Reflecting on Romans 1:18-20 and wondering if anyone would be willing to share their personal experiences with this truth…
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
I was introduced to the Gospel as a very young child and honestly cannot remember a time in my life where I was not walking with God. Of course I have had periods of wandering and struggle, but even in those times I have believed in God, wanted to struggle my way back and known He is with me. With this in mind, I have often read the above passage and wondered what others’ experience of this truth has been. When I look around at the unbelieving people in my life I sometimes struggle to see that they are “without excuse”.
To anyone who met God later in life, would you be willing to share your experience of this truth? Did you feel that you were suppressing the truth? That God was plain to you? That you were without excuse before you confessed faith?
I appreciate your question, @Julia_Bracewell. Indeed, the experiential relevance of God’s Word is one aspect, which could help us appreciate further God’s truth. I’m personally not sure how I would start in sharing about this passage, but here is my attempt. I do hope that this would somehow help.
It’s said in Romans 1:18,
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness,”
We can see in this passage, that the problem of evil is not because of ignorance, but it’s because of the problem of our hearts. We “suppress the truth” by our wickedness. Historically, we could see this in very smart people who had done very evil things (those who tried to apply the communist experiment). Atheists cannot make the excuse that they did not believe because of a lack of evidence, because God has made the truth plain through His creation (like the phenomenon of why the cosmos is reasonable). And He has sent people who has proclaimed the gospel to all people, and even provided evidence for the faith.
In my own experience, I followed the evidence where it led me when God was drawing me to salvation. So I’m not sure if I could give an example specific to my own life. But I had observations based from other people which may answer your question, which I really witnessed with my eyes. One example is that I know someone who had fallen away from the faith. This person became a homosexual. Though it’s clear in Scripture that the Bible is against it, he always has a way to rationalize it and also twist the Scripture. I had other experiences like this as well, where people cite Scripture out of context in order to justify their unbiblical practices. Another example I remember is a person I knew was trying to justify partying and being drunk by saying that Jesus turned water into wine. I discussed with a co-worker before who had an arbitrary standard of not accepting Christianity because of gender roles, even if he was not able to give a satisfying alternative when I was able to answer how it was not misogynistic. He just discounted the evidence without engaging and giving his burden of proof. I was able to share the gospel to him as well. I believe he is not without excuse.
You can see this as well in debates regarding the LGBT, where even the most loving and gentle apologists are accused as being bigoted and unloving. Even a Jewish Christian apologist was accused as being a Nazi! You see this too when you try to engage with someone in a discussion and they attack you, instead of addressing the argument. Or when you meet someone who confessed that they believe that Christianity is true, but they still won’t repent and trust in Christ, because they won’t be able to do their favorite sin anymore.
@Julia_Bracewell That is a great question! Like you, I grew up in the Church and have believed in Christ since I was only a small child. So I am not necessarily qualified to share a personal story as an unbeliever being aware of suppressing truth. However, I think there are a few things I can share that have helped me process this claim.
The Unclear Nature of the Conviction
If we look at Romans 2, it is clear that while the Gentiles have some knowledge of God’s law, it is out of focus. But they will only be judged by the knowledge they possess. In addition (see my next point), if this knowledge is already suppressed then they have made themselves incapable of being aware of it.
Romans 2 - (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.
The analogy of Plato’s Cave. While Plato used this analogy for a different purpose, I think there is some applicability here. Romans talks about how we are slaves to sin and that the things of God are spiritually discerned. So in some sense God’s presence mediates coming out of slavery and into the Light of Christ.
Consider this quote from Lewis in The Magician’s Nephew:
When the Lion had first begun singing, long ago when it was still quite dark, he had realized that the noise was a song. And he disliked the song very much. It made him think and feel things he did not want to think and feel. Then, when the sun rose and he saw that the singer was a lion he tried his hardest to make believe that it wasn’t singing and never had been singing - only roaring as any lion might in a zoo in our own world…And the longer and more beautiful the Lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring…He soon did hear nothing but roaring in Aslan’s song. Soon he couldn’t have heard anything else even if he had wanted to. And when at last the Lion spoke and said, “Narnia awake,” he didn’t hear any words: he heard only a snarl.
The Nature of the Lie
If we go back to Genesis 3, we see that satan or ‘the deceiver’, the father of lies, has always used a particular strategy. And once you are actively living in stage 4, you have suppressed the knowledge of God through sin. So an unbeliever living at stage 4 will not admit to either God’s existence or His law - they are deceived by sin. Only when God Himself came into the garden were they capable of begin to return to reality as opposed to the false reality offered by the serpent.
1 - Question God’s existence / whether God really said - “Did God really say?”
2 - Expand the prohibition - “Did God really say you cannot eat from any tree in the Garden?”
3 - Deny the consequences and make God the enemy - “You will not surely die - God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened”
4 - Point to the pleasure of sin - “Look at the fruit of the tree…”
Someone living in sin is living in a false reality and so it is a process of being in God’s presence and Word that slowly restores their view. Like when Jesus washed the blind man’s eyes with mud once and he saw the world as a blur and then Jesus washed them again and he saw clearly, so it can take time for someone living in the false reality of sin to realize that they have been deceived.
In ‘The Silver Chair’, we see that Prince Caspian has been put under a spell by the evil queen - imprisoned in a false underworld reality. Having first given you fair warning of the outdated graphics, here is a clip from the classic BBC version of the marshwiggle Puddleglum breaking the spell.
Lewis’ retelling of this ancient myth struck me powerfully when I first read it because it illustrates well the human capacity to deceive ourselves regarding our knowledge of the divine. The book does not directly address your question, but for me at least was a stark reminder of the knowledge that is possessed and yet suppressed. Some quotes are below.
“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.”
“When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”
“I ended my first book with the words ‘no answer.’ I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice? Only words, words; to be led out to battle against other words.”
I have some more thoughts, but I’ll start with those. Feel free to push back or go deeper. The Lord Jesus give you wisdom as you study and provide some helpful testimonies along these lines.
I started going to church at the age of 10 but gave my life to the Lord only when I was about 20. I can say for a fact that I was suppressing the truth for ten years. That though I heard from Gods word over and over again, I refused to reflect and let it sink in. I knew that being a Christian meant that I might have to give up some things that i enjoyed doing and so stayed away from it.
But what amazed me though was that God could break my stubborn heart. Through the experiences of my life He brought me to a point where I saw Jesus for who He was. And so yes from my personal journey I can truly say that I refused to open myself to that still small voice that beckoned me over and over again. That His invisible attributes stared me in the face but I chose to look aside. We definitely are without excuse.
@SeanO and @Julia_Bracewell, Great question and insights! Yes I can certainly add more details on how I have suppressed the truth or have seen the truth being suppressed by others in my own life.
Rom 1:18-20 is mainly about suppressing the truth of God revealed through His Creation in wickedness. As you know idol worship and worship of creation is common in the pantheistic belief system such as Hinduism. Pantheism is the doctrine that says `God is in everything’ rather than being distinct from His creation. God is said to manifest himself in an impersonal way in creation and in a personal way through avataars. The suppressed forms of truth are ingrained from childhood through religion and the wickedness is not evident always. When I grew up standing prayerfully before objects of worship before being introduced to Christianity, my mind often wondered with questions like, " Why do these gods look so different from us humans? Does this object of worship even know what I am going through? What is the point of all the food being offered to idols that is being washed into the drains? " For many years I didnt pursue my questions as I didnt know any better but when I was introduced to the gospel, those questions prepared my heart to be willing to listen to another point of view. That however is not the case with others who have preconceived prejudices against Christianity for various reasons and are close-minded. Good reasons such as strong faith in authority figures and pride in cultural heritage are often the obstacles. Even good appears as evil with close-mindedness leading to suppression of truth and stigmatization of Christians and their views. I interpret the ‘wickedness’ in this verse as the fallen state of man that longs for security in man’s methods and a faith that is based on something visible and measurable like worship of creation rather than faith in the invisible Creator who is Spirit. Fortunately, when I was first introduced to the Bible, it was at a time of emotional need and I experienced prayers answered in a supernatural way. As a result I did not really see myself suppressing the truth in the early years of my Christian journey. I may have asked genuine questions about Christianity but did not suppress the truth or its claims. I think I am guilty of suppressing the truth after becoming a Christian albeit passively, as I began trusting my own reasoning based on arguments of skeptics rather than Biblical scholars and my spiritual walk became weak.
When it comes to how I have seen others suppress the truth, I am most hurt and concerned when I see the truths about Jesus systematically misrepresented and suppressed by religious teachers. Some of the ways I have seen it done is by:
Misinterpreting biblical texts out of context
Propogating poor research as good evidence to suit false claims. Ex. Jesus learnt from Hindu gurus or Jesus tomb is in India.
Misrepresenting Christians who believe Jesus as the only way as being narrow minded and living in a mode of ignorance.
Amalgamating Christian views into their own theology. Ex. Equating Holy Spirit with universal life force.
Misrepresenting the humanity of Jesus as a weakness.
Teaching active disassociation from true Christians so as not to be influenced by Christian ideologies.
May God give us wisdom to know how to bring the suppression of truth to light.
I know you were looking for more of a testimonial type response on your topic but as I have read thought it I felt that this link to an older thread might offer you some additional food for thought.
I gave my life to Christ at the age of 26. Until that point I lived just as everybody else in the world…well, I practiced new-age magic and also taught it, but that’s another story.
So yes, I can give you my experience of this. My grandmother was the only real christian in our family and she told me about god and his love for people. That’s what I learned at a very young age. I abandoned my belief at age 12 due to a variety of reasons. In retrospect, I was never a real christian in the sense that I gave my life to christ. You can be part of the state chruch in Germany without ever hearing about that.
So my life went on. I got involved into hinduism and new age at 16 until I gave my life to Christ at 26. During that time and after studying and practicing different religions, I came to the conclusion that christians are the last group of people to know anything about god. If I had to make a list of religions with access to god’s truth, Islam would be at the very bottom, followed by Christianity.
In retrospect, I never gave the bible a real chance. My picture of Christianity was formed by the state church and by the people that were involved. I saw pastors get drunk and flirt with 16-year old girls, gossip, burned out people. I once opened the bible randomly and read some passages of the old testament. “Crazy stuff…” I thought and put the book back into my shelf. I thought of myself as a truth seeker, but I never really read the bible. I freed myself of what I thought was Christianity and it felt great, until I encountered god again.
So yes, I did surpress the truth. I gave every major religion a real chance, except Christianity. Nobody on earth could convince me that this stuff was true. It was only when I challanged god to reveal himself and his truth that I accepted what was prestend and gave it a second thought, which eventually led to my conversion.
The people I’ve met in this time had the same anti-christian reflex I had. Everything labeled “Christian” is being ignored and pushed down. Sometimes they even see the work of god first hand and still try to explain it away or find alternative answers (especially new-age people).
Thank you for your reply. I like the examples you gave. I can definitely see people in my life who are excusing away things that are true simply to fit their own desires and wills. You’re right that often you can give someone a very logical reasoning for why you believe something to be wrong, but they will suppress what they know deep down to be true so they can continue in their sin. They will do this even when they can’t give you a logical reason for why they are making their choice! It definitely comes to down to sin and wanting to do what we want.
This was all extremely helpful! Thank you so much Sean. Really clears things up.
I remember the allegory of the cave from first year Philosophy back in University. Thanks for the reminder!
I also appreciate that you used Till We Have Faces, this is my favourite book, I’ve read it quite a few times but hadn’t thought of it in relation to this question. Yes, we are very good at deceiving ourselves, especially when it comes to deceiving ourselves to increase our ability to get away with sin. I’ve seen this pattern in my own life (why I like the book so much) so I maybe can see how someone could do this in relation to a belief in God. So this helps me understand. People suppress the truth because they want to keep sinning. The deeper it goes, the less the suppression becomes conscious.
“Even good appears as evil with close-mindedness leading to suppression of truth and stigmatization of Christians and their views. I interpret the ‘wickedness’ in this verse as the fallen state of man that longs for security in man’s methods and a faith that is based on something visible and measurable like worship of creation rather than faith in the invisible Creator who is Spirit.”
Yes! Thank you so much for your insight and reply. This was helpful.
Albert, thank you so much for sharing your story. It really helps me understand this passage! Right now I’m reading the Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis. What you are saying about everything labeled Christian being ignored or pushed down reminds me of the book. One part talks about Satan working hard to make Christianity look old-fashioned, boring or irritating to others. I think in this day and age he has worked hard to make Christianity lookg hateful and out-dated and bigotted and bad. Thus, people will write it off without ever knowing a single true thing about it! I am glad to hear God gave you the desire to seek Him and remain open minded despite your previous suppression! I’m also so glad He gave you your grandmother. Praise God for seeking you and adopting you into His family.
@Julia_Bracewell Sure thing - I think it is exciting / fun to integrate all of the material / ideas we have been exposed to and see how they relate to the topic at hand. Often brings fresh perspectives or ‘aha’ moments. I also really like Till We Have Faces - a bit esoteric in places - but very profound in others.