With Thanksgiving just a week away, thankfulness is something that has been on my mind a lot lately. In God’s providence, I have also been spending a lot of time in the early chapters of the book of Romans as well. As I was recently reading through the opening chapter again, I was struck by something that jumped off the page at me for the first time. As Paul begins laying out his case for the depravity of man and God’s subsequent wrath against him, Paul starts by stating that God has actually made the reality of His existence known through creation, yet man has willfully chosen to deny it:
“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. ” (Romans 1.18-20)
But the thing that gripped my heart as I continued reading was the following:
“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, …” (Romans 1.21a)
This begins a downward-spiral, which Paul goes on to describe in the remainder of this chapter, leading ultimately to the degradation of true religion and right morality in a society. However, it all begins with withholding honor and thanksgiving from God.
It is interesting to note that those whom Paul is describing in verse 21a are not staunch atheists. On the contrary, Paul describes them as those who “knew God.” So, those who ultimately rejected God and His self-revelation in creation began with at least some degree of knowledge about Him. [NOTE: In the context here, I do not think that Paul is using the term “knew” in a salvivic sense. Rather, he seems to be describing those referred to in the preceding verses who knew something of God through His self-revelation disclosed in creation (also known as “general revelation”), yet lacked the fuller revelation of the salvation offered through God, the Son, only fully disclosed in God’s Word (also known as “special revelation”).]