Last week we finished off with the statement that our conscience itself always convicting us of both baseness and ingratitude, so lets continue in this journey of the unknown God that He may become known.
When Calvin speaks of baseness and ingratitude, he brings us the second point of Paul’s argument in Romans, the fact that all have rejected God in spite of Him revealing Himself in nature, however in developing this point in Romans Paul also shows the nature of our rejection and why it has taken place.
The key to this universal rejection of God is summed up by Paul when he says in Romans 1:18 ‘who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.’ The sense here is that of wrongly holding something down and this is the nature of the problem. The wrath of God’s is revealed from heaven against us, not because we have simply and carelessly overlooked the truth but rather because we have deliberately repressed whatever deep in our hearts known about God.
R.C. Sproul has called this argument ‘the heart of Paul’s psychology of atheism’, pointing out it is here that our guilt lies. Sufficient knowledge has been given to all people to cause them to turn from themselves to God and so at least begin to seek Him. But this knowledge like a big spring, has been pressed down. Now the spring threatens to leap up and demolish the views and lifestyle of the one repressing it, so that person holds it down, suppressing the truth.
Why do we do this? If it is true, as pointed out a few weeks ago in the blog tiled ‘On knowing God’, that the knowledge of God leads to our chief good, and if the beginning of that knowledge has been shown to us, then why do we repress it? why would we not seek to draw this truth out? Are we simply irrational? Or is Paul’s view faulty?
Paul is not wrong. We do suppress the truth, but our reason for doing so is that we do not like the truth about God, we do not like the God to which this truth leads us to.
In addition to our suppressing the truth we are also in a state of opposition to God in His nature. God is sovereign, we do not like His sovereignty. We do not want to acknowledge one who rightly exercises rule over us. God is holy, but we do not like holiness, His holiness calls into question our own sinfulness. God is all knowing, but we do not like His knowledge. We do not like a God who sees into the dark places of our hearts and knows us intimately. Nearly everything that can be known about God is repulsive to us. So, we repress the evidence that would lead us into the direction of a true knowledge of God.
Our dominant cause of this repulsiveness is God’s righteousness. God is holy, but people are unholy. We are unrighteous and we like our unrighteousness. Hence, we do not wish to know a God who would press moral claims upon us. To know God would require change. The refusal to know God is not based on intellectual causes but rather on moral ones.
At this point we have come to the true source of the human problem. We have rejected the beginnings of the knowledge of God for moral reasons. But we find it impossible to stop there. We are still His creation and we have a need for God, or something like Him, in our intellectual and moral makeup, so we invent false gods to take His place. These gods take many forms, it could be in scientific laws that fit within our cultural forms, it could be based on humanism, or even the gods of the ancient pagan religions. When we reject God, we need something to fill that gap in our lives.
The process of rejection is a three-stage process well known to contemporary psychologists: trauma, repression, and substitution. In his analysis of atheism Sproul shows that confrontation with the true God shocks people in a traumatic way, consequently we repress what we know. The important point here is that the knowledge of God, through repressed, is not destroyed, it remains intact, though buried deeply. The lack is therefore felt, and the substitution of that which is not God for the true God follows.
The wrath of God is justly revealed against us because we suppressed the knowledge of God that has been made plain to us. Some cannot fathom God being wrathful, is he not a God of love? Yes, He is but God is more than just one characteristic, He is love, but he is also just. A God who does not have a wrath against sin is a deformed and crippled God. God is perfect in His love, but He is also perfect in His justice which, as Paul tells us in Romans is ‘revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men.’
In any logical presentation of doctrine, the wrath of God is the first truth we must learn about Him. Why didn’t Paul begin by saying that the love of God is revealed from heaven? Is it not that God is love? It is so that we will recognize our deep spiritual need and be prepared to receive the knowledge of God in the Lord Jesus from whom only can we receive it. If we come to God boasting of our own achievement, God cannot and will not receive them. But if we come humbly, recognizing that they indeed have rejected what has been clearly revealed about God in nature, that Gods wrath justly hangs over them, then God will work in their lives. He will show that He has already made a way for removing the wrath due them, that Jesus took it on, and that the way is now open for their growth in both love and knowledge of God, which is salvation.
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In Christ our redeemer Ps Jeff