Imagine you and your friend Tom discover a cave and step inside to avoid the rain. Tom says “Look at this amazingly dug cave. Wherever you have a dug cave, you must also have a cave-digger. Bob the cave-digger holds us accountable for thanking him for the cave.” You respond “I don’t quite see how all that follows. Couldn’t the cave have been dug by a natural process?” Tom says “Have you ever seen something other than a human dig a cave?” You admit you haven’t. Tom continues “We are morally obligated to thank Bob the cave-digger due to his obvious superiority.” You respond “But I honestly don’t detect any particular cave-digger when I look at the cave. Could not the cave have been dug by a Jeff or a Jill?” Tom responds “You are suppressing the truth in your unrighteousness. You actually see cave-digger Bob, but you are denying this out of rebelliousness. You therefore will have no excuse when cave-digger Bob shows up and asks you why you did not recognize him and thank him.” How would you respond to Tom?
There have been millions of humans who have never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. According to the Bible, these individuals, regardless of whether they believe in some non-Christian God, deserve damnation due to their thankless rejection of the true God who can be clearly perceived in nature.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 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. 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. (Romans 1:18-21)
When you look around at nature, do you see something that can be called a righteous God deserving of thanks? Tom looks at a cave, and suggests you must give thanks to a particular and obvious cave-digger, and you deserve his wrathful damnation if you don’t. Does the figure of the Christian God emerge from an observation of nature as the only possible cause of nature from among all candidate Gods? If a child in a remote village is erroneously thanking the wrong God for their existence, does that child deserve the wrath of God for following others who also got it wrong? And what if the existence of that child is so full of suffering they would be more thankful for death?
You will also notice that the “suppression of the truth in unrighteousness” seems to clump around cultures. In traditionally Christian societies, nearly everyone seems to have recognized that the Christian God is the correct God, while in traditionally Muslim societies in which the Christian God is known, they apparently unrighteously suppress the truth that the Christian God is the only real God. Is there something intrinsically more wicked about children born in these cultures that makes them invariably rebel against the Christian God they truly recognize in nature? Why this clumping of rebellion?
Would any actual God of the universe eternally damn individuals because they 1) thanked the wrong God, 2) honestly did not perceive a benevolent God, or 3) suffered a horrific life for which thanks would be absurd?
There are at least three ways to assess whether this notion of culpability found in Romans Chapter 1 reflects reality.
1: Your personal experience. Did you, prior to being presented doctrines about the Christian God, look at nature and perceive attributes of the Christian God? Or did you simply have the same joyful awe about nature most humans have? Were you suppressing the truth in unrighteousness as Romans 1 suggests?
2: The pre-Christian experiences of Christians. Ask other Christians what attributes of the Christian God they perceived in nature prior to their conversion. Were they aware to any degree of a personal God prior to being told there was a personal God?
3: The experience of the ungospelled. When you visit countries in which the Gospel is not available, and interact with young children, do they exhibit signs of “suppressing the truth in unrighteousness”? Can they identify attributes of the Christian God through what they observe in nature?
It has been argued by some that, because this “suppression of the truth” is subconscious, it can not be detected. Does this ring true to you? If the ungospelled do, in fact, see attributes of the Christian God, do you think knowledge of these attributes would never be detectable? Imagine you meet a charismatic stranger who, when you ask for his name, tells you that you actually know his name, but that you are suppressing that truth in unrighteousness. He claims that, by looking at his clothes, you can ascertain his name. If you really liked the stranger, you might even convince yourself that you truly were suppressing the truth of his name seen clearly in his attire, and confess your unrighteousness. But you would still need to have him tell you his name. Could a suppression of truth this deep (if it exists) be something for which you are held accountable? Would you confess your hostility against this stranger you are not consciously aware of, then admit he was justified in being angry at your pretending to not know his name? Do you think it could possibly be merely self-delusion at work in persons who feel this way?
Another consideration is the inability of many who suffer horrible conditions to detect from their observation a world pleasant enough to thank someone for. Many children die from starvation and abuse under horrendous circumstances. When they die, do they then face a God who is angry that they did not thank him for their painful lives, angry enough to eternally damn them?
However, the elephant in the room is why any actual God of the universe who wants humans to know his identity and purpose for their lives would remain hidden behind nature where all other alleged God hide. There is nothing that is prohibiting an omnipotent God from simply stepping out from behind nature and introducing himself. Isn’t the fact that the God of the Bible hides in the same way all other proposed Gods hide more than a sufficient reason to suspect there is no such God? Is this not all too similar to the little boy claiming to the bullies that his friend Batman is, for some odd reason, watching over him from behind a cloak of invisibility? (See also #02 and #31.)