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.
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).