“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” (Romans 1:18-21)
Paul is answering an objection.
The objection is this: “You say, Paul, that the wrath of God is being revealed in history against humankind because the truth of God is suppressed by the human heart. Well, what about those who don’t have the truth of God? Don’t they have a reasonable excuse to protest God’s anger? How can it be right for God to be angry at people for suppressing a truth that they never had?” And what about people who have not yet been reached by the gospel of Christ? How are they held accountable before God? Or how does God deal with people who have different levels of exposure to divine truth?
Paul’s argument has four steps. Let’s go backwards from the conclusion:
Paul’s conclusion is found at the end of verse 20: “. . . so that they are without excuse.” Are there people in the world who have an excuse? And here is Paul’s answer: No. No one has an excuse. Everyone is guilty and deserves the wrath of God. Why?
. . . For They Did Not Honor God . . . They are without excuse because they do not glorify God or give him thanks. They don’t honor him in their lives. . . . Although They Did Know Him . . .But this assumes another step in the argument. Did they have this truth about God? Were they responsible for owning up to what they didn’t know? Still working backward from the conclusion, the next step is that all people everywhere know the truth of God.
“That which is known about God is evident within them [or better: “among them.” Verse 20a: “Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen.” Verse 21a: “For even though they knew God . . .”
So, Paul says, they DO know God. What can be known is evident among them. Specifically, God’s eternal power and God’s divine nature are known by everyone. So now we have three steps:
Step four: The conclusion – All people are without excuse and deserve the wrath of God.
Step three: This is because they do not glorify God as God or give him thanks.
Step two: This failure of fitting response is not because of innocent ignorance of God, but in spite of sufficient knowledge about God.
. . . Because God Had Made Himself Evident “That which is known about God is evident among them; for God made it evident to them.” How did he do that? This is explained in the middle of verse 20 in the words, “being understood through what has been made.” God’s eternal power and divine nature – what can be known of God – have always, from the beginning of the creation of man, been “understood through what has been made.” God did something to make himself known.
Knowledge of God did not just happen by chance. God makes provision for it.
What does he do to make himself evident? He made the world. He created – like a potter, or a sculptor or a poet, except he created out of nothing. In verse 20, when it says that God is “understood through what has been made,” the words “what has been made” stand for one Greek word (which you will all recognize), the word poiema. It’s the word from which we get “poem.” The universe and everything in it is God’s work of art.
And to take a thought from Leaving Cert English (!): in a poem there is manifest design and intention and wisdom and power! The wind might create a letter in the sand, but not a poem. That’s the point. God acted. God planned. God designed. God crafted. He created and made. And in doing that, Paul says in verse 19, God made himself evident to all mankind.
The universe is a poem about God. Have you learnt to read it?
(Drawn from a bit of a John Piper sermon)