Everybody is Religious, It’s Just How Human Beings Are

“The religious impulse, the quest for meaning that transcends the restricted space of empirical existence in this world, has been a perennial feature of humanity. (This is not a theological statement but an anthropological one—an agnostic or even an atheist philosopher may well agree with it.) It would require something close to a mutation of the species to extinguish this impulse for good.” -Peter Berger, The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics

Illustrations: Insufficiency of General Revelation

Universe next door“In some ways, we can say that limiting knowledge about God to general revelation is like finding that eating eggs for breakfast makes the morning go well, and then only eating eggs for breakfast (and maybe lunch and dinner too) for the rest of one’s life (which now unwittingly becomes rather shortened!). To be sure, theism assumes that we can know something about God from nature. But it also holds that there is much more to know than can be known that way and that there are other ways to come to know.” James Sire, The Universe Next Door, fifth ed., pg. 50

Thinking About: General Revelation

Romans 1:18-20, “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.”

Paul, writing to the Christians in Rome, says that God has personally shown who he is to all people, and so they are accountable for rejecting his truth. No one can say, “I didn’t know there was a God.” Paul says, God revealed it, but they suppressed it.

Acts 17:26-28, And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.”

Paul, preaching to the Greeks in Athens, says God is near to everyone because in some sense, we can be said to have our being ‘in him.’

Psalm 19:1-3, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.”

David describes creation as something like a megaphone that proclaims God’s glory. There is an emphasis on the abundance of the knowledge of God found in creation. As a psalm, the pervasiveness of these reminders become a summons to worship. Psalm 19 tends toward the idea that needing arguments to ‘prove’ God’s existence is itself a red flag, manifesting the rebellion of the human heart against its Creator.

Romans 2:14-15, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.”

Paul to the church in Rome. Even though Israel alone was at Sinai receiving the Law from God, all people in some sense know “the work of the law.” It is written on their heart, and we know this because even Gentiles who weren’t part of the covenant people and weren’t present at Sinai, still can recognize the difference between right and wrong.

All these verses about what we call general revelation place a heavy stress on the idea that all people have a knowledge of God. This leaves us with a choice to believe and worship the God who is near at hand (Ps. 19:1-3) or face the consequences of suppressing his truth (Rom. 1:19-20, 2:14-15). But what is not a possibility is to run from or avoid a God who is so near.

Calvin on the “Sense of Divinity” and “Seed of Religion”

These are classic passages from his Institutes on the “sense of divinity” and “seed of religion” which God has put in the heart of every person. These are, of course, fundamentally tied to the concepts of natural and general revelation (as should be clear from the passages quoted below).

“There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity [divinitatis sensum]. This we take beyond controversy. To prevent anyone from taking refuge in the pretense of ignorance, God himself has implanted in all men a certain understanding of his divine majesty. Ever renewing its memory, the repeatedly sheds fresh drops. Since, therefore, men one and all perceive that there is a God and that he is their Maker, they are condemned by their own testimony because they have failed to honor him and to consecrate their lives to his will. If ignorance of God is to be looked for anywhere, surely one is most likely to find an example of it among the more backwards folk and those more remote from civilization. Yet, there is, as the eminent pagan says [Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods, I.xvi. 43], no nation so barbarous, no people so savage, that they have not a deep-seated conviction that there is a God. And they who in other respects of life seem least to differ from brutes still retain some seed of religion. (1.3.2)”

“As experience shows, God has sown a seed of religion in all men. But scarcely one man in a hundred is met with who fosters it, once received, in his heart, and none in whom it ripens– much less bears fruit in season (cf. Ps. 1:3). Besides while some may evaporate in their own superstitions and others deliberately and wickedly desert God, yet all degenerate from the true knowledge of him. And so it happens that no real piety remains in the world. (1.4.1)”

“… they entangle themselves in such a huge mass of errors that blind wickedness stifles and finally extinguishes those sparks which once flashed forth to show them God’s glory. Yet that seed remains which can in no wise be uprooted: that there is some sort of divinity; but this seed is so corrupted that by itself it produces only the worst fruits. From this, my present contention is brought out with greater certainty, that a sense of divinity is by nature engraven on human hearts. (1.4.4)”