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God’s justice and ‘the things that are made’

An exposition of Romans 1:19–20

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Published: 13 August 2013 (GMT+10)
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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 language
Where 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)

References

  1. 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.
  2. Strong’s. Return to text.
  3. 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.
  4. Grigg, R., A brief history of design. Return to text.
  5. Paley – Natural Theology, as quoted in A brief history of design. Return to text.
  6. Crick, F., What mad pursuit: a Personal View of Scientific Discovery, Sloan Foundation Science, London, 1988, p. 138. Return to text.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Matter and energy is all there is. Return to text.
  10. 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.

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