God's revelation comes, it goes in, we fear it, we bury it, we exchange it, we bring it back out in the form of a lie we can live with.
The most radical extreme is the lie that there is no God to worry about at all. The Apostle Paul in Romans 1 tells us that no one has an excuse before God. None of us are ignorant because God has made Himself clearly known through His creation. Yet sinful man takes that revelation, that truth, and suppresses it, pushing it down and trying to ignore it. Welcome to Renewing Your Mind as we conclude a study today on the psychology of atheism.
The world doesn't simply suppress the truth. Paul goes on to say they exchange the truth for a lie. We need to be thoughtful as we seek to understand the psychology of atheism, which is why this series from Dr. Sproul is 15 messages and also has a companion book.
Request both at renewingyourmind.org before this resource offer ends at midnight. So what do atheists and non-Christians exchange the truth with and why is it that they do it? Well, here's Dr. Sproul to help us understand. As we continue our study of the psychology of atheism, we have been looking at the Apostle Paul's astonishing assertion that God has so clearly revealed Himself to every human being that every person in the world knows that there is a God. Let me just qualify this a little bit because our attention has been focused pretty much on the first chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans in this discussion, and we haven't looked at other segments of his teaching. But in the second chapter of Romans, Paul goes on to say that not only does man know God from beholding the created realm, but also there is an inner knowledge of God that is planted in the soul or in the heart of every person by which the Apostle declares that every human being knows basically and foundationally the difference between right and wrong because the law of God has been planted in our hearts. Paul is arguing for here is a kind of knowledge that in philosophy we call a priori knowledge. That is, it's a knowledge that comes before experience. It's not something that we learn by practice or by experience or by study, but rather it's a given. It's innate.
It's an inborn knowledge. And so in theology, if you'll allow me to make this distinction, we distinguish between what's called mediate revelation and immediate revelation. Mediate revelation, as we said, is that revelation that comes through some intervening medium. And in this case, as Paul is elaborating on it in Romans 1, it is the medium of creation through which God manifests Himself in His revelation. But in addition to mediate revelation, the church has always understood the Apostle to be teaching, particularly in Romans 2, immediate general revelation. Now again, the term immediate is not used here with respect to time where we say that something happens quickly, right now, instantly, immediately, but rather it has a more specific meaning of something that happens without an intermediary or an agent that works in between or in simple terms without a medium.
It's direct. And that the idea that Paul is making here is that God directly reveals Himself in the minds and souls of every human creature. So it's kind of a double-barrel shotgun here that God makes Himself known both immediately, a priori, innately in your soul, and as soon as you begin to experience the world around you, there it is again God's clear manifestation of Himself in and through the natural order. So the Apostle is saying there are two ways by which we know that God exists, and yet we refuse to acknowledge that. All the while our conscience is bothering us. Our conscience is haunting us, bearing witness to this innate a priori sense of the difference between right and wrong that God has planted in our hearts.
Okay, now both kinds of knowledge, the mediate and the immediate, are subjected to this suppression or repression that Paul declares at the beginning of Romans 1. Now, I took the time to look up the word to repress in the dictionary, and this is what I read. One definition of to repress means to check by or as if by pressure to curb the pressure, to put down by force, to subdue, to prevent the natural or normal expression, activity, or development of, or to exclude from consciousness. Again, I keep using the metaphor of a giant spring, this huge coil. To compress that spring requires the exertion of force, and you can't just take your little pinky finger and put it on the top of this giant spring and push it down. You have to use all your might to compress that spring, and while you're pushing it down, this spring has enough counterforce to want to do what?
To spring back up again. One of the scholars that has worked with this whole business of repression as it relates to general revelation is a scholar by the name of Johannes Bawink. Bawink pays attention to the Greek word that I mentioned in our last session that Paul uses here, metalloso. When Paul says that this knowledge that men receive from God is pushed down or repressed, and then what happens? Remember that knowledge that is repressed is not destroyed. It's not annihilated, and this knowledge that we have of God is not destroyed.
It is pushed down, and then on the heels of this suppression comes metalloso, or the exchange. Notice that the indictment that the apostle gives here is for trading in the truth of God for a lie, for changing the incorruptible glory of God, for the glory of corruptible things such as teachers. In fact, the most basic or general response to this revelation, frankly, is not atheism or agnosticism, but religion. But it is a religion characterized by idolatry.
Now, let's think about that for a second. If we go back to the Old Testament, go back to the Decalogue, to the Ten Commandments, do we remember what is the first commandment, depending on how you count them, whether you're a Lutheran or otherwise. But the first commandment is usually understood to be the commandment, Thou shall have what? No other gods before me.
That is, no other gods in my presence. So that the fundamental prohibition of the Decalogue is a commandment that precludes the worship of idols, the worship of any god other than the true God. And it is emphasized again in the second commandment against the making of graven images. According to biblical religion, in my judgment, the most basic primary fundamental sin of human beings is the sin of idolatry. Which sin is committed not by denying the existence of God, but reshaping, restructuring, transforming the character of the true God, and creating a substitute in its place that is worshiped rather than God. And it invariably becomes some element of the created order, whether it's the golden calf that was crafted by the hands of men, or the idols and statues that were made by the silversmiths in Ephesus, or totem poles, or sophisticated philosophical concepts. It doesn't have to be a crass, wooden, or stone idol, but even an abstract doctrine of God that differs from the true God is also a work of idolatry.
Now, I stress that for this reason. As Christians, we could stand aloof from the rest of the world and say, oh, our religion is true, and all of the rest of the religions in this world are manifestations of this human propensity toward idolatry. And then we stand in self-righteous judgment against everybody else.
Beloved, this is a human problem, and regeneration doesn't cure it. There is an element of idolatry in all of our thinking, in all of our theology. The degree to which my concept of God distorts what He really and truly is, that degree is idolatrous. And what do we do, characteristically and commonly, is look at the biblical God and we say, I don't like the biblical God. There's too much wrath there.
There's too much justice there. My God is a God of love. My God loves everybody unconditionally. That's the God of 20th century America, a God who is said to love everybody unconditionally, a God who is never angry, a God who has no capacity for wrath, a God who would never be so politically incorrect as to render judgment to anyone. That's not the God of Scripture. That God is not holy. So when we strip God of His holiness, of His transcendent majesty, we are turning Christianity into an idolatrous religion.
So we need to point the guns, not just at everybody else in the world, but we need to turn the guns around and aim them at ourselves and see if there be in our own thinking manifestations of this propensity, because we're human, and this is, as the Apostle is indicating, a universal tendency or proclivity among fallen creatures to exchange the truth of God for a lie. Now, back to the psychological dimension of this and the psychological categories. Let me read to you what Bovink says about this idea of substitution, and I quote. He says, "'This phenomenon of replacing, of substituting, is so common that we see it everywhere. It has been discovered that these repressed impulses of which we spoke, which are left to operate in the unconsciousness, are not dead.
They remain strong and try to reassert themselves again and again. They surely play no part in man's conscious life, but they succeed in showing every now and again that they still exist.'" Now, listen to the illustration that he gives of this.
I find fascinating. "'This has been illustrated by the story of the boy sent out of class at school who kept throwing stones against the windows of the school to show that he was still there. The little boy is expelled from school. Instead of going home, he goes around to the back, goes to the playground, picks up a few pebbles, and then stands outside the window where his classmates are there in class, and he starts throwing these little pebbles at the window, not to just annoy the teacher, but rather to keep his presence known.
He won't go away.'" Now, what I find so fascinating about this illustration that Bovink is using here is that he takes this illustration from Freud. And you will recall that it was Freud that we studied earlier who gave us his creative explanation for the psychological origin of religion.
Now his analysis is being used against him. Freud particularly has called attention to this phenomenon and inaugurated its study. He noticed that the impulses which have been exiled to the unconscious may very well reveal themselves in the airs we make in our slips of the tongue, but they especially crop up in dreams, for then they get the chance to come to the surface.
Now, we are all familiar with the phrase, the Freudian slip, where we unintentionally make a comment that doesn't come across the way we wanted it to, and we'll say, well, those were the hidden motives of the subconscious asserting themselves in these speech patterns. Now, in the study of philosophy and the study of psychology, we are concerned to deal with something that was the central concern of Freud, of Marx, of Feuerbach, and others that we've examined so far, and that is the problem of fear. The things that usually are repressed in our experience are those things that are fearful, things that frighten us.
We have an accident, or we are witnesses of a tragic accident, and the experience is so devastating, so disturbing, so frightening that we want to block it out of our minds and bury it into our subconsciousness because we're afraid of it. Now, we can distinguish and describe specific types of fears. There's all kinds of phobias that we are aware of. There's fear of water, fear of heights, fear of flying, fear of public speaking, fear of foreigners, all these different fears that we can elaborate. But one of the worst kind of fears that we ever had to deal with is the one that remains amorphous, the one that remains unknown, that we sort of have a sense of dread, or what the existential philosophers call angst. We have this debilitating, ongoing anxiety, and we're not even exactly sure what we're afraid of. But something is bothering us. If we know what it is we're afraid of, at least we can try to take some measures to deal with it.
But it is that unnamed, invisible fear that haunts us. And so we go and see the counselor or the psychiatrist, and when that happens, the trained clinician will not only take our normal history and ask specific questions about our experience, but he will pay attention or she will pay attention to nonverbal forms of communication. For example, I like to tell the story of the man who goes to the psychiatrist, and the psychiatrist says to him, how did you get along with your mother? And the guy smiles, and he says, mother? And every time he says mother, you know, his head flinches and his shoulder shrugs and he has this horrible tick. And so he says, mother? I got along great with mother.
I love my mother. But every time he says the word mother, this awful tick is demonstrated. Now, the psychiatrist doesn't miss that. He knows that the man is saying one thing with his conscious words and another thing with his body language, his nonverbal communication.
Or the psychiatrist may begin to explore the person's dreams or do Rorschach ink blotting tests and that sort of thing because the psychiatrist is looking for symbolic ways in which the truth is going to come out. Now, the idea is that the truth that is suppressed is not destroyed. It's changed, and it comes back out. It forces itself back out to the surface, but when it comes out, it has been disguised. It comes out in a way that was less frightening than it went in.
We have one knowledge of God as it enters our consciousness. We bury it. We transform it. We defang it. We declaw it. We detooth it and bring it back out in the form of an idol that is bearable, a God who does not control us, but one whom we can control ourselves.
Again, Feuerbach was right. People do have the ability to create gods in their own image, that we have the ability to invent gods with whom we may be comfortable, but these gods are only so many golden calves. They are creations of our own hands.
They are counterfeits, but, beloved, the counterfeit always depends upon the genuine for its power and for its force, and that's why these images can be so powerful. So Paul is giving us a psychology here. He's saying God's revelation comes. It goes in. We fear it. We bury it. We exchange it.
We bring it back out in the form of a lie we can live with. The most radical extreme is the lie that there is no God to worry about at all. I mentioned at the beginning of this series on the psychology of atheism that I'm basically following the content and outline of a book originally entitled The Psychology of Atheism and then later retitled If There Is a God, Why Are There Atheists? And those are available for those of you who may want to implement these lectures by further studies.
And if you have that desire, then give us a call today at our 800 number. But I really would like you to take advantage of this opportunity because this is a very important point, not only that we may have a better understanding of unbelievers in our midst, but that we might have a better understanding of our own tendencies in these directions. We are surrounded by very religious people worshipping a whole host of idols, even if they're not carved from wood or made of stone.
And sadly, some are even present within the church, having forged a Jesus of their own making and not the Jesus of the Bible. Today's message on Renewing Your Mind was from R.C. Sproul and his psychology of atheism series. This series would be a great study to do as part of an apologetics course in your home school, small group or even youth group. Request lifetime access to this 15-part series, plus the companion book, If There's a God, Why Are There Atheists?, when you make a donation of any amount at renewingyourmind.org. Thank you for your generosity in support of Renewing Your Mind.
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