Re: Rationale Method for identifying supernatural

George Murphy (
Wed, 13 Jan 1999 20:40:52 -0500

Mark Phillips wrote:
> > What Paul says here is indeed that people "should" be able to
> > know God from creation, but they don't. _Everybody_ doesn't.
> > [...]
> > This is NOT a text promoting natural theology.
> In what sense then "should" we be able to know God from creation?
> >From the way you are arguing here, it almost sounds like the use of
> "creation" is vacuuous. That is, Paul could just as well have been
> arguing that people "should" know God from blublewhipwhap, but nobody
> does. Or am I missing something here??

I think so. What Paul is doing is pointing out the universal problem of Sin
with a capital S - i.e., refusal to acknowledge the true God as the creator. What
"should" be the case would be reality if people weren't sinners - but we are. Sin
involves lack of trust in God and lack of knowledge of God. When we try to discover God
_on our own_ - i.e., from our experience and reason - what we find is an idol. Idols
may be images of birds & beasts &c, but may also be the supreme philosopher (as with
Aristotle) the goddess (as with extreme feminist religion), the Intelligent Designer,
&c. This is the inevitable result of all attempts at independent natural theology -
idolatry, gross or subtle.
& this is true of all, Jews as well as Gentiles. The Jews differ in having
God's historical revelation, so they can see the true God - i.e., YHWH, the God of
Israel - in nature, & see nature as creation. But that is not _independent_ natural
theology because it starts from faith. It is faith in search of understanding.
Christians continue to be sinners as well as saints - Luther's _simul justus et
peccator_, "at the same time justified and sinner". If we rely on faith in the God who
is revealed in Christ, we can see the creator present & active in the world. But if we
get too impressed with our own abilities & intelligence & think we can do it ourselves
then we slide into the same trap.

> It seems to me that Paul is arguing strongly that in a very real
> sense, there is enough in creation to point us towards God. And Paul
> is saying that in spite of this, gentile society as a whole has
> ignored this and worshiped idols instead.

It is a mistake to focus exclusively on the gentiles here. The ancestors of
Israel were idolators before God's revelation to Abraham &c (Josh.24:2-4), & idolatry of
various sorts continued to be a problem throughout the Old Testament. & Paul's whole
argument in Rom.1:18-3:20 is intended to show that all without distinction are sinners.
See especially 3:9-20.

> This does not rule out the
> possibility that there are those among the gentiles who do listen to
> what creation has to say, and are found by God through it. Perhaps
> Cornellius was such a man?

No, Cornelius was apparently a "God fearer" (Acts.10:2), a technical term for
those who were sympathetic to Judaism but had not yet been fully converted & received
circumcision. So again he is in the circle of those to whom God's historical revelation
have been transmitted & who are at least open to faith in it.

> I agree that in Romans 1, Paul is not primarily interested in
> promoting natural theology as a means for revealing God to the world ---
> primarily he is demonstrating that the gentiles are without excuse.
> However it does not rule out the possibility that some are drawn to
> God via creation. Indeed I would go further and suggest that if there
> were gentiles who rejected idols realizing that God was not the stuff
> of idols, then perhaps they were ones being drawn to God via creation.

If Paul were interested at all in natural theology here he would say after 3:20,
"OK, now let's do natural theology right." But he doesn't. He points to Christ.

> I think Paul recognized God's revelation in pagan cultures, such as
> with the "alter to the unknown God".

Another problem with the traditional approach to natural theology is that it
leads people to think that "believing in God" is a big deal, and that Incarnation,
cross, &c. are simply important details which need to be added. In any case, it's
supposed to get you part way to a true knowledge of God - 10%, 90%, or whatever. But I
Cor.1:18-31 shows that it gets you precisley 0% of the way there. Christ crucified as
the revelation of the true God is something "wholly other" than The Man Upstairs, The
Great Architect, The Intelligent Designer, &c.

Sorry I won't be able to reply to any comments. I'm unsubscribing to go on
study leave - & in fact thought I'd already be off by now.
> George

George L. Murphy