“…if man is not autonomous, if he is rather what Scripture says he is, namely, a creature of God and a sinner before his face, then man should subordinate his reason to the Scriptures and seek in the light of it to interpret his experience” (Christian Apologetics, Cornelius Van Til, p. 140).
“…as the infallibly inspired revelation of God to sinful man, [the Bible] stands before us as that light in terms of which all the facts of the created universe must be interpreted” (Christian Apologetics, Cornelius Van Til, p. 139).
An awareness of God is common to all
No human needs to be taught that there’s a God and that we’re his creatures. It’s in our guts. If you meet people five thousand miles in any direction, whether they live in a dark forest or a remote dessert or on a high mountain, they know there’s a God; they don’t need you to tell them about him.
That’s why wherever you go, you’ll find people who bow down to statues, visit temples, and pray. Whether they believe in one God or lots of gods, people can’t seem to shake “God”!
God stamped this feeling on all of us, and it can’t be wiped off.
So it’s pretty silly when someone tries to explain the stamp of God by saying, “There’s no stamp! This is what happened: a long time ago, some dude just made up the idea of God; probably to control people and get stuff from them!”
Now of course people have tried to use the stamp to scare, control, and take stuff from people. But it’d never work if people weren’t already convinced there was a God! These rotten thieves were at least smart; they tapped into something everyone’s already got.
Now some people totally deny God. “There ain’t no stamp on me!” they say. But such people usually start to grow something else: superstition. And superstition makes a person act pretty strange. They’re scared of the sound of a falling leaf! They knock on wood! They flip through a card deck think the cards are telling them things! If it’s not God out there, it’s open season. Explaining the stamp away just opens us up to a million far more zanier beliefs.
Humans can keep the feeling of God away with as much success as someone can keep a sealed sheep intestine filled with air under the water by first making sure it’s put down real deep.
The seed of religion is perverted by self-will
We can call this stamp of God-feeling “the seed of religion.” Everyone’s got it planted in them. This seed tells us that because there’s a God, a bunch of other things are true too: we’re his creatures, all good things come from him, we’ve failed to honour and thank him, and, we should only do what he wants.
But you and I don’t like that. We want to be our own boss. And because we’re selfish soil, the seed planted in us gets tainted. We can’t remove the seed, and because we’re selfish, it can’t produce what it should. Instead of producing whole-hearted holiness and a simple love toward God, we do just enough to get God off our back. We might even put on a big religious show, but really, we’re just doing this to keep our hearts far from him.
“…the Reformed apologist maintains that there is an absolutely valid argument for the existence of God and for the truth of Christian theism. He cannot do less without virtually admitting that God’s revelation to man is not clear” (Christian Apologetics, Cornelius Van Til, p. 134-5).
“[On the naturalist’s] assumption his own rationality is a product of chance. On his assumption even the laws of logic that he employs are products of chance. …[Therefore] Christian theism… is the only position that gives human reason a field for successful operation and a method of true progress in knowledge” (Christian Apologetics, Cornelius Van Til, p. 132).
After ten years on air, one reality TV show points out there’s still a market for ceremonial cleanliness.
It’s an American show, but it’s sprouted regional versions all over the world. Because ceremonial purity is something everyone, everywhere wants.
The show is called (you might have guessed it), Say Yes to the Dress.
It’s about the journey of brides-to-be and their families, seeking the perfect wedding dress at Kleinfeld Bridal in Manhattan, NY. To see an episode is to see a purification ritual:
People go on pilgrimage from all over the world to seek the temple (Kleinfeld’s). There they hope to find what will cover their blemishes and inadequacies and make them beautiful and clean. In this sacred space, the priests (Mara, Ronald, and Randy) greet the pilgrims and assess their needs. The pilgrims are astounded by the special knowledge, wisdom, and craft of the priests. The pilgrims have journeyed far and are willing to pay great sums to the priests in order to gain access to the clean white robes they seek. The brides are willing to make sacrifices of time, emotion, and money, for where else can they be covered and made pure?
If you’ve ever seen the show, you know there’re problems: Sometimes, as the pilgrim’s insecurities and fears mount, they retreat from the temple. Sometimes they find what they’ve been seeking, but the cost of the white robes are too high. Sometimes they desire even greater purity and beauty, and so say “No” to the dress, and seek another temple and another priesthood.
Now there’s a reason why shows like these don’t have in-depth follow-up. While each episode has a very happy ending, we all know the dress didn’t actually solve any deeper issues. Despite the personal sacrifice, the brides’ hearts remained impure; they continued to be dogged by the same guilt, shame, envy, anger that they had before they came to Kleinfeld’s.
And their circumstances were unchanged; they still had difficult relationships, crazy demands at work, health problems, etc.
It seems there are some things that even a really really white dress can’t solve.
This is our human situation: every person wants purity, cleanness, and freedom, and both religion and non-religion make promises that they can deliver it. Modern people laugh at the ancients: “Get a load of these guys! Can you believe they thought you can get clean by visiting certain temples, saying special words, or making marks in your flesh?”
They scoff, but then they turn immediately to their modern priests, who offer the same cleanliness using different means. These priests tell you to cut out sugar, “pay it forward,” be the authentic you (without any apology), get a new outfit or join a gym, or stay away from all those negative people. Sometimes they’re totally unoriginal and just say you need a “cleanse.”
But neither these modern or ancient cleansing rituals can go deep enough! We leave the temple, the resort, the mall, or the yoga studio with hearts that are a mess.
The problem with both religion and non-religion, is that they both say the same thing: “You can make yourself pure.”
In stark contrast, the gospel of Jesus Christ says: You can’t make yourself pure, but Jesus can.
The gospel tells us we are without any strength or hope to cleanse ourselves. And so God, because of his greatness and love, did what we were utterly unable to do (despite our repeated and best efforts).
The Bible teaches us that life on earth is this: The wedding is coming, so get ready! The invitations are being sent out, the table is being set, the doors will open soon.
But there’s not a single person ready for the wedding; everyone is unclean, everyone is sinful, everyone is impure. Even the Bride is impure.
The good news is this friends: Jesus Christ came for you and died in your place so that you’d be ready for the wedding. So that you could be presented to him without spot. Without impurity. Without any guilt. Without any shame.
Do you live with shame and regret for things you’ve done in darkness? Do you try to cover that shame and regret with religion, good deeds, and being a nice person? Or are you doubling down on your shame, hoping that a life lived for purely for selfish ends will somehow lead to life? It can’t work. You know it can’t. None of our attempts can go deep enough.
Only the Saviour who’s given himself for you can cleanse you from top to bottom; inside and out.
The Son of God, Jesus Christ, was crucified outside the ancient city of Jerusalem, stripped naked, so that our nakedness could be covered.
Jesus, who was clean, was defiled so that we who are defiled could be made clean.
Jesus was cast off and killed so that you could be welcomed in and enter into life.
And the purity that Jesus’ sacrifice bought was so thorough, so complete, that shame and guilt no longer have any place; those who believe in Jesus are dressed in fine linens, bright and pure, that have been purchased for them and given to them freely.
So the call for us, religious or non-religious people alike, is to repent of trying to make ourselves pure, and to accept this good news, that Jesus alone can purify us, and give us the required clothes for the great wedding feast to come.
May that day come soon, and may we be found ready.
“To admit one’s own presuppositions and to point out the presupposition of others is therefore to maintain that all reasoning is, in the nature of the case, circular reasoning. The starting point, the method, and the conclusion are always involved in one another” (Christian Apologetics, Cornelius Van Til, p. 130).
“In spite of this claim to neutrality on the part of the non-Christian the Reformed apologist must point out that every method, the supposedly neutral one no less than any other, presupposes either the truth or falsity of Christian theism” (Christian Apologetics, Cornelius Van Til, p. 129).
If you could pile all the stuff that makes you wise into great heaps, you’d basically end up with just two. They’d be called: KNOW-GOD and KNOW-YOURSELF.
To be wise, you need both piles.
KNOW-GOD shows you how amazing God is! He’s big, he’s strong, he’s good! If you KNOW-GOD, you want to sing and jump and bow to him and spend lots of time with him… until you get into that second pile.
KNOW-YOURSELF shows you how miserable you are. You’re small, you’re weak, you’re sinful. If you KNOW-YOURSELF, you want to hide and cry and you get filled with sadness.
But remember how I said you need both KNOW-GOD and KNOW-YOURSELF to be really wise?
KNOW-YOURSELF tells you you can’t find happiness and goodness in yourself. KNOW-GOD tells you that the only place in the whole world where true joy is offered is in God.
Do you see? KNOW-YOURSELF can actually walk you by the hand, right up to KNOW-GOD!
Self-knowledge impossible without the knowledge of God
It’d be great if KNOW-YOURSELF were always this helpful. The problem is, KNOW-YOURSELF can sometimes be a bit of a trickster.
KNOW-YOURSELF might whisper to you that you’re actually pretty good. Sure, you’re weak and silly and sinful — but there’s usually someone you know who’s even more weak, silly, and sinful than you. That can (strangely) make you think you’re actually good.
I know your parents told you not to look at the sun, so just imagine this: When you look around a room and see things, you might think your sight is strong. But what happens when you go outside on a cloudless day and try to stare at the very heart of the sun? Ah! It’s too bright! All of a sudden, you have to admit your sight isn’t that strong.
If we only look at ourselves with KNOW-YOURSELF at our side, we might think we’re pretty good, pretty smart, pretty strong. But as soon as KNOW-GOD chimes in, we realize we’re not good, smart, or strong AT ALL!
That’s why people in the Bible often completely freaked out when they felt God near them. You might think Abraham, Isaiah, and Peter were fine, saintly people, but when they got near God they wanted to tuck tail and run (Gen. 18:27, Isa. 6:5, Luke 5:8)!
So to make sure KNOW-YOURSELF behaves, KNOW-GOD always has to stay right beside it.
“The very essence of created reality is its revelational character. Scientists deal with that which has the imprint of God’s face upon it. Created reality may be compared to a great estate. The owner has his name plainly and indelibly written at unavoidable places” (Christian Apologetics, Cornelius Van Til, p. 125).