“There are those, of course, who deny that they need any form of authority… Such men say that they must be shown by ‘reason’ whatever they are to accept as true. But the great thinkers among non-Christian men have taken no such position. They know that they cannot cover the whole area of reality with their knowledge. They are therefore willing to admit that there may be others who have information that they themselves do not posses. In everyday life this sort of thing is illustrated in the idea of the expert” (Christian Apologetics, Cornelius Van Til, p. 161-2).
God revealed in his manifold works of creation
The best gift God can give us is himself. We’re only really happy when we know the God who made us and loves us.
So, because he loves us, God makes himself known to us. We’re small and he’s big (really big), so he reveals himself in ways we can handle. Like a stuffed animal trying to hold the sun, a full, unfiltered blast of God is a bit more than you or I can manage.
In kindness, and so we can enjoy him, God reveals himself to us in better ways:
First, he makes himself known in the biggest and the littlest parts of the world (and everything in-between). If we just open our eyes and look… SNAP! CRACKLE! POP! God’s glory shines out everywhere!
The world is beautiful! It’s a masterpiece! The whole universe is dazzling and dizzying in just how wild and wise and wonderful it is!
This doesn’t take smarts or religious chops to understand. You could be a prophet or a pirate, it doesn’t matter: when you look up or down or side to side, sparks of God’s creative wonders are everywhere (Psalm 19:1-4).
Have you looked into astronomy? Peaked into an anatomy and physiology textbook? Dabbled in nature studies? You’re going to quickly run out of fingers if you start to count the wonders of this world we all live in. That there is a God, and that he is a skilled designer, an artist to the max, should be as plain as peanut butter to you.
Each of the bazillion stars above are constantly dancing to an unheard tune, and yet not one of them has ever missed a step.
The human body is a marvel of balance, beauty, and usefulness; it’s a cleverly made meat-machine, that sings, dances, sleeps, cuts firewood, makes babies and is powered by (what else?!) bread and wine. Its Maker should get all the inventor awards there are.
Have you ever been caught outside in a thunderstorm? Is God’s power not obvious? Have you felt the wind and the rain pounding against you? Have you seen lightning, brilliant and terrifying, tear across the night sky? God stirs up thirty-foot waves, and then smoothes the sea out as easily as someone making a bed. God is good, but clearly not one to be trifled with either.
This world is a living, breathing, eating, baseball-playing, work of art-making work of art. But where did it all begin? Why does it continue? Because it was made by an eternal God who is good, and whose artwork is meant to reveal to us just a whiff, just a speck of his greatness.
“When Satan tempted Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit, he tried to persuade her that God’s announcement of the consequences of such an act would not come true [an irrational claim]… On the other hand, when Satan tempted Eve, he virtually asked her to become a rationalist. He asked her to take the position that she needed not to obtain any information about the course of factual eventuation from any source but her own mind” (Christian Apologetics, Cornelius Van Til, p. 154).
“The dilemma that confronts the non-Christian methodology in general, and that of modern phenomenalism in particular, is therefore that either one must know everything or one cannot know anything… And what is called scientific knowledge is a cross between knowing everything about nothing and knowing nothing about ‘everything'” (Christian Apologetics, Cornelius Van Til, p. 156).
The twin evils of superstition and craven fear
When we don’t go to God with good, believing hearts, and instead follow our own superstitious religiousish mumbo-jumbo, we sin in two ways:
1. By worshipping a fake and lame-o God.
God has told us what he’s like. He’s actually spoken. In Jesus we were with God himself. What does superstition do? It looks in the other direction and says, “Oh, hi God!” A superstitious person may put on a solid looking religious act, bow themselves, raise their hands, pray until they sweat, do the whole show, but they’re not looking at God and honouring God–they’re honouring not-God; really, they’re honouring themselves and their imaginations.
Many people think, “If it sounds spiritual, and I use the G-word often, all the religious people should applaud me and stop asking me so many questions.” But true worshippers know fakery when they see it. Worship of the real God conforms to God’s will. Since God is the same yesterday, today and forever, worship and obedience just doesn’t change from person to person, according to their likes and dislikes.
Approaching God is not like approaching a church potluck: “Pick what you like, leave what you don’t, and enjoy your very own God!” Like our elder brother Lactantius said long ago, “No religion is valid which is not also joined to truth.”
2. By thinking we can approach God on tip-toes, and only when we have to.
Superstitious people don’t like God — they fear him. They know he’s a Judge that loves good and hates evil. If they had their choice, they’d do away with God all together. After all, no God means no judgement.
Buuut, that darn God-stamp (or seed of religion) just can’t be suppressed or erased, and so the ever present God-stamp stays, and stays scary.
So, some are willing to do the religious thing from time to time, because they imagine, “That’ll keep God distracted for a while!” But this kind of “spirituality” isn’t sturdy; fear will only hold you back from sin so much — you’ll find ways to give in, and refuse to bring every last sin to God to terminate.
What true godliness entails
Superstitious religion is only a shadow (and calling it a shadow is being pretty generous). What we ought to be after is Believing Heart™.
True religion isn’t made up, but God-spoken, and only those with Believing Heart™ can receive it, and walk the long road of joyful obedience.
Believing Heart™ doesn’t make a God out of all its favourite things; Believing Heart™ loves God for who God is.
Believing Heart™ knows it’s naturally weak and so asks God to guard and protect it.
Believing Heart™ asks God for help all the time, and trusts that God is both generous and kind.
Believing Heart™ knows that in the face of every distress, God’s mercy is on deck to bring in the remedy.
Believing Heart™ knows that God is Judge, but also holds to him as Father.
(It’s important for you to know though that Believing Heart™ still fears God –but not like the superstitious do. Proper fear includes both a love of God’s good law, and a serious-minded reverence of God’s majesty.)
Friend, knowing God is why you were made. To miss this God is to miss why you were created. And it’s only when you know this God that you can truly know yourself.
“…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).