Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Post #4 The Doctrine of God - Man's Inner Awareness of God And Why Everyone Knows About His Existence

Introduction: Three questions to ask in studying the doctrine of God.

    In our last two posts, we have introduced our study of "theology proper", otherwise known as "the doctrine of God". We noted three main points of God's nature: His power, His nature, and His identity. These three qualities were explored through key names of God revealed in the Bible. 

    Anytime we study God, we focus on His nature, attributes (such as His power), and His identity as the Triune God. Over the course of this series, we will find ourselves working through the study of God. I like to summarize these three main points through three questions we may ask.

1. What is God? (This question inquires to the nature of God). 

2. How does God exist? (This question inquires into the attributes of God through which He reveals Himself to us). 

3. Who is God? (This question deals with the doctrine of the Trinity. The Trinity is revealed in the Bible as One God by nature and attributes, and three Persons by identity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All three persons co-equally and co-eternal are each truly God by nature, being in their communion with one another the one true living God). 

    As we go along in this series, I'll reference these three questions.

God's general revelation of Himself to us is evidenced by our inner awareness of Him.

    What we want to do in this post is start with consideration of God's existence as manifested by man's inner awareness. Wayne Grudem writes the following in the 2nd edition of His Systematic Theology, page 169,

"How do we know that God exists? The answer can be given in two parts: First, all people have an inner sense of God. Second, we believe the evidence that is found in Scripture and in nature."

    When it comes to bringing awareness to the existence of God, there is the way of "knowing" God's existence and then the way of "showing" that God exists. Today's post will consider the first of these, namely how we "know God's existence" by way of inner awareness.

All human beings have a sense of the Divine nature of God.

    As Grudem has noted, the fact that all people have an inner sense that there is a God applies to the way of "knowing" He exists. The Protestant reformer John Calvin calls this inner sense of God's existence and reality "the sense of the Divine" (the Latin phrase he uses is "sensus divinititus", i.e "an awareness of God"). John 1:9 illustrates how the second Person of the Godhead is responsible for this inner awareness of human beings, "there was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man."

     Alvin Plantinga, a noted philosopher, formerly of the University of Notre Dame, has developed a detailed way of describing this "this of the Divine" (or mankind's inner-awarenes sof God) through what he calls “properly-basic belief”. Such “properly-basic beliefs” don’t require evidence to justify someone's rationality in holding to them. 

    For example, my belief that you as a reader is a thinking mind, rather than an android, or that my memories of the past were not implanted five-minutes ago with the appearance of age, or that I’m not a brain in a vat hooked to electrodes feeding me false memories, all of these are examples of properly basic beliefs. 

    Unless strong evidence to the contrary would come along to over-turn such beliefs, I’m completely rational in holding them.  According to Plantinga, for a person who possesses properly functioning mental faculties, beliefs about God are rational, since properly basic beliefs are formed in contexts which are designed to link the mind to the given reality. 

God's general revelation in mankind's awareness means no one can say they didn't know about God.   

      The Apostle Paul tells us that all human beings as bearers of God's image have this intuitive awareness that there is a God to whom they are accountable. This general awareness of God inside of man is made possible by what theologians call "general revelation". The late Dr. D. James Kennedy described this general awareness of God as involving certain "innate" or "inborn" understandings. 

    For example, we intuitively know there are "causes and effects", "space and time", "right and wrong", and a sense that there is some type of after-life, or what Solomon in Ecclesisates calls "eternity written on the heart". 

    When you look at those four areas, they all point us to God. "Cause and effect" leads us to conclude the concept of consequences for our actions - hence God as our judge. Then, the concepts of "space and time" point us to God our Creator and our dependance upon Him (even if we don't acknowledge Him). The moral categories of "right and wrong" shed light on the moral law of God written in our heart, speaking to our accountability to this God. Then, the innate concept of "eternity written on our heart" tells us that some day we will stand before God. 

    All these inborn intuitions point us to what we read of in Romans 1:18-20. Such inner awareness is general and universal. We call this "general revelation" because it is generally available and accessible. We find several truths about God in general revelation. A few observations from Romans 1:18-20 are in order to flesh this out (note the close correspondance to the inborn categories I noted earlier). 

    First, we find that God is the final judge to whom we are accountable, especially as seen in the opening words of Romans 1:18 "For the wrath of God is revealed..." (this corresponds to the "cause and effect" relationship). In addition, God's wrath (that is, His settled opposition against sin) reveals His moral nature, which corresponds to our inborn sense of right and wrong. Additionally, Roman 1:19 speaks of God as the Creator, with the universe being created by Him (this would remind us of those categories we know of as "space and time"). In Romans 1:20, we find emphasis on certain attributes of God, namely His divine power or omnipotence, which leads us to conclude God Himself is eternal, corresponding to why we inwardly sense there is an eternity.

    In the next post, we will continue further in noting a second way people's awareness of God's existence can be raised, namely through showing He exists by way of various arguments.