In our prior article, we raised a number of pressing questions that could lead us to conclude that the only certainty is uncertainty! Yet in the midst of relentless questions, gnawing ambiguities, and the cacophony of voices offering inconclusive and unsatisfactory answers, we turn elsewhere.
We do so not only because we can, but more importantly, because we must. To proceed, we introduce the next section of How Can I Know For Sure?1
The Word from Above
A brief word is in order concerning the approaches considered thus far. The pervasive weakness in philosophy and religion is that they tender merely human proposals. They operate in a vicious circularity, because the answers all come from us. Even the confluence of the most brilliant human minds lacks the resources to deliver definitive answers to the harassing questions of our souls.2
If there are answers, they must come from outside and not from within. They must come from above, not from below. They must come to us, not from us. If there are answers, they must come from an objective and all-knowing authority. In short, they must come from God.
Has he spoken? Indeed he has. Before we explore the special way in which he has done so, we must comment on his universal speech. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” The Psalmist, looking at the scope of the universe, notes the perpetual, unrelentingly, clear communications from the Creator.3 God speaks in creation and his governance of the world, and he does not stutter.
In Romans, Paul expands this point, contending for universal accountability to the Creator on the basis of his personal communication with mankind.
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 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. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.4
Several features surface, but for our purposes we will note only a couple. First, God reveals himself. This revelation in creation – “general revelation”, as theologians call it – is plainly revealed (1:19) and clearly perceived (1:20). God intends all mankind to know him in this way; there is no one anywhere who does not in this very real sense know God. God reveals himself personally in creation, and by virtue of his self-disclosure, all men know “all the divine perfections.”5
Grasping the “god-ness” of God comes to us not by logical deduction; rather this understanding is “given to us, revealed to and in us, implanted in us, by the creative power and providence of almighty God the Creator.”6 To be alive then is to know that God is and that I am accountable to him. Consciousness of the one true God is an intrinsic feature of being human. To whatever degree we resist this claim evidences our personal suppression “of the truth” (1:18).
A second inescapable truth, one in tragic conflict with the first, bursts forth. In the face of this God who speaks come hordes of false religions, in which mankind has pushed back against the Creator God, substituting idolatry for true worship and obedience. As such, world history is a religious history, a display of both universal accountability and universal sinfulness. Just as history stages the perpetual speech of God’s character, the same history delivers the responding human mutiny – yours, mine, and that of every other human being in history (with One exception, who will be noted shortly).
The types of nagging ultimate questions listed earlier are window boxes into our God-consciousness. We know that these questions matter because we know that we are accountable to God. We know that he alone possesses the answers, making our sinful, self-reliant responses less than flattering. The picture in the window boxes is increasingly grim: the motivation for false religion is not genuine but ill-informed worship, but rather sufficiently informed but willfully false worship. Human history consists of diverse, yet willful and personal defiance of the Creator. Our hearts are not a pretty place. And that is a universal problem.
The Answer is Better Than We Could Ever Have Imagined
The answers to our ultimate questions will never come from us because they cannot come from us. We are both finite and fallen. We are dependent and depraved. We are small and sinful. We are creature and corrupted. Self-sufficiency wholly fails to address matters of ultimate importance before the Creator God to whom we are wholly accountable. In the vicious circle of our stubbornness, we are left devoid of hope before God, barring his intervention.
If there is to be an answer, it must come from God exercising mercy. For there to be any hope at all, he must act and speak to us savingly. And though under no obligation this is precisely what he has done.
Not only has God created and spoken to us in what he has made, he has acted in grace and explained that grace in words recorded in the Bible. In fact, the words of the Bible come directly into our worlds of rebellious self-sufficiency, where we have attempted to solve our own problems, to make our own way, and to answer the ultimate questions of our souls on our own.
Into the tyranny of this philosophical and religious mutiny, comes the word from God, which victoriously, redemptively, and exhaustively answers the torturous plight of our souls. This word, in fact, exposes how bleak our condition really is, delivering both a violent verdict of our sinfulness and the solitary solution to it.
This word comes from outside us. It comes from above. It comes with authority and power. It comes as the written Word of God, the only source of reliable answers, and graciously so.
Why is it the only source and why should we trust it? In short, because of what it is: the Word of God. Let us explore further.
1 The booklet, How Can I Know For Sure?, contains a series of questions after each section, intended for group discussion. To purchase a copy, go to http://www.reformedresources.org/books/how-can-i-know-for-sure/.
2 “From us” means not only individualistically, but also corporately, as many discern human thinking to operate in a closed (epistemological) circle. That is, knowledge and understanding rely essentially upon human thought on a human plane. In such a construct, there is no consideration of a special Word from God to interpret and explain reality and to deliver answers to the ultimate questions.
3 See Psalm 19:1-6.
4 Romans 1:18-23. All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).
5 Charles Hodge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 37. Scott Oliphint suggests that Hodge follows Calvin here. See Scott K. Oliphint, Reasons for Faith: Philosophy in the Service of Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2006), 134 n27.
6 Oliphint, Reasons, 134 (pp. 131-40). See John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (edited by John T. McNeill; translated by Ford Lewis Battles; 2 volumes; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 1.3.3.