They Know Him…They Know Him Not
For what can be known about God is plain to them…For although they knew God…(Romans 1:19, 21)
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God… (1 Corinthians 1:21)
…the Gentiles who do not know God… (1 Thessalonians 4:5)
Do you notice the what apparently looks like a discrepancy? In Romans, Paul tells us that God can be known. He goes as far as to say that it is “plain”, uncovered, there, right in front of your face. You can point to it. That’s how plain it is. Later in the same chapter of Romans Paul tells us that humanity is “without excuse.” (1:20b) But in the first letters to the Corinthians and the Thessalonians, he says that the world and Gentiles do not know God. In other words, there is no reason for humanity to not know God, but they do not know Him. Why is that? Let’s explore and see if we can come up with the answer.
- What can be known of God is revealed in the created order (Romans 1: 20) People can look at the created world and see the glory of God, His “eternal power and divine nature” is there to be seen. I’m not saying that God is nature; that would be pantheism. A distinction must be maintained between the Creator and the creature. However, the “invisible attributes” of God can be seen in what has been made. There is no reason why a person looking at a beautiful sunrise, the majesty of mountains, the power of thunder, brilliance of lightning, the intricate complexity of plants, animals, ecosystems, and the universe with its endless stars, planets, and galaxies which stretch to eternity cannot see the powerful and divine hand of the Master Architect. The glory of God is declared by what He has created. (Psalm 19)
- What can be known of God is also revealed in the heart of man (Romans 2:15) The law of God is written on the heart of every human being that has ever lived. Their conscience bears witness to God’s righteous requirement. Regardless of what part of the world you visit, or which culture you explore, there is an innate sense of right and wrong built into the very fiber of our being. Even the vilest of human beings, when being honest, will tell you that the evil they do and enjoy is wrong. The greatest philanthropist will also recognize that helping the weak, the poor, and the disenfranchised is the right thing to do. We all admire those who sacrificially give of what they have, to include in many cases their very lives. This is built into our very nature because God made man and put it there.
So, with all of this, why does man not know God? Why don’t they see His glory?
I would suggest the reason is hardness of heart. (Ephesians 4:18) The problem is that man in his fallen state cannot see the glory of God even though it is staring him in the face and bearing witness to his soul. The hardness in their hearts won’t let them see. But its more than that. That hardness of the heart is maintained by a love for darkness (1 John 3:19) People love the sin they live in; there is a greater love for that which antithetical to all that God represents than there is for the light of Christ in all His purity and glory. Their self-exaltation and narcissistic tendencies cloud their vision. The enemy of our souls, the Devil, has exploited this and enslaved mankind (2 Cor. 4:4) The natural mind of man, filled with their many idols, hears the gospel and considers it “foolishness” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Man wants to be God, and blindly, ignorantly, and foolishly thinks he can be. William Collin, a Particular (Reformed) Baptist pastor in the late 17th century, clearly states the plight of man in his Baptist Catechism:
Q. 22: What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell?
All mankind by their fall lost communion with God¹, are under His wrath and curse², and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell for ever³.
¹ Genesis 3:8, 10, 24
² Ephesians 2:2, 3; Galatians 3:10
³ Lamentations 3:39; Romans 6:23; Matthew 25:41, 46
This is why man is utterly helpless unless God steps in and rescues him. God must powerfully break in and shine His divine glory into our hard hearts (1 Corinthians 4:6), grant truth and repentance (2 Timothy 2:25), and give us the grace of faith in Christ (Philippians 1:29). In doing so, the blinders fall off, the stony heart is exchanged for one of flesh ready for molding by the Potter, and the eyes of the heart are enlightened (Ephesians 1:18). We are raised from the dead and experience the new birth. Our sins are forgiven and we stand no longer before a wrathful, righteous Judge, but before a gracious and merciful Father, the Giver of good gifts. (James 1:17) “Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25) Then, and only then, will we see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4: 4).