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.”
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 he (or any other believer) ever preached one word of Scripture 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, for 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 can see it. All of God’s works declare His handiwork “plainly.” This fact means that there are no honest atheists or sincere agnostics. Every denier or even questioner of the existence of God is arguing for what he knows deep down to be false. He knows that God is. He is trying desperately to convince himself otherwise because he does not like who God is!
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 trickier to identify than “the works of God,” yet 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 people experience a sense of guilt or hope of innocence as we unavoidably impose upon ourselves some measure of the moral standard of God’s law, which He has placed ineradicably in every heart. Even though it becomes distorted and corrupted to various degrees by the hardening of sin, no one is able to completely silence his conscience and live wholly amoral. No man can fully extinguish the light of God’s law in the heart.
Thus, all human beings, from their own hearts, and from the existence and therefore evident creation of everything around them, know that there is a God. But as the catechism ominously notes, this knowledge is not sufficient or effectual to bring any one 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 rightly acknowledging and seeking God for his salvation, it is his heart. Every unconverted sinner’s heart opposes God’s judgment of his sinfulness. Therefore, to savingly know God, a sinner must first be given a new heart, 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 salvation that is in Jesus Christ!