Suppose God never chose to reveal Himself to His creation. He never spoke to us. He never had His Word(s) written down and preserved for us in a book. Would we know Him? Would it be possible to know Him? God by His very nature is immaterial. He has no physical substance. He is Spirit.
So, I ask again would it be possible to know God without Him having revealed Himself to us?
Jesus says in a couple of different places that such a thing would be impossible. If God did not choose to reveal Himself to His creation, then they could not/would not know Him.
- “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Luke 10.22).1
Now Jesus makes this statement after praising God for keeping the truth hidden from the supposedly wise and learned in the world. The very thing we find Paul teaching in 1Cor 2:5 where he says, “so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” For, if true knowledge of God—that is to truly know who He is and draw near Him—were obtainable by natural means, without God opening the hearts of sinners, then those who crucified Christ would not have done so.
- “but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1Cor 2.7-8).
Again, we find Jesus teaching this very truth in John 6. Here Jesus is confronted with people who have witnessed His miraculous power and yet still do not believe in Him. He says, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet you do not believe” (John 6.35-36).
Jesus promises life to all who come to Him. He compares himself to living bread and living drink, and while this allusion most certainly has the wilderness experience in mind, when Moses led Israel from Egypt and complaining Israel was given manna to eat and water from a rock to drink, this also points to the words of the prophet Isaiah 55:1-3.
- “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David” (ESV).2
Now Jesus is not finished with his audience at Capernaum. He says to those who do not believe—again, even though the evidence of His true nature is right in front of their face—”All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37). The order of operation as disclosed by Jesus is very precise and cannot be rearranged without mispresenting God. Each one the Father gives to the Son will come to the Son, and the Son will not cast them out.
Why do they come?
Because the Father has given them to the Son; He is the source of their belief. If we compare what Jesus has already taught about belief (Luke 10.21-22), with what He is disclosing now, then we should rightly conclude that belief in the Son is the result of the Father’s action (i.e. giving). To those then the Father has revealed the Son, the Son reveals to them to the Father, which is actually the Son’s purpose (it’s the Holy Spirit’s role too, but we haven’t got there yet).
- “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he [Jesus, the Word-made-Flesh] has made him known” (John 1.18; cf. 6.45-47; 14.6).
All of those who have had the truth of God revealed to them will come to Jesus Christ. There is a difference between how one comes to Christ and we see this constantly repeated in the recorded gospel ministry of Jesus. Not everyone who professes belief (faith) is a true believer in Jesus.
Some are the type that we witness in John 6. They’ve seen what He can do (evidence), but they really don’t know who He is. Because the truth has not been revealed to them; externally they might find the Lord appealing, but internally there has been no true change of heart.
Jesus explains to his audience that He has “…come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (John 6.38-40). Jesus has just promised eternal life to all who believe.
Those who believe come to Him, but the reason they come to Him Jesus says is because the Father has given them to the Son. The heavy implication from this teaching is immediately felt by Jesus audience and they begin to grumble (John 6.41). Again, this harkens back to the disbelief of those who had been delivered from Egypt but were cursed to wander in the wilderness. Despite all the evidence they saw, they failed to see who God truly is; therefore, they grumbled against Him and any who faithfully represented Him (e.g. Moses). The same is true of this class of people. They have come to Jesus, but they do not believe. Jesus says this is because they haven’t been given by the Father, and so they grumble.
The complaining Jews are rebuked by the Lord. “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6.44; emphasis added). This is a hard teaching from the Lord when properly understood. His own disciples, people who had been following Him for a long time and had witnessed many things that He did, could not bear to hear it/accept it (cf. John 6.60). Again, Jesus reiterates this hard truth to them, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father” (John 6.65; emphasis added).
Because, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6.63). Yes, but isn’t it true that God wants all people to come to Him, to know Him, to know, love and embrace the Son? Isn’t Jesus purpose for everyone to know Him and His words as true? Is it?
Does Jesus say that?
I’ve heard this argument presented when speaking of the parables of Jesus, but you have to ignore what is going on in the text in order to come to that conclusion. Jesus often taught things that were difficult to hear and accept, and He did not apologize for what He said. Nor does He soften His message to appease His audience (then and now). The disciples asked the Lord why He taught in parables (Matt 13.10), when many people were confused by the true meaning—even them. Listen to what He says, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matt 13.11; ESV; italics added; cf. Luke 8.10; Mark 4.11-12).
Looking back at what Jesus said in Luke 10:22 as He was rejoicing in the Holy Spirit (v. 21), the fact remains that unless God chose to reveal Himself to His creatures; no one would truly know Him.
Is it possible to know God if He does not reveal Himself?
Just from this brief investigation in Scripture it does not appear so. Further credence seems to be given to Paul’s words in 1Cor 2:14, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” The difference for the Christian is our internal disposition due to what has been given to us:
- “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God” (1Cor 2.12).
- As Jesus explained to His disciples, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14.16-17; ESV).
The point being, only those to whom God has revealed Himself may truly know Him.
“Yes, but that can’t be true, Kris, for we read in Romans 1 that all people can know God from creation itself,” you say. It is true that Romans 1 does point to the fact that all human beings know God, but there is a question we need to ask….
In what sense is this knowledge of God spoken about?
Paul starts off in Romans 1:18 explaining that the wrath of God rests against all human beings, because they “suppress the truth in righteousness.”
What truth do people supposedly suppress?
Paul answers that question in vv. 19-25.
- “Because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but became futile in their speculations, and their foolish hearts was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools…For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever Amen” (Rom 1.19-22, 24-25).
There is a sense where every man, woman and child knows that there is a Creator. Paul’s point is pretty clear that this is evident to all, because God has made mankind in that way. We are all image bearers. We were created to image (mirror) our Creator, but since the beginning God’s wrath has been resting against us as a result of Adam’s sin. He was the first to exchange the truth of God for a lie, turning from the incorruptible God to corruptible creatures (Rom 1.23).
However, Paul’s point here in Romans 13, is not that nature can truly make us know God in a genuine, meaningful way. Rather, the verdict is we know enough of the truth that we stand condemned. We are, as fallen creatures, “without excuse” (Rom 1.20); or, without an apologetic. We have no defense against God’s righteous judgment. In other words, we all stand guilty for our sin—i.e. idol worship—and the Lord is revealing that to us.
Yes, but what about the other testimonies of Scripture?
Sometimes you will hear a person make an appeal to one of the prayerful songs of praise in the Hebrew songbook—Psalms. We need to remember that the psalmist (whether it is David or another) is not neutral towards God. Therefore, comments about God’s handiwork declaring the glory of God (cf. Psa 8; 19) say nothing about people in general knowing God personally. In fact, we find quite the opposite when we take the time to read what is written:
- “For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy. How great are your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep! The stupid man cannot know; the fool cannot understand this” (Psa 92.4-6; cf. Psa 14.1-3; Rom 3:10-12).
Again, we see the clear indication of what man in his natural fallen state cannot do.
Faith in God is based on what?
The Christian faith is rightly called a Trinitarian faith. We do not believe in three gods (polytheism), nor do we believe in different modes of God (Sabellianism) as if the God of the Bible is constantly changing masks, and we flatly deny any concept of Unitarianism (denial of the Trinity). We believe in One God in three divine persons.
- “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut 6.4; ESV).
One divine being, eternal/immutable revealed in three divine persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father is neither the Son nor the Spirit; The Son is neither the Father nor the Spirit; The Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son. Each person of the Triune Godhead function is differing roles solidified and committed to One central purpose/divine will.
In terms of salvation, it is the Father who sends the Son into the world to redeem His people that He is giving to the Son. The Son willing lays down His life for His sheep taking their place on the Cross, saving them from their sins. The Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son to represent the Son in order to regenerate what was lost in order to raise them up to eternal life. All three persons work cohesively in this effort as God to have a people committed to them (Him) for all eternity.
What about other those other things intimately tied to the Christian faith-system?
How do I know what sin is? How do I know the price that is necessary to atone for it? What is Holiness and why should I be concerned with it? How can I know to live righteously, to whom shall I turn? Or maybe I shouldn’t turn to anyone other than my own self, my own heart? How do I know that people are lost and need evangelized? How do I know that Jesus is the Christ? That He died for sinners? Maybe it was a hoax or He never existed? You tell me that He did exist and His death and resurrection were not a hoax, but how can I be sure. You say that there is evidence for it, but other present evidence against it that sounds just as compelling if not more so. Can I truly be sure that the Christian faith is real, when there so many other options out there? Who is to say which religion is right, or if religion isn’t really just a construct that people have invented to cope with difficulties in life? Karl Marx called it an opiate of the people, maybe it is.
Now, please show me how these may be known—truly known—from creation? How is such knowledge even obtainable without God having revealed Himself to us in such a fashion? The answer is it is not. NOT possible. Without God’s revelation, His spoken-written Word preserved throughout the ages for His people, and without confirmatory evidence4 witnessed in creation (both internally and externally) it would be impossible to know God.
Here’s the problem when we give evidence as the supreme priority for our faith in the God of the Bible…we would know nothing about Him or about ourselves without His breathed-out Word (2Tim 3.16-17). As vital as creation is as a revelatory source it does not actually tell us anything. It has to be interpreted. This is the Achilles heel of Natural Law Theory.
Nature does not teach laws. Nature does not teach. Nature is always interpreted, and interpretation will always be subjective to the individual and the source they lean upon as authoritative. There is a real danger is saying that your faith rests on evidence. What happens when some new line of evidence overturns what was previously assumed as right? According to Scripture the order is supposed to be reversed. Our faith is to rest upon God’s Word (cf. Deut 8.3; Matt 7.24), and then His understanding of all things is what is supposed to guide our own (cf. Isa 11.1-5).
When our faith in God is rested upon anything other than Christ’s Word (the Holy Bible) we are just building sandcastles.
1 All Scripture shall be of the New American Standard Version (95′) unless otherwise noted (NAS95).
2 The reader would do well to note that entirety of Isaiah 55, paying particular attention to the latter verses where God’s salvation is brought about by His Word which never returns to Him barren, but always brings about the will of God.
3We can even include Romans 2 where he speaks of human hearts bearing the mark of His Law to some degree (Rom 2.14-15). Again, this knowledge is not enough to provide salvation, but further indicts all people.
4 Evidence is secondary in regards to any faith-system as the faith-system in question will have a direct bearing on the way in which the evidenced is viewed. Evidence then is used as confirmation of one’s beliefs not the ground for it. There is ample evidence for the Christian worldview, but these “facts of nature” are interpreted in light of what our worldview teaches.
For example, the Bible teaches that all men are sinners—everybody sins. We can take this teaching and then compare it with what we find going on in the world around us. The evidence will either confirm or deny our beliefs. Some evidence is difficult to assess in light of one’s worldview. In those cases, rescuing devices are erected in order to protect the foundation of one’s beliefs.
Here is an example from an evolutionary perspective. Genetic material does not create informational material—i.e. information comes from some outside source. One way that an evolutionist might attempt to get around this dilemma is by stating that there is a mechanism that happens naturally from genetic material, but we haven’t identified it yet. Give us enough time and we will. Might take a million years, but we’ll get their eventually. Christians use a similar tactic when it comes to things they have difficulty answering. However, the point is that we do not abandon our commitments (faith) because some difficulty is presented to us—i.e. our faith is not rested upon evidence.