear when we do things that our own consciences tell us are wrong? Do we fear man? No, because we fear judgment even when men are not around. It is the "one Lawgiver and Judge...who is able to save and destroy" (James 4:12). Our fear of God through our moral nature is an innate proof of His existence.

And so, through reason and through our moral nature, we have the awareness of a Creator. Though we cannot know Him fully through our innate knowledge of Him, we can infer some of His traits. We have intelligence, so we were undoubtedly made by a wise God; we can see and hear, and so our God sees and hears; we are moral beings who have a knowledge of right and wrong, and so our God is a righteous God. God has instilled this knowledge of Himself in every man, "so that men are without excuse" (Rom. 1:20).

No man can plead ignorance; there can be no agnostics, only those who choose to ignore God, only those who "did not think it worthwhile to retain a knowledge of God" (Rom. 1:28), only those "who suppress the truth...since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them" (Rom. 1:18-19). Many ignore the innate knowledge of God because they want to be free from obedience to God. They would rather devise their own laws, than follow the laws of God; they would rather be gods, than to be under the rule of the true and living God.

One of the strongest evidences for the innate knowledge of God is its universality. Historically, we have found that all cultures have a knowledge of God. In general, mankind is universally religious: men from all cultures, from all walks of life, and from all ages in history. The exceptions are individual, not national or cultural. Granted, for the most part, the knowledge of God is tainted and rendered inaccurate by man's sinful nature. Nevertheless, in essence, all who are religious believe that there is a Supreme Being, the Creator, who is worthy of our worship. "The being of a deity was so fairly written on the tables of man's heart at first, that though it be exceedingly blotted and blurred by the fall, yet it is still legible."[Footnote #7]

The universality of the knowledge of God precludes a conspiracy for influencing this knowledge. People are not brainwashed into believing in God. Belief in God is not learned at school (it is all too often unlearned at school!); it is innate. Certainly, many have influenced men to believe in false gods, but they are influenced because they already have a sense that there is a God. The impression of the existence of God is so strong that it causes many to do irrational things, such as worship man-made idols. They lack not the awareness of a knowledge of God, but light concerning the nature of God.

The universal knowledge of God is especially demonstrated in times of trouble. All turn to God--either to seek him or curse him--in dire circumstances. As has often been noted, "There are no atheists in foxholes."[Footnote #8] Men in trouble prove by their cries that they knew God all the time.

The innate knowledge of God is an important gift of God. It is a necessary foundation for true enlightenment concerning God. The acceptance and understanding of God's other methods of revelation require that we respond to the innate knowledge of God. Who would accept the Bible as truth if he did not already have an innate sense that God exists? God gave us our innate knowledge of Him to establish in our minds His existence. He gave us His revelation through His creation to solidify and confirm the innate knowledge that we have of Him. In the next issue, we will look at the ways in which God is revealed to us through His creation.

And now Father, we thank You that You have given us all a knowledge of You, without partiality. We praise You that knowledge of You is so clear, if we would but desire to know You. Give us this desire, so that we would spend our time in the worthwhile pursuit of knowing You. May we glorify You in our lives. In Christ's name we pray this, Amen.


6. Charnock, Discourses upon the Existence and Attributes of God, Vol. 1, pg. 87.

7. Swinnock, George, The Christian Man's Calling, from The Works of George Swinnock, Vol. I, pg. 23.

8. William Thomas Cummings, Field Sermon, Bataan, 1942.

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