Knowing God: Where the humanistic rubber meets the Sovereign road

In this piece, I examine two questions from the Christian view:

What does it mean “to know God?”

How does man come to know God?

The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt (Psalm 14:2-3a; repeated in Psalm 53).

Paul in Romans 3 quotes from Psalm 14 (or 53):

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless…”

(Romans 3:9-12a).

So to be “under sin,” that is, to have the (natural) inclination to sin implies that we are not seeking God. Doesn’t Paul contradict himself (doesn’t the Bible contradict iself) when it says two chapters earlier, in Romans 1, that men indeed do know God?

“[18] For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. [19] For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. [20] For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. [21] For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:18-21 ESV).

Some argue that men are “hard-wired” for belief in a transcendent being. This is the view of the Bible, as expressed in Romans 1 above. Others, in contrast – mainly in Western culture – believe with Protagoras (circa 490 BC – 420 BC) that man is the measure of all things:

What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form, in moving, how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!” (Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1601).

Alexander Pope, who does believe in God, argues in in his “Essay on man,” that Christians behave no differently from other people in their “thirst for gold.” The Bible describes such Christians as those who “went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19 ESV).

And

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:12-14 ESV).

To summarise the biblical view, all men know God but do not want to honour or give thanks to Him (Romans 1:21). This situation applies to professing Christians and everybody else. Only the true Christian wants to honour and give thanks to God.

Now, here is the heart of the Gospel – one can only know God through Jesus Christ:

[6] “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. [7] If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” [8] Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” [9] Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father (John 14:6-9 ESV).

How does one begin to know and continue to know God? Through faith in Jesus Christ:

[18] Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God (John 3:18 ESV).

I now come to the place where the humanistic rubber meets the Sovereign road of God. That road is “The Way,” Jesus Christ. How do we come to know the right way, “The Way, the truth and the life?”

The primary truth – which man in his sin nature cannot see – is that fallen man is nothing, a dead nothing. As we read in Ephesians 2, man is dead in sin. He is unable to seek Christ, to call Christ, because the dead can’t call.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3 ESV)

Here is Herman Bavinck, who incomparably says it all:

“In the Christian religion the work of men is nothing, and it is God Himself who acts, intervenes in history, opens the way of redemption in Christ and by the power of His grace brings man into that redemption and causes him to walk in it. Special revelation is the answer which God Himself gives in word and deed to the question which through His own guidance arises in the human heart.
Immediately after the fall God already comes to man. Man has sinned and is seized upon by shame and fear. He flees his Creator and hides himself in the dense foliage of the garden. But God does not forget him. He does not let go of him, but condescends, seeks him out, talks with him, and leads him back to fellowship with Himself (Gen. 3:7-15). And this thing that happened thus immediately after the fall, continues in history from generation to generation. We see the same thing happening again and again. In the whole work of redemption it is God and God alone who manifests Himself as the seeking and the calling One, and as the speaking and acting One.”

Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith, 267. (Sourced from Jamin Hubner).

In this piece, I examine two questions from the Christian view:

What does it mean “to know God?”

How does man come to know God?

The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt (Psalm 14:2-3a; repeated in Psalm 53).

Paul in Romans 3 quotes from Psalm 14 (or 53):

“What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless…”

(Romans 3:9-12a).

So to be “under sin,” that is, to have the (natural) inclination to sin implies that we are not seeking God. Doesn’t Paul contradict himself (doesn’t the Bible contradict iself) when it says two chapters earlier, in Romans 1, that men indeed do know God?

“[18] For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. [19] For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. [20] For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. [21] For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:18-21 ESV).

Some argue that men are “hard-wired” for belief in a transcendent being. This is the view of the Bible, as expressed in Romans 1 above. Others, in contrast – mainly in Western culture – believe with Protagoras (circa 490 BC – 420 BC) that man is the measure of all things:

“What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form, in moving, how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!” (Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1601).

Alexander Pope, who does believe in God, argues in in his “Essay on man,” that Christians behave no differently from other people in their “thirst for gold.” The Bible describes such Christians as those who “went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19 ESV).

And

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:12-14 ESV).

So, to summarise the biblical view, all men know God but do not want to honour or give thanks to Him (Romans 1:21). This fact applies to professing Christians and everybody else. Only the true Christian wants to honour and give thanks to God.

Now, here is the heart of the Gospel – one can only know God through Jesus Christ:

[6] “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. [7] If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” [8] Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” [9] Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father (John 14:6-9 ESV).

How does one begin to know and continue to know God? Through faith in Jesus Christ:

[18] Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God (John 3:18 ESV).

I now come to the place where the humanistic rubber meets the Sovereign road of God. That road is “The Way,” Jesus Christ. How do we come to know the the right way, “The Way, the truth and the life?”

The primarytruth – which man in his sin nature cannot see – is that fallen man is nothing, a dead nothing. As we read in Ephesians 2, man is dead in sin. He is unable to seek Christ, to call Christ, because the dead can’t do anything.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3 ESV)

Here is Herman Bavinck, who incomparably says it all:

“In the Christian religion the work of men is nothing, and it is God Himself who acts, intervenes in history, opens the way of redemption in Christ and by the power of His grace brings man into that redemption and causes him to walk in it. Special revelation is the answer which God Himself gives in word and deed to the question which through His own guidance arises in the human heart.
Immediately after the fall God already comes to man. Man has sinned and is seized upon by shame and fear. He flees his Creator and hides himself in the dense foliage of the garden. But God does not forget him. He does not let go of him, but condescends, seeks him out, talks with him, and leads him back to fellowship with Himself (Gen. 3:7-15). And this thing that happened thus immediately after the fall, continues in history from generation to generation. We see the same thing happening again and again. In the whole work of redemption it is God and God alone who manifests Himself as the seeking and the calling One, and as the speaking and acting One.” – Herman Bavinck,
Our Reasonable Faith, 267. (Sourced from Jamin Hubner

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