God's self-disclosure is so plain, so clear through the entire creation that every person who encounters it is left without excuse.
Psalm 19 states, the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork. As the clear revelation of God in creation, why are there atheists? Why is it that some, perhaps many, refuse to believe in God? Welcome to the Monday edition of Renewing Your Mind. I'm your host, Nathan W. Bingham. For the next few days, we'll be considering the psychology of atheism. How do they think? And why are there atheists anyway?
We'll also be offering R.C. Sproul's book, If There's a God, Why Are There Atheists? That's available at renewingyourmind.org. So why is it that despite the speech that is poured out day to day to continue Psalm 19, that there are many people that call themselves atheists or agnostics? To help us think through the psychology of atheism, here's Dr. Sproul. In our studies on Renewing Your Mind, there have been several occasions where we have turned our attention to the first chapter of Romans for concerns with respect to understanding what we call general revelation, because here is the classical location in Scripture by which the apostolic testimony affirms that God reveals Himself plainly and clearly to all people. We're going to look back now to Romans 1, not for the same reasons that we have in the past in other courses, but now as it relates to this whole question of the psychology of atheism.
We have seen now that several scholars, 19th and 20th century scholars, have said that religion arises as a result of man's psychological needs. Now again, the working assumption of these philosophers is that there is no God. Now they don't prove that there is no God.
That's the working assumption. They're asking the question, since there is no God, why are there so many theists? Why do we have so much religion? Conversely, the theists ask the question, since there is a God, why would anybody be an atheist? Now again, I want to make it clear that we cannot prove the existence of God or disprove the existence of God by arguing on psychological grounds, because there are psychological reasons for wanting to believe in God and there are psychological reasons for wanting there not to be a God. And so reality is not proven or refuted by what we desire the truth to be. You have to establish the reality and the truth of a proposition not on the basis of people's psychological inclinations, but on the basis of objective evidence. Now all we're trying to do at this point is to say, does the New Testament offer an explanation for the opposite question?
If God does exist, why are there people who deny His existence? Now the New Testament does speak to that point, and that's what I want to start looking at today. So if you'll turn your attention with me to the first chapter of Romans, we'll start at verse 18, where we read these words, for the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Now we notice that the first thing that the Apostle indicates here is that God is angry about something, and He is announcing a manifestation or a revelation of divine wrath.
Now we've looked at that, as I said, in other contexts. The word that is used here in the Greek is the word orge, from which we get the English word orgy, and you might think that those two would be completely unrelated because we think of an orgy as a party of unrestricted, unrestrained sexual licentiousness. What in the world does that have to do with the wrath of God?
Well, the link linguistically between the English word orgy and the Greek word orge has to do with the concept of passion. What Paul is saying here is not that God is mildly disturbed about something, but that the deity is furious. He is in a passionate rage about something. His anger has been stirred to the utmost level. Now the question we ask is, what is it that has so provoked God to this level of anger? Well, first Paul answers that question in general terms, that the anger or the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against unrighteousness and ungodliness of men. So that what makes God so angry is that which is offensive to His own character, that which violates His own holiness and righteousness. His anger is against something that is evil. Now again, Paul is not speaking here simply in general terms about the response of God's wrath to all different kinds of unrighteousness and ungodliness. There is one specific act that the apostle has in view here that provokes God to this level of anger. And I hope you didn't miss it.
I'll read it again in case you did. For the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. The particular evil that is in view here involves the suppression of truth. Now the verb that is used here in the Greek comes from the root kadikeng, and it is translated in various different ways in various English translations.
Some translations, the old King James for example, says that God's anger is revealed against those who are holding the truth in unrighteousness. I've seen translations that render this term by the English word stifle, in this case suppress. I've seen repress.
We've said hold down. It is the same root word that is used in the book of Acts when it describes the occasion where the apostles are held in prison, when they are arrested so that they are incarcerated. The idea here is based on the concept of that which pushes something down by exerting some kind of force.
I like to use the illustration of a giant coil or a giant spring that in order to compress it you would have to push down on it with all of your strength and all of your might in order to get it to squeeze tightly, knowing that if you relieve that pressure, even in the slightest, that spring is going to coil and spring back open. In other words, the whole notion here is of forcible suppression. Paul is talking about the suppression of truth. And to suppress truth, to cover up truth, to conceal truth where truth is to be sought is evil. But the truth that we're talking about here is not the truth of political chicanery that went on in the Watergate affair or something like that. The particular truth that is in view here has to do with the truth of God Himself. It is this truth that is being suppressed or repressed.
Let's look again at the text as it elaborates further. "'Because,' Paul writes, "'what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.'" Now, this is a striking thing here that the apostle is saying. He said that God is angry because people are suppressing the truth about God that God has made manifest to these people. And the word there that is translated by the English word manifest in the Latin Vulgate is manifestum, from which we directly derive the word manifest.
In the Greek it's the word phoneros. And the idea that is used here is that it's not that God is planting little clues here and there in the universe, in arcane places, that only the super intelligent or the super diligent, if they pursue every hint or clue that is left behind by the Creator, could perhaps, in a prodigious effort of radiosenation, come to the conclusion that there is a God. That's not the point at all. Paul is saying here that God's self-disclosure, God's revelation of Himself, the truth of His character and of His existence, has not only been revealed obliquely or obscurely, but the whole force of this affirmation is that this divine revelation is clear. It's plain. It's manifest. And that God has shown Himself to us. And what Paul is saying here is that this manifestation of God's existence and of His character is clearly displayed to every human being.
Now, he goes on to give further exposition of this. Verse 20, 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. Now, again, we are told that not only is this truth made clear, but the truth is seen. Not only is it seen, but it is what?
Understood. What is understood here? Well, we're talking here about the invisible things of God.
Now, there's a little strange conjunction of language here in this text. Paul says the invisible things of God are clearly seen. On the surface, that sounds like a contradiction, doesn't it? Because for something to be invisible means it's incapable of being seen. And if something is seen, it's not invisible. If it is invisible, it can't be seen. So how on earth can Paul talk about seeing the invisible things of God? Well, what he declares here is that the invisible is seen or understood, he says, through or by means of, the date of means, the things that are made. That is, that this revelation is what we call mediate revelation. Mediate revelation means there's something in the middle.
There is something that is seen that teaches us about that which is unseen, so that the route that we travel to this knowledge of God is through God's imprint of Himself on the creation, that God reveals Himself in and through the created order which we do see. This word mediate here, as I said, means something in between, an intermediary, a go-between, if you will. We use this word quite frequently in our own vocabulary in the modern culture. We talk about the media. And the media is called the media because it is a means of communication. We talk about the print media that uses the printed word and the page of the journal, the magazine, the newspaper, so on. We talk about radio as a medium of communication. Right now you're hearing my voice, not because you're in the room where I'm speaking, but my voice is being carried to you through a medium, an electronic medium like radio.
We talk about television as a medium. Now, have you ever met Michael Jordan? Do you know Michael Jordan? No, but you've seen Michael Jordan, or have you seen Michael Jordan? I've seen Michael Jordan. I've talked to Michael Jordan, but I've never met Michael Jordan. Well, how can that be if I've seen him and I've talked to him and I can say I've never met him? Well, I've seen him on television, and I've talked to him on television. That is, I've yelled at my television set when Michael was dribbling the ball down the floor, shouting to him as if he could hear me.
But I have never met him personally because the only way I've been engaged in any kind of encounter with Michael Jordan is through the media. And sometimes the media is so powerful that we actually begin to think that we are eyewitnesses of things that are taking place in real time and in real space as they are occurring. We turn on the television to watch a basketball game, but we're not really watching the basketball game, are we? We're not there. We're not really eyewitnesses of the event itself, but only as that event is transmitted to us through some intermediary method.
We're looking at images, electronically constructed images on the television screen that tell us what is going on at that very moment, but we're not actually there, are we? Now, I would ask people a question like this. Suppose you turned on your television set, and lo and behold, there was Larry King live, and his guest that evening was the Almighty Himself. I mean, who would watch if it were announced that tonight Larry King is going to have as his guest God, and he's going to interview God right on national television. And if you saw God appear on national television in an interview with Larry King, would you then be convinced of the existence of God?
I think most people would be. This despite that the medium of television where a camera is beamed at one isolated portion of the cosmos isn't worthy to be compared to the effectiveness of the medium of the entire creation, which for eons, since the beginning of time, daily, constantly, continuously manifests the invisible, eternal power and deity of God. What I'm saying to you that the Apostle is affirming here is that God's self-disclosure is so plain, so clear through this medium that every person who encounters it is left without excuse. Now, what excuse do you suppose that Paul has in mind here? The excuse that every atheist and every agnostic will want to plead at the last judgment, and it's an excuse that perhaps you are clinging to this very moment, is that God has not given sufficient evidence of His existence to warrant a conclusion according to your judgment. Your plea will be one of ignorance.
Your plea will be that of invincible ignorance. You will be saying, oh God, I didn't know you were there. If only I would have known that you were there, I would have changed the pattern and the character of my life. But what the Apostle is saying here is that you do know that He's there. You did know that He's there and that ignorance will not stand as an excuse on the last day because if you drew one breath on this earth, you were surrounded by a theater of the glory of God that was unmistakable, that was not obscure, that was manifest and was clear. Now, here's the thing that causes all kinds of furious reactions when we read what Paul is saying here. Do you hear what the Apostle is claiming? He may not believe what he's claiming and you may say, well, just because Paul says that we know God doesn't mean that God exists, then that's another question.
But at least let's look at what he's saying. What he is saying is no less astounding than this, that in the final analysis, the question of the existence of God is not an intellectual question. That doesn't mean there aren't intellectual dimensions or aspects to the question.
What he is saying is in the final analysis, it's a moral issue. It's an issue that places us in jeopardy when we deny the plain, clear knowledge that God gives of Himself. And what Paul is doing here is beginning to give us a psychology of atheism, a psychology that represses and suppresses manifest truth. Now, in our next session, we'll see where Paul goes with this as he develops the idea of humans willfully hiding this truth that they know to be true and how this impacts the whole character of their lives.
I find it somewhat sobering that the Apostle speaks so clearly and so emphatically about God's self-disclosure here in the first chapter of Romans because if the Apostle Paul is right, and of course you know, I believe he is, that every conceivable excuse that we would bring before an eternal and holy God will be empty because God is not hiding. John Calvin once used the analogy of the blindfold. He said that the whole creation is like a glorious theater and that we walk through this theater as it were blindfolded. Now, Calvin doesn't mean to suggest by that illustration that we are people who fail to see the splendor of the light that is there.
He's talking about a blindfold that we put on ourselves. He's talking about the disposition of the human heart to flee from the clear revelation of God, that this reveals a bias of the highest degree that we refuse to have God in our thinking. And of course the reason for that is that there is nothing more fearful than God, and we'll explore that more fully tomorrow. The next time someone says to you that they'd follow God if He would only reveal Himself, you can point them towards Romans 1 and let them know that God has revealed Himself and that they, according to the Bible, are suppressing that truth. That was R. C. Sproul as part of a three-day study on Renewing Your Mind of the psychology of atheism. These messages are actually part of a 15-message series to better equip you in your gospel conversations with unbelievers. You can receive lifetime streaming access to all 15 messages, plus we'll send you Dr. Sproul's book, If There's a God, Why Are There Atheists?, for your donation of any amount at renewingyourmind.org. This book was written to help the Christian who is wrestling with doubts and also to help the Christian respond intelligently to unbelievers. So request this book and series for your donation of any amount at renewingyourmind.org.
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