Friday, May 25, 2007

No Excuses

As a former militant agnostic and devotee of scientific naturalism, I consider these verses from Paul’s letter to the Romans to be one of the most powerful passages in the Bible:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Rom 1:18-20 NIV)

In a nutshell, Paul is saying that nature itself is evidence enough for God’s existence, so that no one has any excuse for denying it. Before I became a Christian it seemed to me that just the opposite was true. I believed that the supernatural realm, if it existed at all, was beyond observation. Therefore I could only give credence to natural explanations. I was steeped in a secular scientific worldview. It seemed elementary to me that our eyes only give us evidence for the natural world. Surely all belief in God is just irrational superstition! When I looked at nature I saw the glory of Science, not the glory of God.

I remember when I first became a Christian and came across this passage. I had a hard time understanding it. I was still heavily under the influence of my former way of thinking about nature. It was only with considerable effort that I was able to appreciate what Paul is saying:
  • When we see that the universe is vast beyond measure we know that the Creator is powerful beyond comprehension.
  • When we see that the universe is orderly and understandable we know that the Creator is a rational being.
  • When we see that the universe is intricate, varied, and exquisitely beautiful we know that the Creator delights in his creation.
In a recent sermon our pastor made the point that practically all cultures throughout history have shared two common ideas: belief in a god or gods and belief in life after death. The committed naturalist says evolution gave us these instincts. Is it not just as plausible that our Creator put them there? As our pastor said, we are all born to belief; it takes years of training to become an atheist.

Of course, our God-implanted instinct to worship the transcendent is not so easily eradicated. That is why even the committed secularists today tend to personify Nature, writing it with a capital “N” and speaking reverently of it. In his famous book and TV miniseries Cosmos, Carl Sagan personified and worshiped the universe in this way. His book opens with these words:
The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us – there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.
Paul warned us of this as well:
They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. (Rom 1:25 NIV)

But the glory of the heavens speaks to us of God’s glory so that, as Paul said, we are without excuse:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. (Psalm 19:1-4 NIV)

People often ask, if God wants us to believe in him why does he hide himself? But Paul tells us that the evidence is right before our eyes. Indeed, it is written in our hearts.


Rob said...

I wonder how much of this is seeing what we already believe to be true. Two people have the same experience, perhaps of a spectacular scenic wonder, and one sees God while the other sees nature. Did they simply see what they want to see?

God's existence is clearly visible in nature only after I've already decided that God exists. If Paul is saying that nature proves God exists, then I'm perplexed. (That's what I say when I don't agree with the clear message of the Bible and am afraid to say so!)

Bill Hensley said...

You’re partly right. Someone who is firmly committed to the belief that God does not exist is certainly not going to see evidence for God in nature. But that does not mean the evidence isn’t there. I think I’ll post another blog entry on that topic.

jamesgraul said...