Monday, October 27, 2014

The Self-Deceptive Nature of Unbelief


“Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”[1] 
The great theologian of the reformed faith, John Calvin claims that all men know themselves because all men essentially looked up and beheld as it were, the face of God. In other words, there are no true atheists. All men know that God exists. The apostle Paul informed the ancient Christian church at Rome that God’s invisible attributes have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made so that the unbeliever is without a rational defense for his unbelief. Paul went on to say that even though they knew God, they did not honor him as God. All men, according to Paul know God.

Contrary to the claims of certain schools of apologetics, Paul did not say as some claim, that all men ought to know God exists if they just examine the facts and let those facts speak for themselves. Such an assessment is based on a non-Christian view of reality, namely, that brute facts actually exist and that autonomous human reason is capable of interpreting those facts apart from God. According to Christian theism, all men actually are in possession of true knowledge of God. They are not in possession of enough evidence that they ought, from a neutral examination of that evidence, to conclude that God probably exists. Instead, they know God exists. They have the knowledge that God is there, in nature, in their conscience, all around them.

The apostle Paul went on to say that all men handle this knowledge of God in the very same fashion. They become futile in their speculations. The Greek word translated futile is metaioō. Louw-Nida says it means to become useless and worthless. The word that futile modifies is dialogismos, which means to think or reason with thoroughness and completeness. The word appears nineteen times in the LXX canon. It is most often translated from the Hebrew word maḥăšābă. The basic idea of the word is the employment of the mind in thinking activity. Reference is not so much to “understanding” (cf. bîn), but to the creating of new ideas.[2]
All men know God but all men have become useless or worthless in their thought process. Paul tells us that all men engage in the harmonious “suppression of the truth of God in unrighteousness.” They’re “foolish hearts has been darkened.” It is impossible to suppress something that you do not have. To suppress something means to prevent someone from doing something by restraining or hindering it. All men must be in actual possession of the truth in order to suppress it. And according to Paul, they are actually in possession of true knowledge of God while at the same time suppressing that knowledge.

The unbeliever engages in the psychological phenomenon known as self-deception. James informs us that men can paralogidzomai heatous, delude themselves.[3] John also mentions this phenomenon in 1 John 1:8 where he writes, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.” Clearly, self-deception is a concept taught in Scripture even though professional psychologists and philosophers disagree about its existence. The apostle Paul reveals that Satan has blinded the mind of the unbelieving so that they might not see the gospel and repent. (2 Cor. 4:4) He also informed us that unbelievers are governed by the futility of their mind, darkened in their heart, and excluded from the life of God. He informed us that the unbeliever is ignorant, stubborn, morally desensitized, and given over to sensuality. Van Til writes, “The unbeliever is the man with yellow glasses on his face. He sees himself and his world through these glasses. He cannot remove them. His interpretation of himself and of every fact in the universe relating to himself is, unavoidably, a false interpretation.[4]


[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Louisville, KY: The Westminster Press, 1960), Vol. I, 35.
[2] Theological Workbook of the Old Testament Waltke.
[3] James 1:22-24
[4] Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til's Apologetic: Readings &​ Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&​r Publishing, 1998), 421.

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