God’s justice and ‘the things that are made’
An exposition of Romans 1:19–20
Published: 13 August 2013 (GMT+10)
Sincere Christians often ask the question of what happens to those that have never heard the Gospel. Non-believers also sometimes pose it as a challenge to the notion of a just God condemning someone who has never had the opportunity to respond to the message of salvation. The Bible in many places confirms the fact that we are all under the wrath of God and can only be saved by grace through faith in God’s provided salvation, made possible by the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus said that “whoever does not believe (in Him) is condemned already” (John 3:18). So how could God condemn those that have never heard of the ‘way’ of salvation and still be just?
An important part of the answer to this question is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans. After asserting that the Gospel of Christ is “the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16), Paul goes on to explain why apart from Christ, God can justly condemn the human race. In Hebrews 11:6 we read of a necessary first step in salvation, namely that “whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists.” Some claim that even this minimalist first step is a nigh-impossible ‘ask’—where is there any evidence for God? How can I be blamed for not believing in Him if there is so little evidence—why doesn’t He reveal Himself? But Paul teaches that in fact His existence, and even something of His attributes, is self-evident in nature.
“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.” (Romans 1:19–20) He goes on to describe how men have chosen to suppress the truth about God, and are not willing to acknowledge God (1:28—some versions say they do not like to retain God in their knowledge). Paul seems to indicate that at some level, all are aware of this suppression of truth, which is one reason why God is just to condemn.
Paul is also saying that there is something about God’s handiwork, His craftsmanship, His creation, that makes it obvious to men and thus they have no excuse for unbelief. I.e. it justifies and vindicates God’s judgement of all mankind because of our sin.
Who are those left ‘without excuse’ based on the criteria given by Paul in these verses? Does it apply only to those alive since the time of Christ, or to all mankind? The phrase ‘ever since the creation of the world’ makes it clear that this opening to knowledge of God has existed since creation itself. This statement also would disqualify the idea that ‘the creation of the world’ took place eons of time prior to mankind, as the word ‘perceived’ implies something being manifest, evident, plainly recognised or known2. This in context can only apply to humans. And it is one more place in the New Testament where it is clear that people were around right at the dawn of the universe, in Creation Week, or as Jesus put it in Mark 10:6, “from the beginning of creation”. Not billions of years afterwards, as an afterthought close to the end of some long imagined creative process.3
It is our perception of ‘the things that are made’ that should lead us to accept the fact of a powerful, divine being. All of our experience in life leads to the intuition that when we find design, purpose, information, law and order, these emanate from personal intelligence and purpose. This was Paley’s argument in his book Natural Theology.4
Many have tried to counter the argument that design in an object logically infers a creator who “comprehended its construction and designed its use”.5 By pointing to real or perceived imperfections or malfunctions these people claim it is evidence that it was not designed. This is errant (as well as arrant) nonsense! If Paley’s watch picked up in the countryside was not keeping perfect time, or had even stopped due to sand in the mechanism, would this have been taken as proof it was not designed? The very argument of inefficiency or malfunction presupposes design. A watchmaker would look at that watch and decide how it should have been and then repair it. The idea that something that is ‘broken’ is not designed is illogical. And in any case, a worldview based on Genesis history gives a powerful reason why some things will be ‘broken’—the Fall and subsequent Curse on creation.
Purpose and design have always been evident in the universe but the past few hundred years have enabled mankind to look increasingly further and deeper than ever before into the nature of matter, space and life and we are faced with layer upon wonderful layer of design, complexity and information. On the basis of our knowledge and experience of cause and effect, we should know that there is a supreme being to whom our worship and obedience are due.
This is why evolutionists have to purposely and consciously deny a creator. All of their observations and experience of life tell them that certain objects are designed, but “since they did not see fit to acknowledge God” (Romans 1:28), they have to deny the evidence of their own eyes. In a sense they are denying the observations of the very science they claim to represent. This is why a brilliant scientist like Francis Crick says “biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed”.6 If you constantly keep telling yourself a lie, you might come to believe it, so goes the hope.
Can you imagine what atheists would make of a creationist scientist saying to his colleagues, “we must constantly keep in mind that what we see was designed”? We have no need to keep convincing ourselves as design is obvious. This is why Richard Dawkins must forever climb ‘Mount Improbable’,7 never reaching the summit as it is actually ‘Mount Impossible’ he is attempting to scale.
The use of the personal pronoun ‘His’ in v.20 even suggests that people should be aware that this ‘divine nature’ is personal. He connects with men and women and an acceptance of the testimony of creation can lead to, in the providence of God and on the merits of the atoning death of His Son, a relationship with Him. The book of Hebrews tells us that God “rewards those who seek Him” (11:6). Creation should lead men to seek the true and living God. In our spiritual deadness we don’t, but we are ‘without excuse’. God is totally justified in the condemnation of men.
Is this justification of God achieved through an evolutionary interpretation of ‘the things that have been made’? By definition, the theory of evolution is an attempt to explain the origin of the universe, and its vast number of components, by ‘non-supernatural’ processes. Evolution and long-ageism seeks to ‘free science from Moses’.8 This goal began with naturalism9 and its attendant long-ageism in cosmology, and with uniformitarian (slow and gradual) ideas in geological science through men like the deist10 Charles Lyell. It gathered momentum to include biology, anthropology, and even theology by those in his wake, including Darwin himself who was influenced by Lyell’s book, Principles of Geology. All had to be explained from matter and energy working by natural laws.
If indeed the universe can be explained from such a basis of philosophical naturalism, then ‘the things that have been made’ tell us nothing of God’s power and divinity, or at best provide only an illusion of God. Is Paul telling us that men are ‘without excuse’ based on an illusion of design in nature? Expressing it differently, if creation does not point truly to a Creator, we have every reason to reject and ignore Him. Any attempt to incorporate evolution into creation undermines the justness of God.
Psalm 19 in many ways parallels what Paul tell us in Romans.
“1The heavens declare the glory of God,and the firmament shows His handiwork.
2Day unto day utters speech,And night unto night reveals knowledge.
3There is no speech, nor languageWhere their voice is not heard.
4Their line has gone out through all the earth,And their words to the end of the world.”
Every cognisant, rational human being has available to him or her a witness of God’s existence, power and divinity. If we choose to ignore that witness, we are ‘without excuse’ before God.
The design and information in creation tell us that God is intelligent and personal like ourselves. The design, detail and intricacy tell us of His omniscience, the scale tells of His omnipotence, and the universal application of His natural laws tell of His omnipresence. The entropy that we observe everywhere continually increasing, running down the universe, tells us that the Creator must Himself be eternal, ‘outside’ of and greater than the universe, in order to have wound it up in the first place.
In verses 7 to 14, the Psalmist goes on to tell us that the other witness God has given us is His Word. The Bible tells us of God’s holiness, of His judgement of sin, of His love and of His Son Jesus Christ through whom we may have a relationship with our Creator and “Be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)
- The title of one of his best selling books, Climbing Mount Improbable, which attempts to show how natural selection and mutations allegedly explain the appearance of design. Return to text.
- Strong’s. Return to text.
- Perhaps those not fully capable of such perception, e.g. infants and those mentally disabled since childhood, would be excluded from being ‘without excuse’. Return to text.
- Grigg, R., A brief history of design. Return to text.
- Paley – Natural Theology, as quoted in A brief history of design. Return to text.
- Crick, F., What mad pursuit: a Personal View of Scientific Discovery, Sloan Foundation Science, London, 1988, p. 138. Return to text.
- The title of one of his best selling books, Climbing Mount Improbable, which attempts to show how natural selection and mutations allegedly explain the appearance of design. Return to text.
- This was the stated aim of the patron of long-age geology, Scottish lawyer Charles Lyell. See Charles Lyell’s hidden agenda—to free science from “Moses”. Return to text.
- Matter and energy is all there is. Return to text.
- Deism was the idea that a remote, impersonal God was involved in setting the universe and its physical laws into motion, but after that only natural processes took place with no or very little interference from this ‘god’. Return to text.
Hi, Marc, thanks for a great article, personally I feel you spoke the truth graciously and covered the issues well. I quote someone whose name escapes me right now: all unbelievers get what they deserve; and all believers get salvation - that they DON'T deserve.
Ultimately the problem is back at square one - people DON'T WANT TO BELIEVE GOD - NOR TAKE THE TIME TO STUDY HIS WORD AND BE HUMBLED BY IT. And those who DO do these things soon are challenged by HIS holiness and righteous justice - and our own complete corruptedness. What more evidence do we need? - we have creation itself - just look at it a bit! -we have the history of His intervention in Israel, and their incredible on-going existence! - we have the historical person and work of His Son Jesus Christ - and plenty of other side issues such as the existence of the church, CMI, and stacks of various christian ministries around the world, and many many personal testimonies. Surely there's a case here of good evidence?
The problem is - we want to blame God for whatever we don't like or understand, and we don't want Him to have the right to comdemn us for our fallenness. Sad but true. Keep up your fantastic articles, they so helpful. Thank you.
Dear Peter C. (comment above):
You will find your answer in footnote 3 to the article. I also found this extremely helpful and informative on this difficult subject.
As I read this article I am reminded of the following verses
Romans 2:14-15 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them,
Though Jesus created cosmos and everything in it, He has given free-will to every single soul either to reject or accept His salvation.
Excellent article, but I would be interested to have Marc's comments on the "saved or otherwise" status of babies/very young children and people with mental disabilities i.e. those who are unable to perceive the truth.
This is a very timely and well written article. I was thinking about these very verses as I was driving back from a dentist appointment (of all things!). What made me think of them was that I was just thinking about the intelligence required to design human teeth, and how they all need each other to stay in place. The other thing that blew my mind is how teeth (and for that matter all of our other complex features) develop from an embryo, through intricate DNA programming.
Isn't it amazing that God had the vision to design a magnificently large universe, yet designed these minute details into each creature?
I am still astonished that people (especially scientists) could see these things and convince themselves that they are not design features.
I guess it makes the work that CMI (and other creation science groups) do all the more valuable.
Thank you for every article and all the work that you do!
As a Christian i sometimes have a hard time believing in the old testament.I want to believe it but its just that there is some parts in it that make it difficult to think that it happened.Like adam and eve for example.Is there evidence that they existed.
Hi James - I would put it to you that the main reason you struggle to believe, i.e. the existence of Adam and Eve, is because society today conditions us to not believe the Bible. We cannot go back into the past and physically prove anything. We have no physical evidence that Hitler existed but we do not question his reality as we accept the many human eyewitness accounts of his person and wicked works. God, who cannot lie, has given us His eyewitness account of the reality of Adam and Eve as He has (and numerous eyewitnesses) of Christ. We are not without physical support though. Increasingly genetics is pointing to a common single male and female ancestor. Of course, the historical 'age' given to these common ancestors is subject to the usual evolutionary, un-provable assumptions about the past. We need to be careful to allow God's Word to condition our thinking about the past rather than the modern, a-priori materialism that governs secular thinking today.
Romans 8:28 makes it clear who the called or elect of God are. It says, "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to His purpose." To me this makes it clear that anyone anywhere who loves God is called by God and everything will work to his or her good. That means that somehow this person will be saved by the blood of Jesus. God knows those who love Him and He does not require language to know that. These He will call and, as noted in verse 30, those He calls He justifies and glorifies. We are foolish to limit God. All things are possible with Him.
Thank you for your response. I think there is some truth to what you say but remember, 'we love Him because He first loved us'. God called us first and I think that He begins to work everything together for our good when we respond in love to Him. I don't think He calls us because we first love Him.
While at university many years ago I thought about this apparent conundrum. However, another response apart from Romans 1:19-20 has recently come to my attention. Deuteronomy 6 calls on the parent to pass on the faith. When Noah came off the Ark he and his family certainly knew of God, having witnessed and survived His awesome judgment. The various flood stories around the world are a testimony that peoples' around the world knew, but, unfortunately, over time failed to pass on the faith to their children.
I'm not sure that Theistic Evolutionist's actually believe that the universe is devoid of a design by God. The one's i have talked to (I am a YEC by the way) seem to think that God had a gradually unfolding design over millions of years. This article had great insight but I wouldn't use its arguments first in a debate with a TE.
Here are arguments i would use.
1 According to TE billions of years of death and destruction predate the first sin, opposing the Biblical account of sin predating death (Romans 5).
2 Christ couldn't be the "last adam" if the first adam didnt exist.
3 Adam is listed in Christ's genealogy. Ignoring adam implies biblical errancy
4 TE implies man evolved a soul. If so, then other animals "closely related to us" almost have souls as well. A chimp would be almost able to be spiritual
5 Why would God say animals were good in (Ge 1:24) just to destory them with a gigantic meteorite BEFORE man existed? This implies that God was mistaken for calling the animals good.
6 If you can't trust the Bible's history, how can you trust its message of salvation?
I hope some of my brethren in Christ can use these arguments to defend out faith.
Hi Tony - TE believes that God created something in the beginning and then 'creation' proceeded by purely naturalistic and materialistic processes. The idea of 'unfolding design' sounds more like Progressive Creation (with its own myriad of problems - see Dr Jonathan Sarfati's book, Refuting Compromise). The main 'engines' of evolution are random mutations and natural selection. By definition, if creation occurred by 'random' and 'natural' processes, it tells us nothing of the omniscient, supernatural God of Creation. We regularly use most of the arguments you give but point 4. If 'soul' is not material, how do you get it from evolution?
I understand that every person stands before God condemned unless they Repent and Believe in Jesus Christ, but I would like to play the devils advocate here on one thing. It seems to me that people have more issue with never hearing about Jesus and being condemned, not whether they 'are' condemned. I think people get riled up because the people that never heard are condemned, but have had no chance to be saved (Or so they say). This ties into what happens to unborn, or infants, because the Bible does not explicitly say all infants are heaven bound. It in fact says the opposite, that we are 'born' sinners.
Are you saying that the message of the gospel of Jesus is inherently visible in creation, or just that God does exist, and we reject him when we reject his obvious design, and clearly seen will?
I hope my question is being clearly seen and understood. :-)
Romans 10: 14&15a
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent?
Hi Jeremy - The character of God, His love, His provided salvation through Jesus and so on are definitely not made known to us through creation. Hebrews 1 tells us that those things He made known to us through His prophets and His Son. This revelation is given to us through His Word, the scriptures. Creation only makes known to us the existence of God and His power, so that those who deny Him are without excuse.
This is a gem of an article! The 'innocent savage' question has been posed to me many times by christians as well and Romans 1 clearly teaches that no one is innocent. When we look upon the things of creation we see only images with the interpretation/understanding of those image(s) provided by the mind. These images only remind us of what we already know; that a Creator exists and He alone made it all! God has placed this knowledge in the human mind 'a priori' and it is this Truth that we actively repress so that we are without excuse.
"Atheistic psychologist researchers tell us that belief in a transcendent creator God is the default position for all children everywhere, irrespective of their upbringing."
I've heard something to that effect, but I'd really like to see where that information comes from. Can anyone point to any?
Never underestimate God's holiness and our wickedness. None of us deserve to go to heaven. We all deserve to go to the Lake of Fire. God is under no obligation to tell the whole world about his plan of salvation. He has, however, through his mercy, made himself obvious in Creation. If a lost person sees creation and wants to know about the Creator, God will show himself to him and the way to salvation.
A a side note, the first couple of paragraphs make it seem like you are going to talk about those in third world countries who haven't been exposed to Christianity. About the sixth paragraph, it's almost like you change gears and start discussing atheists and why they are without excuse.
When the question of God's justice in sending people to Hell is brought up, it usually refers to people in third world countries (Papua New Guinea, etc.). Usually, it does not refer to atheists.
You did a very good job interpreting the Bible. Right on, the whole way. You never twisted the Bible to fit your needs. Good job.
Excellent article. Thank you.
However, the elephant in the room is the thought that follows from: "Every cognisant, rational human being has available to him or her a witness of God’s existence, power and divinity. If we choose to ignore that witness, we are ‘without excuse’ before God" which is clearly correct and wilful human ignorance results in a just divine condemnation.
The question that begs to be asked is "What if the witness of God's creation is not ignored and a pagan appreciates God’s existence, power and divinity? Can he/she be saved without hearing the Gospel?
Why have a scenario of 'no excuse' if there is no advantage in fulfilling the condition?
Hi Andrew - This is a question (and other similar ones) that I think most Christians ask, probably recognising our own 'unworthiness' to be saved. It is also often asked by unbelievers as an excuse for their own lack of faith. We can certainly find many biblical principles to help us find answers but I think the main one is to rest in the assurance that - 'shall not the judge of all the earth do right?’ Blessings
My question is more a question on faith than on evolution or atheism. I am a Christian and do not deny Young Earth Creationism in any way. Now lets say you do believe in a creator but it's not THE CREATOR. You have never heard of the true God or anything like that. Maybe you were an Aztec before it was colonized by Europe. Are you condemned if you die or are you given a chance in the afterlife? It's a question that's always bothered me and I'd like a response. Thank you.
Some accuse God of unfairness towards those who were born and grew up in a pagan land where they never heard the gospel. They, so the argument goes, had no chance of salvation, having only natural revelation; whereas we who were born and grew up in countries where there are Christian churches, where the gospel is preached and the name of Christ is generally known, are unfairly advantaged in this regard. This is false reasoning. First, God owes nothing to His enemies. Because he saves some and not all is grace, not injustice. It is true that those who had the privilege of growing up in countries where the gospel is known are far more “without excuse” than idolaters in the Himalayas. But the truth of the matter is that by nature we all turn the glory of God into idols of our own making, whether we have only the revelation of nature or the full revelation of the Bible. If a sinner can be thought of as a large bath of acid and the truth of God as an alkali, it makes no difference whether a teaspoonful of alkali is thrown into the bath or a cupful. The reaction will be the same. So when a sinner sees the creation and makes a god of the creature, he is doing exactly what a Dawkins does when he knows the content of the gospel – he rejects it, and makes a god of his own creating.
Hi Marc - I appreciated these points:
1) "The phrase ‘ever since the creation of the world’ makes it clear that this opening to knowledge of God has existed since creation itself. This statement also would disqualify the idea that ‘the creation of the world’ took place eons of time prior to mankind, as the word ‘perceived’ implies something being manifest, evident, plainly recognised or known. This in context can only apply to humans. And it is one more place in the New Testament where it is clear that people were around right at the dawn of the universe, in Creation Week, ..."
2) " Many have tried to counter the argument that design in an object logically infers a creator who “comprehended its construction and designed its use”. By pointing to real or perceived imperfections or malfunctions these people claim it is evidence that it was not designed. This is errant nonsense! If Paley’s watch picked up in the countryside was not keeping perfect time, or had even stopped due to sand in the mechanism, would this have been taken as proof it was not designed? The very argument of inefficiency or malfunction presupposes design. A watchmaker would look at that watch and decide how it should have been and then repair it. The idea that something that is ‘broken’ is not designed is illogical. And in any case, a worldview based on Genesis history gives a powerful reason why some things will be ‘broken’—the Fall and subsequent Curse on creation."
Thank you, Marc, for an excellent article that is well written and engages an extremely important topic. I hope I'm not being too hasty (or disrespectful to all the other fantastic articles/authors) to suggest I think this is one of the top ten article CMI has ever produced!
I particularly love the point made using the F Collins (Ed. Crick) quote! It is self-evident and the reason they are so hostile and angry (many of them) is because they know in their conscience and in what exists of their (true) rationality that they are wrong but to do so would upset everything they are building their life on.
Excellent. Atheistic psychologist researchers tell us that belief in a transcendent creator God is the default position for all children everywhere, irrespective of their upbringing. They only begin to doubt God's goodness and existence when adults start to teach them grown-up nonsense.