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When the Bible speaks on an issue, especially if it pertains to basic issues of reality, it will rarely (if ever?) defend what it stays. Instead, it speaks from the position of being absolutely authoritative, without need of apology or defense.
This does not mean that it presents a message of pure arbitrariness. Rather, "proof" is not the issue. From the Bible's perspective, the issue is not one of man seeking truth that he does not know (hence the need for proof); rather, it is one of man suppressing what he knows to be true, and exalting himself above it as its judge.
Take, for instance, the most basic issue of "God." Down through the ages, men have tried to "prove" or "disprove" the existence of a "God," be it the God of the Bible, or some other "deity." Yet, in striking contrast, the Bible never attempts to do such a thing. Nor does it even consider "proof" to be an issue. For according to its message, man already has an awareness of the God of the Bible... and the issue is man's rebellion against God, not lack of "proof" that he exists.
And so, the Bible starts not with "proof," but simply with the sentence:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
God is not a part of creation. This is perhaps the most basic distinction made in the Bible. Perhaps it could even be said that all else hinges upon this distinction! For if this statement is true, then it must influence our attitude and perspective toward not only God, but toward all of creation. To treat God and creation as though they were on the same level of reality is to distort all of one's perspective of reality.
Even so, this God - although distinct from creation - has designed creation in such a manner as to be revelatory of himself, although in a finite manner. (Nothing finite can provide a total revelation of the infinite God!). And even though creation has since become marred by the presence of sin (and its consequences), it can still be said:
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)
Not only is this so, but man himself was created so as to be revelatory of God in a special manner.
And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:27)
In contrast with all other parts of God's creation, the being called "man" (encompassing both male and female) was made so as to bear (to carry, display, convey, communicate - both by his very being and by his conduct) God's image. He was to be a reflection of God in all he thought, said and did, within the realm of creation.
Two items should be mentioned with regard to this "reflection" of God in creation. First, it must be remembered that it is a finite reflection of the infinite God. Nothing other than God himself can reveal God in a totally complete manner. (As used here, "finite" does not carry the connotation of being "imperfect" <that is, containing error>, but of being "limited" <not fully complete> in extent.) This "reflection" reaffirms the distinction between the Creator and the creature.
Secondly, because of sin, this "reflection" has become marred... yet it still exists. Man, in rebellion, attempts to do away with this revelation of the God who created him; he fights it and tries to suppress it, but it still remains. However, the time would come when the "second Adam" (Jesus Christ - see Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthians 15:45; and their surrounding contexts) would come and would once again be a full and accurate reflection of the Creator God. (People would hate him for it and would do to him what they would do to God, if he were to "take on" human flesh - which is exactly what he did! See John 1:1-18, etc.)
Sin has had a destructive effect on all of man's being. This includes not only his body and spirit, but also his mind. His very perceptions of reality (and the lifestyle which flows from these perceptions) have become distorted. This is illustrated in the following passage:
With the Lord's authority let me say this: Live no longer as the ungodly do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their closed minds are full of darkness; they are far away from the life of God because they have shut their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They don't care anymore about right and wrong, and they have given themselves over to immoral ways. Their lives are filled with all kinds of impurity and greed. But that isn't what you were taught when you learned about Christ. (Ephesians 4:17-20)
(Other passages describe the on-going conflict between the habits and patterns of the "former way of life" and the "new life" that is in Christ. The emphasis in this passage is on learning to live consistently with what is in the heart and mind.)
This distorted perception of reality (and of God) does not leave man with an excuse for his actions. He is still aware of the Creator... and he must constantly work to suppress that awareness. And so, we read the "indictment" against all of mankind, by the holy and righteous Judge, against whom man is in constant rebellion.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 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. 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)
The verses that follow this indictment describe man's suppression of his knowledge of God. And the basic emphasis is that man has chosen to exchange what is true for what is false. The true God is denied, and is replaced by things that are a part of creation. And although the "technique" of doing so has varied throughout history (some placed greater emphasis on rocks and animals; others place greater emphasis on technology or on self), the concluding statement is applicable to all:
They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised. Amen. (Romans 1:25)
This change in perspective toward God distorted man's perspective toward all that falls into the category of "morality" and "ethics." It also resulted (simultaneously) in God's judgment of "giving them over" (verse 24, 26, and 28) to the consequences of their changed perspective. Man is now described as "depraved" in all he does. Only God's "restraining power" prevents him from fully living up to his evil "potential" (a concept mentioned various places in the Bible).
Finally, not only does man have an awareness of God that he cannot fully obliterate or remove from his consciousness, but he also has an awareness of the consequences of his actions. God has placed within man's very nature an awareness of God's laws and of the consequences of breaking them. And this awareness, though at times somewhat distorted, cannot be removed. (Remember, man bears the "image of God," whether he likes it or not.) Even man's willingness to apply God's laws to other people is a testimony against himself!
They are fully aware of God's death penalty for those who do these things, yet they go right ahead and do them anyway. And, worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too. (Romans 1:32)
Even when Gentiles, who do not have God's written law, instinctively follow what the law says, they show that in their hearts they know right from wrong. They demonstrate that God's law is written within them, for their own consciences either accuse them or tell them they are doing what is right. (Romans 2:14-15)
Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. (Romans 2:1)
Two things should be mentioned regarding this judgment. One is that it takes into consideration the amount of knowledge (awareness of God's requirements) that each individual has. The person who has had minimal exposure to the will of God will not be judged in the same way as the person who had a lifetime of exposure... and of rejecting it.
All who have sinned apart from the law [as revealed in the Bible] will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. (Romans 2:12)
Also, all this "condemnation" - true and just though it is - must be taken within the context of the greater passage in which it is found. These things mentioned here are the foundation of the gospel (or "good news") about Christ. It is true that man is totally sinful, and therefore must be condemned by the holy and righteous God. It is true that man is totally helpless, for he cannot deliver himself out of this condition. And it is within this context that Jesus willingly chose to take upon himself what we deserve. In this context, Jesus Christ chose to be a substitute - to bear the penalty that we must otherwise experience. And in this choice, he displayed the greatness of the love and mercy of God!
After demonstrating that all mankind is under God's judgment (and rightfully so), the undeserved opportunity for a new relationship with God is freely offered, in which our sinfulness (and judgment) is exchanged for the righteousness of Christ (and new life in him). And it is done in such a way as to demonstrate the greatness of the love of God, while leaving his righteous justice uncompromised.
But now God has shown us a different way of being right in his sight—not by obeying the law but by the way promised in the Scriptures long ago. We are made right in God's sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done. For all have sinned; all fall short of God's glorious standard. Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins.
For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God's anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us. God was being entirely fair and just when he did not punish those who sinned in former times. And he is entirely fair and just in this present time when he declares sinners to be right in his sight because they believe in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26)
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, no one is likely to die for a good person, though someone might be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. (Romans 5:6-8)
From the beginning to the end, the Bible not only claims to be authoritative, but each and every statement and command presupposes its authority. Its authority does not need to be defended; rather, it expects its authority (which exists inherently within it) to be accepted.
When it comes to the relationship of God to man, the Bible does not examine various views, give "pro's and con's" of one view compared to another, or argue so as to persuade people to choose its view. As with the issue of God's existence, it simply states as a matter of fact what "is" and what "is not."
Furthermore, the Bible claims that man has a basic comprehension of this relationship. Man is totally surrounded - within and without - with a revelation of God, and he is conscious of this revelation. Yet instead of bowing down in worship, he stubbornly suppresses this revelation, replaces it with his own folly, and questions (or denies) the very nature (or existence) of this God. He knows that this God exists ... but he doesn't want to know it.
Dennis Hinks © 1993, 2004
Scripture quoted from ... ESV (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:18-21); NAS (Genesis 1:27); NIV (Romans 1:25); NLT (Romans 1:32; 2:14-15; 3:21-26; 5:6-8; Ephesians 4:17-20);
NRS (Romans 2:1, 12); WEB (Genesis 1:1). Any words in brackets are added. Detailed copyright information can be found on the title page.
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