Because that which is known of God is manifest in them; for God manifested it unto them. For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse (Romans 1:19-20).
Paul is declaring here in the “negative” what David proclaims in the “positive” in Psalm 19:1: the glory of God and His work is manifest in the heavens and earth which He created. The theological significance of this can hardly be overstated.
In context, Paul is making a very important point. He compares the Gospel and its power for salvation, the faith in God that comes on the basis of its message that leads to righteousness and life, with the wrath of God that will be poured out on the unrighteous and ungodly who attempt to suppress that truth (Romans 1:16-18). As if anticipating a counter-argument– how could the pagans know about God since they were not given the law of God given to Israel or any such thing?– Paul begins to show that there really is no excuse for them, and that they should have known that there is One True Creator God. How? His invisible attributes– specifically, His eternal power and divine nature– can be perceived in that which God has made (Romans 1:19-20). In short, the whole creation testifies to God’s glory and work. The only reason one does not see it is if one does not want to see it, focusing instead on the creation and not the Creator (cf. Romans 1:21-32).
This immediately reveals two important truths. This passage first provides the answer regarding all the people who have ever lived but who did not hear the Gospel message– they still should have known about God through His handiwork, the creation. Paul strongly suggests that ignorance is not going to be acceptable as an excuse on the final day. Furthermore, the reason why this is a sufficient reason is because it shows that God has continually revealed Himself through the creation as well as through the revealed Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and in the Incarnate Word of God (John 1:1, 14, Colossians 2:9, Hebrews 1:3). Even if we never read a Bible or heard about Jesus, we should see that there is a singular Higher Power responsible for everything we can perceive (and even that which we cannot!).
The more we learn about the universe from science, the greater and more profound our wonder should be. On the macro level, scientists have discovered at least six values in physics that allow the universe to be conducive to life– if any of those six values were changed by a very small amount, the universe could not sustain life. On the micro level scientists keep discovering just how wonderful DNA and the other building blocks of life are and how fine-tuned life really is. Perhaps many such scientists do not believe in God or that He is working; nevertheless, the evidence they uncover reinforce what David and Paul said so long ago, and do not undermine it. When we look around, and see farther out and deeper in, we can also declare as they did– the heavens proclaim the glory and handiwork of God; the hand of God is evident in all that has been made.
Yet, as we dig deeper, we find that Paul’s declaration here is hard to exhaust. God’s divine nature is even revealed within the creation (Romans 1:20). While we are often content to leave such discussions on the level of the physics of the universe, is it not true that God’s divine nature is revealed in other aspects of the creation?
How many metaphors are vehicles for us to understand our relationship with God? God is called our Father, and we are reckoned as His children (Romans 8:12-17, Hebrews 12:4-11). There is an intimate bond that is to be shared between husband and wife according to Genesis 2:24, and Paul will later apply it in a figure to Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:31-32). Humans are born seekers; we always seem to be looking for something or other, constantly investigating and pursuing various matters in our lives. Then there is the whole set of Kingdom metaphors, as evidenced in Jesus’ parables– the Parable of the Sower, the Parable of the Dragnet, and so forth (Matthew 13). We could go on and on.
Is it merely coincidental that all of those physical matters– parent/child relationship, marital relationship, even the relationships among friends, man as seeker, the mechanics of the physical creation– can be used to explain our relationship with God, our fundamental spiritual discontent, and the nature of the Kingdom of God? We should not be so foolish as to presume that these things just happen to coincide– it is more likely that they were designed, in part, for precisely that reason!
In truth, God has left us hints of His divine nature and eternal power throughout the creation. Yes, this is evident in the macro and micro physical aspects of that creation, but it is also evident in the way that creation operates. The bond between parent and child was no doubt designed, at least in part, to provide a hint and a glimpse of the nature of how the relationship between God and man is to be. Should we think that the feeling of wholeness and oneness sought in the sexual relationship between humans “just happens” to exist, or do we do better to understand it as a hint and a shadow of the wholeness and oneness that can only be obtained through spiritual union with God (cf. John 17:20-23, 1 Corinthians 13:12)? The same goes for our desire for relational closeness with friends. We humans seek because we have been made to seek (Acts 17:26-27). Perhaps God always intended there to be something a bit more profound with wheat and soils than just physical sustenance. It all works for a reason!
Sadly, as with the creation itself, so with many of these hints and glimpses– humans have a tendency to enshrine the lesser as their gods and entirely neglect the greater. How many have made the pursuit of sex their god as opposed to understanding how that union is the shadow of which union with God is the reality? How many have made a god out of the search, seeking but never coming to the knowledge of the truth? For too many others, the corruption of the creation on account of sin has blurred the image of God to them. For those whose earthly fathers were not present or present but abusive, the image of God as Father can be quite hard with which to come to terms. The same goes for those whose marital/sexual relationships or relationships with friends is far from even the shadow of the reality God intends for us to see in them.
Nevertheless, God is not at fault for the corruption imposed upon His creation. Even in this corrupted world we should still be able to perceive God through His creation. This is true not just in the realms of physics and the like but also in our relationships and such things. Let us praise God for His creation, never confusing the creation with the Creator, testify of His presence within His creation, and seek after communion with Him!
Ethan R. Longhenry