Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Everyone Knows God Is
For “In Him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we are indeed His offspring.” Acts 17:28ESV
Question 2 of the Westminster Larger Catechism asks, “How doth it appear that there is a God?” It gives the answer, “The very light of nature in man, and the works of God, declare plainly that there is a God; but his word and Spirit only, do sufficiently and effectually reveal him unto men for their salvation.” In the Scripture cited above, Paul, in his address to the philosophers at Athens, quotes certain pagan poets to show that his message of God as the sovereign, transcendent Creator and man as His responsible creature was not some new idea, but was previously known to them. Paul’s speech reveals his confidence that the Greeks already knew of God’s existence before Paul (or any other believer) ever preached one word about God to them!
All men know God! All know the one true God. They know that there is a being who is all-powerful, who is the divine creator and sustainer of all, and to whom they must someday give an account for all that they have done in this life. As the Catechism declares it, “The works of God, declare plainly that there is a God.” The Bible says it this way, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). All men know God necessarily. We know Him from the creation all around us. Men see the world and know God made it. Nothing else can explain the existence of all things, or of any one thing. Evolution, the Big Bang – all of these kinds of theories are, in the end, sophisticated nonsense, and every thinking person knows it. All of God’s works declare His handiwork “plainly.” This fact means that there are no honest atheists, or even agnostics. Every atheist who argues against the existence of God is arguing for what he deep down knows to be false. He knows that God is. He is trying desperately to convince himself otherwise because he does not like God!
Likewise, the catechism notes that all men know God from “The very light of nature in man.” Granted, the referent of this phrase is a bit more tricky to identify than “the works of God,” but whatever else the “light of nature in man” might include, it surely takes in the conscience. Thus, the Scripture states, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them,” (Rom. 2:14-15). In other words because all men know the one true God is, we all judge ourselves over the goodness or badness of our actions, in anticipation of the day when we know that we will have to answer to this ultimate judge. All men experience this sense of guilt or hope of innocence as we impose upon ourselves the moral standard of God’s law, which He has placed in every heart. Even though it becomes distorted and corrupted to various degrees by the hardening of sin, no man is able to completely silence his conscience and live perfectly amoral. No man can fully extinguish the light of God’s law in the heart.
Thus all men, from their own hearts and from the creation all around them, know that there is a God. But as the catechism ominously notes, this knowledge is not sufficient or effectual to bring any man to salvation, for that only the Holy Spirit of God will suffice. The reason for this state of affairs is that it is not man’s brain that prevents Him from acknowledging and seeking God for salvation, it is his heart. The sinner’s heart is dead towards God. To truly acknowledge God a sinner must first become a different person, a new creation born from above. This is not a work that man can do according to any natural power. Only God the Holy Spirit, through His own appointed means of the word of God, can create a new heart. The good news is that He does this in the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ!