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.
How can Paul say that people “suppress the truth” (verse 18) if they have never heard the truth? How can a just God exercise his wrath against people who have never opened a Bible and never heard the gospel?
Here Paul responds to these implied questions. His answer: God has sufficiently revealed himself in the world he has made to render everyone “without excuse.” By “invisible attributes,” Paul has reference to God’s omnipotence and intelligence as well as his tender care for his creatures. God’s “divine nature” is his deity.
Paul rejects, therefore, a common objection to biblical Christianity by unbelievers: “I cannot respect a God who would condemn people who have never heard of him.” Everyone who sees the artistry and functionality of this “house” our Creator fashioned for humanity should regard it as the handiwork of an intelligent and all-powerful Designer.God expects us to think and reflect
As we view a distant galaxy, a rose petal, or our own eyes in a mirror, we ought to use our God-given brain to ponder how they came to be. Paul’s choice of words makes this expectation clear, a point the ESV translation above somewhat obscures. ESV conflates two verbs with the phrase “have been clearly perceived.” Compare NASB: “have been clearly seen, being understood.” Everett Harrison says about Paul’s use of “understood” that God expects us not to stop with perception, but to reflect and draw a conclusion about the Creator. As Colin Kruse takes the verbs, people see first with their eyes what God has created and then consider its significance.
Indeed, how can anyone, believer or skeptic, exist in this world without contemplating how it came to be and what drives it forward with graceful precision and majestic power? One who pondered was David:
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.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
Charles Cranfield asserts that people “have in fact experienced Him—His wisdom, power, generosity—in every moment of their existence, though they have not recognized Him. It has been by Him that their lives have been sustained, enriched, bounded. In this limited sense they have known Him all their lives.”Ignorance a product of sin
Paul has placed the first brick in his systematic indictment of human sin with his reference in verse 18 to “all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” It is by their unrighteousness that people suppress the truth, he said. Later Paul will unfold the origin, nature, and extent of that sin, as well as the solution offered by the gospel. Here Paul specifies sin as the reason for people’s blindness. It’s important we grasp this point.
Failure to perceive God as the designer of creation is a product of a corrupt soul common to Adam’s race (see 5:12). Inherited, indwelling sin, not ignorance, is therefore the first cause for God’s condemnation of humanity. Put another way, ignorance of God is both symptom and consequence of the fact everyone inherits Adam’s sin and commits acts of sin. And this ignorance is in itself sinful and willful: people go out of their way to “suppress the truth.”
In our culture this suppression of truth is evident in the brain-shrouding fog of secular humanism. For folks curious to peer through the fog, here is a website to explore evidence for intelligent design: https://www.discovery.org/id/. My dear friend Doug Groothuis makes a philosophical and evidence-based argument for intelligent design in his classic book Christian Apologetics.Need for “special revelation”
Through “natural revelation”—Francis Bacon called it “the book of God’s Works”—God makes known his existence and justifies his condemnation of all people. But knowledge of God through nature, while sufficient to know of him, does not disclose his plan for salvation. For that, we need the “book of God’s Words”—the Holy Spirit-inspired “special revelation” of Scripture.
Only in the Bible do we learn of God’s saving power, love, and grace revealed in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We also learn that this Man, seated now at the right hand of the Father in heaven, both created and sustains all that is (Colossians 1:16, Hebrews 1:2–3).
People ought to glorify and give thanks to God for his work of creation. And instead of wanting to know more about God, they create idols and magnify their sin, as Paul will shortly expound.