18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.
20 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.
21 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.
22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools,
23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. (ESV)
All people know that God exists. God has revealed Himself to all people. But for what purpose? Why would God make Himself known to people who will do nothing but hate Him or deny Him? These verses in Romans tell us that God has manifested Himself to every person in a limited manner so that all people will be without excuse when they stand before God in judgment. The wrath of God will be revealed against all those who are ungodly and unrighteous, and God will be completely justified in doing so.
Why, then, are there people who claim to be atheists? Atheists are not people who do not believe that there is a God, atheists are those people who have suppressed the truth about God in their minds. Do atheists make a deliberate choice to not believe in God? No, I believe that Paul is teaching us that we all suppress the knowledge of God in our minds by our unrighteousness. We would rather revel in our unrighteousness than face the fact that there is a God.
How has God manifested Himself to every person? Paul says that God is manifested to all people by the works of His creation. So, then, is it just an accident that all people know that there is a God? No, verse 19 clearly says that God has shown (an active verb, not passive) to all people what can be known about Himself. Verse 20 contains a paradox which is counter to our way of thinking. Notice that the invisible attributes of God are clearly seen. What are those invisible attributes that are clearly seen? God’s eternal power and his divine nature. These two things are manifest in the creation of God. Belief in evolution is just another way to suppress the truth of God.
But is it enough to know that there is a God? Or course not. Knowledge of God leads people onto two divergent paths. Some people in their knowledge of God are lead to give Him glory and thanks. I think of the story of Cornelius the Centurion from Acts chapter 10. We are told in Acts 10:1-2 “At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.” (ESV) This man had never heard the gospel message, but he still gave glory and thanks to God. However, other people in their knowledge of God do not give him glory or thanks. Romans 2:8 describes these people as self-seeking. They seek their own glory and give themselves thanks for what they have.
What happens to the person who suppresses the truth of the knowledge of God? They become futile in their thinking. We can also use words such as “empty or vain” in their thinking. And their hearts are darkened. They lose what little light they may have had. What are some examples we see of vain thinking and darkened hearts in the world today? Ideas such as reincarnation, karma, enlightenment, jihad, and atheism all stem from vain thinking and a darkened heart, as man seeks some way to get glory for himself.
Furthermore, those who have gone to vain thinking and darkened hearts imagine themselves to be wise. This gives rise to so-called worldly wisdom, which manifests itself in things like philosophy, psychology, and psychiatry. This so-called wisdom is nothing but foolishness.
And furthermore, vain thinking and a darkened heart lead people to deny the glory of God in favor of worshipping idols. Romans 1:23 tells us that these people worship idols in the form of men, birds, animals, and reptiles. Romans 1:25 tells us that these people worship the creature rather than the creator. At this point, someone will say that this is no longer true. We are far too sophisticated to worship an idol made of wood or stone. Only the heathen in the dark of Africa do that anymore. Yet I contend that we have much more insidious ways of worshipping the creature rather than the creator here in America today. Our idols are called hedonism, materialism, perversions, narcissism, and relativism.
Why would a person desire to exchange the worship of the immortal God for the worship of mortal and corruptible idols? It is because we want a god who is made in our image. When we have a god who is just like we are, then it is no longer a sin to practice the ungodliness and unrighteousness we hold so dear. When we have a god made in our own image, then we can share in the glory instead of rightly giving all glory and thanks to the One who created us.
By Berean Husband