In our Bible readings this week, we're starting Paul's letter to the Romans, and in Romans 1, Paul writes about this very issue: how all men are given the chance to believe in God first through general revelation, the revelation of the Creator in nature and the outdoors. If our hearts are open to this general revelation and to starting to worship the Creator, rather than just the creation, then God continues reveling Himself even more through specific revelation.
Below, Bob Deffington gives a commentary on this very issue. One thing is for sure, I can't be in this great outdoors for long without being overcome by the magnificence of nature and the sure, amazing knowledge of the Creator. So now to Deffington's commentary on Romans 1:
God’s Revelation in Nature
There is available to every man a certain knowledge of God. This knowledge is attainable by observing the handiwork of God in creation. Just as we can learn much of a writer by studying his work, or of a painter by his paintings, so, also, we can learn of God from His handiwork, His creation. We may learn, Paul says in verse 20, of God’s eternal power and of His divine nature. Who can look at the raging power of the Niagara Falls and not be struck with the power of the One Who created them? Who can study the power of the atom and not be impressed with the infinite power of the Creator? And who can ponder creation without concluding that someone far greater than mortal man was the originator of it all?
As the Psalmist put it long ago: “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge” (Psalm 19:1, 2). The witness of creation to its Creator has been acknowledged by many great minds.
Dr. Horstmann testified, “My scientific conscience forbids me not to believe in God.”6
Pasteur concurred, “Just because I reflected I remained a believer.”7
Dr. A. Nueberg agrees when he says, “God is the cause of all things, and whoever thinks in terms of cause and effect thinks in the direction of God.”8
Even an unbeliever like Voltaire confessed, “I do not know what I should think about the world. I cannot believe this clock exists without a clockmaker.”9
Granted, there are some who are students of creation, but who do not seem to be able to look beyond to the Creator. They look at creation in the way a glass-maker analyzes the glass in a display window. They note its thickness and freedom from distortion. They observe the size and quality of the glass and the way it is framed. But they fail to look through the glass to the display behind, the true purpose of the glass being overlooked.10
Man’s Response to God’s Natural Revelation
Man's proper response to the revelation of God should have been worship and grateful acknowledgment: “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks …” (Romans 1:21a).
Man’s response to natural revelation is three-fold. First of all is the initial act of rejection: Men simply refuse to accept God as He has revealed Himself. Paul tells us in verse 18 that men “… suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” They refuse God as He is. How often we consider the problem of the heathen to be lack of revelation. We somehow view God as withholding revelation essential to the salvation of the pagan. But Paul describes the heathen as having confined God's revelation to a box of their own making, and piling on the lid of the box their own sins. The pagan’s problem is not the sparsity of revelation, but the suppression of it.
Whenever we reject one explanation of the facts we must necessarily counter with an alternative. This is precisely the situation with the heathen. They have rejected God’s revelation of Himself and they have replaced it with another. The key word here is ‘exchanged’ (vv. 23, 25, 26). Instead of worshipping the God Who made man in His own image, they made gods in their image. They worshipped the creature rather than the Creator. Bad enough to conceive of God in terms of humanity, but they went far beyond this to represent God in terms of the beasts of the earth. The Greeks had their Apollo, the Romans the eagle, the Egyptians the bull, and the Assyrians the serpent. Paul may have been alluding to these ‘gods.’
Not only did the heathen exchange the truth of God for a lie, but they also exchanged the blessings of God in His provision for sexual fulfillment for that which is unnatural and disgusting. “… for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire towards one another …” (Romans 1:26b-27a). There is here, I believe, a deadly sequence of events. Rejection of God’s revelation leads to idolatry, and idolatry leads to immorality and man at last plummets into the grossest perversions imaginable.
If you have thought of the heathen as an idolater because he didn’t know any better, Paul insists that he is an idolater because he has refused to know better, suppressing God’s self-revelation.Read Deffington's entire commentary here.