Do unbelievers ‘suppress the truth’?

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18 NKJV)

Reading this verse in Paul’s letter to the Romans and the surrounding context raises a question in my mind that I would like to briefly discuss. Is everyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus and the Gospel suppressing the truth?

I used to be an atheist, and the idea of God seemed silly to me, and even angered me. I thought that such belief was irrational and illogical. Saying that God exists seemed to be like saying fairies or unicorns exist, it was just crazy.

Was I suppressing the truth? I don’t feel I was because in all truth I hadn’t received a revelation of the reality of God. He was no more than a concept. I believe that we come to know about God’s existence when by His grace He chooses to reveal Himself. This is the only way we can believe.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8 NKJV)

It is perhaps a different thing to know God exists (because you have received a revelation) and still suppress the truth. That would be like lying to yourself. I don’t believe the majority of unbelievers are suppressing the truth in this way. It’s just that they are yet to receive a revelation of who God is. Surely, God is in control, and it is He who decides who knows Him.

What do you think? Are unbelievers suppressing the truth?

4 comments

  1. This is a tough one. If you walk in darkness and continue in that way because you do not know about light, and you cannot actively be suppressing your knowledge of the light. However, if you walk in darkness and choose to remain in darkness despite your knowledge of light, then you are simply choosing to disregard the truth, rather than suppressing it. Nothing about the light changes because the person refuses to walk in it. Likewise, I do not believe that God can be suppressed; rather, each of us must decide whether we are going to go obey Him or rebel against His righteous standards.

    However, in those circumstances when it seems like believers are being severely persecuted for their faith, something paradoxical happens: the gospel spreads, in spite of the persecution. So, even with humankind tries to “suppress the truth” in a heavy-handed way, the Good News continues to spread.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts which are helpful and add another dimension to my post as you talk about how the suppression of truth can be a corporate thing rather than just something that goes on in an individual.

  2. If you consider the world systems and practices that operate today by simply factoring God out (or discounting Him altogether) – athiesm, humanism, and the ever-growing culture of narcissism in our culture – you can see how suppression can happen corporately because some other thing, person, or idea is elevated to a higher plane relative to the Lord.

    Consider the “high places” in the Old Testament. Some folks only worshipped there – and forgot about God entirely – while others choose to worship there and to go to the temple, too. Neither way is right.

    Remember what Joshua said? “Choose this day whom you will serve.” That is the same opportunity that God gives each of us now. Our individual choices are tied and some respect to the values that the broader culture embraces, so we should keep our spiritual eyes open and ears attentive to what’s happening on both fronts.

  3. Steven, this is a good question. It pushes us to get at what Paul meant by what he said. I believe he meant what he said, but I’m not sure I understand what he meant (if that makes sense). It’s possible that, through the first three chapters of Romans, Paul is setting up an argument based on a point of view that human beings are naturally in a state of denial (what we would call it today). It sounds to me like Paul is describing what we call denial without using that word. He refers to something commonly called “natural revelation” in theological circles. In those circles, natural revelation is nearly universally considered to be insufficient for salvation (as you pointed out, salvation requires God’s activity). So, I think what Paul means is not that people are consciously suppressing truth for all, but in a state of denial about the evidence all around them for God’s existence.

    The comments made about “corporate suppression” are an excellent description of how this plays out in culture. In scholastic philosophical circles, belief in God was considered taboo, and professors couldn’t even get hired if they held any sort of theistic position. I think it’s a lot different now, but the “group”/”herd” mentality is strong, even within a community that considers itself “enlightened”.

    Natural revelation is thought to get someone as far as God’s existence (Romans 1:19-20). Once there, the work toward a relationship with Him can begin. That is where I believe you are spot on about salvation requiring the work of God. So, while what God reveals about Himself through His creation is evidence of His existence, I believe it falls short of the relationship with Him we call salvation.

    Thanks for the question!

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