By C.L. Bolt
It follows from what has been said especially in the last part of this introduction concerning Romans 1 that something rather strange is going on with those who in some form or fashion deny the existence of God. First, those who deny the existence of God in any way do so even though they know God to the extent that they have no excuse for doing so. Given that if God exists, He is known by everyone, then anyone who rejects that he or she knows God must take a “hard” atheistic stance against God. That is, there is no such thing as being agnostic with respect to the God described in Scripture. An agnostic in this respect is someone who says that God is unknowable, or God at any rate is not known by the individual in question. According to the Bible, God is known and there is no excuse for denying His existence. Someone who denies any of this must at the initial point of his or her thought completely reject that such a God does exist, since if such a God does exist then He is not only knowable but known. This is what is meant by the need to take a hard atheistic stance toward God if one does not accept His existence. Second, it is not merely the agnostic or the atheist who must deny the existence of God in this manner, but anyone of any religious persuasion who may accept the existence of other deities such as some general concept of a higher power or a group of attributes offered as a concept of god for the sake of philosophical discourse or Allah or any number of other gods. These people also know that God exists, the Christian God, the God of Scripture who makes Himself plainly known through His creation to His creatures. They are, again, without excuse. Third, this is not to say that there actually are people who wholeheartedly reject the existence of God in a hard atheistic stance toward Him. They must do so to be philosophically consistent, and they carry the burden of proof because of this as well, but the passage makes it clear that even the most consistent atheist knows that God exists.
The proper response to knowing God is to honor Him as God and to give thanks to Him. None of the aforementioned groups of people do so. In this they sin, and in sinning they set themselves in opposition to God. The passage goes on to explain that even though people know God, they do not honor Him as God nor do they give thanks to Him. Instead, their thinking becomes futile, which is to say it is vain thinking and worthless. Their hearts are called foolish, for it is the fool who knows God and nevertheless says to himself that there is no God. Again this description refers to more than just the atheist. It refers to the non-Christian theist of any sort just as much as it does the atheist. The foolish hearts of these people are darkened in addition to their thinking becoming futile. Rather than admitting these things to be the case, they actually proclaim themselves to be wise! Instead, they have become fools in the biblical sense of that term. It is certainly not a good thing to be called a fool even in the biblical sense, but the term carries a much fuller meaning than the use of the word as an insult in our modern context. The fool is described a great deal throughout the book of Proverbs.
Rather than worshipping God, the non-Christian worships images that resemble humans and animals. Empirical confirmation of this phenomenon is easy to find. The glory of the immortal God is exchanged for images resembling men, birds, animals, and other creatures. The truth about God, which they know, is exchanged for a lie. Instead of worshipping and serving their Creator, they worship and serve the creature, whether it be the self or another. God reveals His wrath even against this ungodliness and unrighteousness. People know God and yet suppress the truth. Even though they know the truth they hold it down in their unrighteousness, and this is a wicked response to their Creator. Note well that this describes the believer as well except for the grace of God.
If we are to be consistent Christians we simply must accept the testimony of God concerning these matters over against those of the non-Christian. It disturbs some that we should say so much about the inner workings of another individual’s mind. This is especially true in the case of those who so adamantly deny that they know God. Yet our all-knowing Creator God is in a better position to know us than we ourselves are in, and we trust the Word of God over the words of any man. To spell things out philosophically, the non-Christian believes that God exists, and at another level of thought looks back upon that belief and convinces himself that he does not believe that God exists. A belief about his belief in God is formed. The unbeliever brings himself to believe that he does not believe in God, even though he does truly believe in God. He is self-deceived. Sin is the motivating factor in the creation of the second belief about the belief in God. It is this false second belief that comes out as a denial of the existence of God. The belief in God at a deeper level is the true belief. So then we have a philosophical account of the constitution of the unbeliever’s thought in suppressing the truth through unrighteousness. Everyone knows God, however everyone does not know God in a saving way. People actively suppress their knowledge of God, and this often comes out in the form of the sort of objections we hear to the Christian faith. We must then strive to show that the unbeliever does know God, and that were it not for this he could not even open his mouth in order to raise his objections. In this we will effectively shut the mouth of the unbeliever and demonstrate that his objections are without merit. The unbeliever has no excuse, no defense, no apologetic. The primary problem of the unbeliever is not intellectual, and it is not even primarily moral, but at the root is spiritual, and the three go together.