Guest Editorial: Do We Have a Built-In Knowledge of God?
By Larry Clayton
While putting together a book of readings recently, I ran across some old questions that have occupied scholars, theologians, believers, and probably even atheists over the centuries. Do we have a built-in knowledge of good and evil, of right and wrong, of even the existence of God?
Teachings in Christianity are very clear in answering the questions: We do have an inborn knowledge of God. Or, put another way, our spiritual DNA does inform us all that there is a God. In Scripture the Apostle Paul clearly writes that all men have a built-in knowledge of God.
The key passages are in Paul’s letters to the Romans: “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. [ italics added] 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.” (Romans 1: 18-20, NIV) ”Indeed, when Gentiles [non-Christians], 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, [italics added] and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.” (Romans 2: 14-15) We need not dwell on the various commentaries, exegeses, apologetics, and other forms of explaining it all. For our purposes, the passage from Romans 1 indicates all men have a built-in knowledge of God, while the passage from Romans 2 indicates we all possess a knowledge of basic morality. In other words, you don’t have to be a Christian to believe in God, or believe that there is a right and wrong way to see and do things. It can get somewhat complex, especially as theologians tangle with the subject. The knowledge of good and evil, and of God, is categorized as “general revelation.” That is, given by God to all people. But Christians have received the message given to us by Jesus Christ which is called “special revelation.” General revelation is not sufficient for salvation. In the Bible, Christians have been given special information on sin, salvation, heaven, hell, the nature of God, the Trinity, the incarnation, death, redemption and so forth. As Christians with special revelation, we are enjoined by Jesus to go out and teach the rest of the world the knowledge of salvation. The Bible is the source of this knowledge. Evangelism, or teaching about Jesus Christ, his promises and doctrines, is the Great Commission. Now, leaving the bully pulpit, the argument made by Paul on knowledge of good and evil and right and wrong is -- unlike some Scripture -- clear. All humankind is born with a knowledge of good and evil, and even more explicitly, with a knowledge of God. Let me be as clear as possible in interpreting what Paul wrote. You don’t have to be a Christian to have this knowledge of good and evil. It is written on your heart and your very conscience will convict you when confronted with the choice to do right or not. That’s general revelation. From the beginning of time, God’s existence has been made plain to all since the existence of eternal power and a divine nature at work in the world, or God, is clear. Go out some cold night this winter, and look up into the cosmos, the sky, and see God’s presence. If you think it is all gas and masses colliding and separating, forming and disappearing, everything explained by the Big Bang and smart physicists, then ask yourself: How did it all come into being? And when you have the scientific answer, then ask yourself what preceded the creation of the cosmos, the universe? And if you are still curious and want to spend a few bucks, log on to amazon.com and buy a little book, "Cleared for Landing: On Living a Christian Life," and check out Chapter One, “Did Jesus Really Live? Did We Invent God, or Did God Invent Us?” The author will be most grateful for all royalties your curiosity may generate for his next trip to Publix. ## Larry Clayton is a retired University of Alabama history professor. Readers can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.