The Living God
According to the Scriptures: the Triune God, Jehovah, “...is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King (Jer. 10:10).” It was this God who created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1), and everything in them. All created reality - whether material or immaterial, animate or inanimate, personal or impersonal - all of these things, and whatever else exists, were created by His power and for His glory: “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created by Him and for Him.” (Col. 1:16)
Furthermore, the Scriptures tell us that it is because of (or by) His providence that all created things are upheld and disposed, directed or governed. He upholds all things by the Word of His power and works all things after the counsel of His own will (q.v., Heb. 1: 3; Eph. 1:11).
“While the earth remaineth seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” (Gen. 8: 22)
“Thus saith the LORD, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; the LORD of hosts is his name.” (Jer. 31:35)
Of all the objects of God’s creative activity, man alone was made in His image, in true knowledge, righteousness and holiness. “In the image of God He created him; male and female He created them (Gen. 1:27).” It is put this way in Psalm 139:
“For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mothers womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they were all written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.” (vss. 13-16)
Likewise, of all the works of His continuing care man stands out as the special object of His providence.
“If [God] should gather to Himself His Spirit and His breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.” (Job 34:14)
“Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.” (Mt. 10:29)
God Has Revealed Himself
Through all of these things - creation, providence and the image of God in man - God has revealed Himself. To put it another way, God has disclosed the truth of His existence through what He has done (i.e., creating the heavens and the earth), what He continues to do (i.e., upholding and governing the world day by day), and through the consciences of men who bear His likeness (which conscience accuses men when they do wrong and excuses them when they do right). In this way, God has and does reveal His eternal power, His supreme wisdom, and His righteous standards of conduct.
King David of ancient Israel poetically expressed the revelational character of the created order in the following way:
“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world” (Ps. 19:1-4)
“The heavens declare His righteousness, and all the peoples see His glory.” (Ps 97:6)
Not only is the whole of the created order full of the glory of the Lord of Hosts, as we are told in the book of Psalms (q.v., also Is. 6), but the entire course of history - God’s continuing providence, whereby, as we have seen, He upholds and governs the world - constantly bears witness to Him.
“...the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them,...did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14:15,17)
God, being the sovereign Lord and ruler of all, works all things after the counsel of His own will. He is the Lord of history who is everywhere present in all of His glory with all events. There is, therefore, no place where we could go to flee from His presence or the revelation He has given of Himself. God is the unavoidable atmosphere of our lives. This is what the apostle Paul declared to the philosophers of ancient Athens:
“He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:26, 28)
There is no corner of the universe that God did not create and does not uphold and govern, hence, there is no place of escape from the revelation of God.
“…God has never left Himself without a witness to men. He witnessed to them through every fact of the universe from the beginning of time. No rational creature can escape this witness. It is the witness of the triune God whose face is before men everywhere and all the time.” 1
Even if men were able to escape the whole of created reality, and all the motions of God’s providence, they would still be unable to escape the knowledge that God has given of Himself. This is so because men have within themselves (as image bearers), an ineradicable knowledge of their creator.
“There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity. This we take to be beyond controversy...God Himself has implanted in all men a certain understanding of His divine majesty."2 This is why David said in Psalm 139, marveling over God’s creation of Himself, “My soul knows very well.” This knowledge has been indelibly written on the heart and consciences of all men.” (Rom 2:15)
“God made man a rational-moral creature. He will always be that. As such he is always confronted by God. He is addressed by God. He exists in the relationship of covenant interaction. He is a covenant being. To not know God man would have to destroy himself. He cannot do this. There is no non-being into which man can slip in order to escape God’s face and voice. The mountains will not cover him; Hades will not hide him. Nothing can prevent his being confronted 'with him with whom we have to do.' Whenever he sees himself, he sees himself confronted with God.”3
The totality of this self-disclosure on the part of God is so perspicuous, so persuasive, and so pervasive that it has come to and gotten through to all men. This knowledge is all around us and within us; it is declared by everything (from all the stars in the heavens to every grain of sand on the seashore), and to everyone (from the learned fool with a Ph.D. in philosophy to the unlearned wise man in the jungle). It would be no more clearly revealed or made known than if everything had “made by God” stamped on it. All men know this truth.
All Knowledge Depends Upon God and His Revelation
All of the foregoing should make it obvious that there is a grand difference between God and us. God is the creator; however, we and everything else are His creatures. God knows us altogether; if we are to know Him He must reveal Himself. God depends upon nothing and yet causes all to depend upon Him. This includes not only life and breath, but also wisdom and knowledge.
Even as Scripture speaks of the existence of the true God, it also speaks of the universal denial of this truth on the part of unregenerate humanity (all people by nature since the fall). Men say, in an attempt to cast His cords from off them, the Triune God who speaks in Scripture does not exist. This denial, which can be called the non-Christian philosophy of life, expresses itself in various ways. It comes to expression in Atheism on the one hand, Islam on the other, and everything in between (whether they are recognized as other religions or are referred to as competing philosophies). Scripture, history and everyday experience are replete with examples of this denial. This denial is essentially a violation of the first commandment, which negatively prohibits idolatry and positively commands that men recognize and worship the true God. All denials of God are united in their attempt to worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator. All denials of God are a failure to recognize God as ultimate (instead of the human mind, human experience, etc.), and that we are utterly dependent on Him for all things (whether it is for truth regarding religious matters, “secular” matters, morality or salvation).
Mankind Suppresses the Knowledge of God
In mentally rejecting and verbally denying the existence of the true God, or at least denying any cognitive factual knowledge of His existence, mankind not only calls into question the truth of the above proposition - “The Triune God of Scripture lives” - but, as could be expected, they deny or call into question whether He has revealed Himself. The reason for this, according to the Scriptures, is not because God does not exist and has not revealed Himself, neither is it because His revelation is unclear. We have already seen that the Bible emphatically declares God does exist, He has revealed Himself, and His revelation is manifest to all. “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness,...(Jn. 1:4).” In other words, God has lit up the world of human experience with the knowledge of Himself. The reason for the above denial is to be found in men, not in some supposed defect in God’s revelation. For even though “...the light has come into the world” and is plain to everyone, “men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed (Jn. 3:19).” Men fight against this revelation, but they have not and cannot overcome it. Mankind’s love of darkness has not extinguished the light, rather, it leaves them condemned for their wicked response to God’s truth.
Mankind is Robbed of Knowledge
In spiritually suppressing and verbally rejecting this clearly revealed knowledge of God - upon which depends all knowledge whatsoever - the unbeliever unwittingly becomes a fool who is robbed of the possibility of justifying his truth claims. All philosophy which does not begin in the fear of Jehovah and is not controlled by His revelation, but rather begins in autonomous reasoning and is controlled by the basic principles (or presuppositions) of this world, are hollow and deceptive according to the Scriptures (Col. 2:8-9). This is one of the reasons why the term “fool” is consistently applied to the unregenerate man throughout the wisdom literature of the Old Testament (Ps. 14:1, 53:1; Pr. 1:7 et.al.), and the phrase “vanity of vanities” is applied to his autonomous way of thinking and philosophy of life (q.v., the book of Ecclesiastes). In fact, this is why the apostle said that unbelievers “...walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart...(Eph. 4:17-18).” Simply put:
"In God’s light we are able to see light (cf. Psalm 36:9). To turn away from intellectual dependence upon the light of God, the truth about and from God, is to turn away from knowledge to the darkness of ignorance."5
As we have seen, Scripture says that God exists and yet men deny Him. Scripture says that God has revealed Himself and yet men reject any awareness of this revelation. Scripture says that all knowledge depends upon knowing God, and yet men claim to know many things independently of Him and the revelation He has given of Himself. Is it true, then, that men do not truly believe in God, are not aware of His revelation, and do still genuinely know many things? The answer is “yes” and “no.” The Scriptures themselves declare that men both believe in (or know) God, and that they do not believe in (or know) God; they declare that men are aware of His revelation and yet are ignorant of it; they declare that they do know things and yet do not truly know anything. How could this be? The answer: men are self-deceived. They believe one thing about God, His revelation, and knowledge and they believe another thing about themselves and their relationship to these truths. They are walking contradictions. They live in opposition, not only to God and the world He has made but to themselves as well. As the Scripture says, they “oppose themselves”. Men believe about God, in their heart of hearts, that He exists. Yet, they believe something else about themselves; namely, they believe that they do not believe in His existence. They have received His revelation and yet they suppress it in unrighteousness. They do know things to the extent that they rely on the knowledge of God that they have; they do not know things to the extent that they rely on that by which they suppress the knowledge of God. It is this concept of self-deception that is in view in Romans when the apostle Paul declares that men know God, and that they exchange the truth of God for a lie.
"According to Romans 1:18-21, unbelievers actually know God in their heart of hearts (v. 21). Indeed, that which is known of God is evident within them so that they are without excuse for their professed unbelief (vv. 19-20). Since He is not far from any of us, even pagan philosophers cannot escape knowing Him (cf. Acts 17:27-28). What unbelievers do is “suppress the truth in un-righteousness” (Rom 1:18). They are guilty of self-deception. Although in one sense they very sincerely deny knowing God or being persuaded by His revelation, they nevertheless are mistaken in this denial. In fact, they do know God, they are persuaded by His revelation of Himself, and they now are doing whatever they can to keep that truth from sight and to keep from dealing honestly with their maker and judge. Rationalization and any number of intellectual games will be enlisted to convince themselves and others that God’s revelation of Himself is not to be believed. In this way unbelievers, who genuinely know God (in condemnation), work hard - even if habitually (and in that sense unconsciously) - to deceive themselves into believing that they do not believe in God or the revealed truth about Him."6
It is this radical self deception that makes it possible for the unbeliever to know God (because He has revealed Himself), and thus know other things (since all knowledge depends on knowing Him), and yet not truly know God (because they suppress the truth in unrighteousness), and thus be ignorant of everything (since His is existence is the precondition of intelligibility). As long as the unbeliever is inconsistent with His denial of God and God’s revelation, then knowledge is possible; conversely, as long as, and to the extent that the unbeliever is consistent with his denial of God and God’s revelation, then knowledge is impossible.
Summary and Conclusion
All of the ideas that are presented above can be seen as an extended look at what the apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans. The apostle tells us:
"The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all un-godliness and un-righteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools,...Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness,...For this reason God gave them up to vile passions...And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind,..." (Rom 1:18-22, 24, 26, 29).
In this one place, the apostle Paul gathers together all the essential points that have already been sketched above. God exists and has “revealed,” “manifested,” and “shown” His “invisible attributes,” “eternal power,” and “divine nature” to men. This knowledge has gotten through to and is known by everyone; it is something that has been “clearly seen” and “understood” so as to leave everyone “without excuse.” Mankind is said to have dealt unthankfully and ungratefully with this revelation of the power and goodness of God their Creator. They are said to have “refused to retain God in their knowledge,” and to have “suppressed the truth” about Him. The result of all this is said to be that God’s wrath rests upon such wickedness and is already being executed in this life. A couple of the ways in which this is seen is in his giving them over to the depravity of their own rebellious hearts and the futility of their apostate and autonomous thinking. In rebelling against God and rejecting His revelation, men and women are under the wrath of God and have unwittingly become fools. They have destroyed themselves, not just personally but epistemically as well.
It is the task of the Christian apologist, then, to show the non-believer that his unbelieving worldview would - in principle, if held to consistently - destroy the possibility of knowing anything, even the possibility of knowing that we could not know anything. It is further our task to show that the only hope of salvation from the sinful foolishness of unbelief, a foolishness that attends every form of the non-Christian philosophy of life, rests in a change of mind towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Only in the God who has come to expression in Jesus Christ can one find not only righteousness, sanctification, and redemption but wisdom as well.b