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This is the third post in a series I’m doing on what it means to live in a “worded world” a world created, sustained, and governed by God’s speech. In the first post, I set out what I mean by the phrase “worded world.” In the second post, we looked at how the world is more than what it seems; it is always “speaking” about the God who spoke it. In this post, I argue that not seeing the world in this way is an act of self-deception. For more details, pick up your copy of The Speaking Trinity & His Worded World: Why Language Is at the Center of Everything.
It’s easy for some of us to say that there’s a “right” way to see things, especially in moral situations. When your kid gets bullied at school, you’re quick to claim injustice. That’s the “right” way to see it. But as we broaden our view of the world and simply take in the environment around us, is there a “right” way to look at it? Certainly, there’s not just one way to look at it; we have a plethora of perspectives on the world, which reflects the beautiful unity and diversity of God himself! But there is a “right” way to look at the world around us; there’s a biblical way to perceive all of reality. That biblical way is something I introduced in the previous post: we need to see every fiber and fleck of reality as revealing God.
And here’s the thing: We’re actually created to see the world this way. We were made to see the glory of God in the world around us because we have a God-given capacity for it. That capacity was built into us as image-bearers (Gen. 1:27). From the outset, from the moment we leave the womb, we are custom-made to see God everywhere and to and worship him. But that’s not our default response, is it? We don’t see God’s character and beauty revealed in the commonplace without a lot of hard work (for some examples, check out Finding God in the Ordinary). In fact, sometimes it takes effort just to see God reflected in the grandest landscapes: the vast horizon of the Atlantic, the depth of the Grand Canyon, the wild, ricocheting leaps of a white tail in a farmer’s field. Even for us as Christians, we struggle to see God being pointed to by every blade of grass.
For non-Christians, however, there’s even more trouble. Anyone who rejects God will find it nearly impossible to perceive the world as testifying to God’s character. But this is really an act of self-deception. Let me explain.
Cornelius Van Til and his followers have reminded us constantly that all people know God (Rom. 1:20). We are bound up in covenant with the Father, Son, and Spirit at our birth. And once we enter the world, it’s not merely a cold and impersonal environment in which we eek out our solitary and strange existence. It’s a God-world, a world in which we live and move and have our being in him (Acts 17:28). And to help us break through any impediments to that basic truth, God reveals his divine nature in everything that has been made (Rom. 1:19–20). In order to not see the world as God made it, we have to deceive ourselves. We have to live by whispering a lie to ourselves.
As Greg Bahnsen, one of Van Til’s students, once put it, unbelief—i.e., rejecting the testimony of God’s worded world and his written word—is an act of self-deception. It is “deception of the self, by the self, and for the sake of preserving one’s self-conception” (Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, p. 449). To disbelieve in God is to feign what we might call revelational illiteracy. In plain terms, it is to pretend that the world around us is not communicating about the one who has spoken it into being. But because God himself has told us in Scripture that he has spoken all things into being and upholds all things with the word of his power, we know that being illiterate in God’s linguistic world, a world that is everywhere revealing him, is impossible. Because we are created in God’s image and likeness, we have been created as naturally literate of God’s speech.
My apologetic point is that engaging with non-believers isn’t about telling them what they do not know; it’s about calling them to recognize the voice that they have been suppressing. It’s about calling their attention to the lie they’ve been whispering, perhaps without even noticing. It’s about calling them to hear and respond to the speaking Trinity, who is revealed all around them. In short, we must approach and engage with non-believers by first knowing that God is already speaking to them in the world around them. But they will not hear this speech until they receive God’s saving special revelation (the gospel) by the work of the Holy Spirit. The salvation of an unbeliever, we might say, is a language lesson given by God himself, in which the Spirit brings someone to profess the truth of Christ and find reconciliation with the Father. Being saved is really learning to speak a holy language.
We’re skilled at self-deception, my friends. We’re experts. Even Christians struggle to see the world as God would have them see it. How much deeper is the deception for those who reject God outright!
Today, find something around you and ask how it “speaks” about God, how it reveals his character. Remember, everything must reveal God. It must. So, if you find yourself or anyone else saying that something doesn’t reveal God, that is an act of self-deception, an attempt to live in God’s world while ignoring God’s ever-present speech.