Do you understand yourself? Is there a purpose in your existence? Do you understand the universe? What does it all mean? Such questions as these are a pressing problem today. We live in a time whenas someone has well saidexperts know more and more about less and less. We have eye specialists. They know a lot about this one small part of the body. We have atomic scientists. They know a lot about the tiny building blocks of the universe. But what does it all add up to? Does anyone havenot just fragments of truthbut truth as a whole?
The answer given by many today is, quite simply, "No!" They say that we are too smalland the universe is too bigfor us to ever arrive at any final and absolute truth about the whole of reality. The reason for this will be explained presently. But the important thing to mention here is this: the Bible-believing Christian gives an opposite answer. He says, "Yes, it is possible to know the truth." It is possible because the Christian receives the truth from almighty God. God exists. He is infinite, eternal and unchangeable, and He knows all there is to know. There is no possibility that He will ever need to revise His interpretation of reality because of some new discovery. No, God already has all the data there is in his possession, and a correct interpretation of it. This presents no difficulty for Him, inasmuch as He created it all in the first place. But for us, the most important thing is the fact that he has revealed His truth to us so that we can know it too. This does not mean that we can ever know everything there is to know about the universeor even everything there is to know about any particular part of the universe. Only God has exhaustive knowledge of anything, and of everything. But when we submit to God's revelation to us we can know something about everythingand we can know what is really true.
To illustrate this, consider the diagram below (diagram 1). Here we representin a very simple wayGod, man and the universe. God created the universe. He also created man. In fact, God created man in his own image, so that man could think his thoughts after him. God revealed his glory to man through everything that he created as an environment for man. And then, in addition to this revelation through nature, He also spoke to man verbally (that is, by means of words). By this two-fold revelationby creation and by speaking words to manGod gave man what he needed in order to know the truth about God, about the universe, and about himself. Psalm 19 speaks of these two ways in which God revealed (and still reveals) his truth to man. He reveals himself by the works of art that he produces. He also reveals Himself through His words. This is possible for man alone among the creatures on earth because man was created in God's image."
Now if we go back to the book of Genesis we can see how this original situation enabled man to know truth. In Genesis 2:19-20 we read that Adam named the various living creatures when God brought them before him, and that "whatever the man called the living creature, that was its name" (v. 19). What this means is that Adam's words were true descriptions of these animals. Adam's words were "picture words." For example, an animal such as an elephant might be given a name such as "mighty" or "powerful." A bird such as a swan might be called "beautiful" or "graceful." We know, as a matter of fact, that words were used after this manner in the beginning because Adam's own name means "man" or even "mankind," and is an accurate description of this man because the whole human race is derived from him! The name Eve was also a true description. The word meant "life" or "source," because that is what Eve really was. This process of naming things correctly was possible because Adam's mind operated correctly. In his original sinless state he could accurately perceive the true nature of things created by God. But we must not fail to note that God also gave Adam a direct word revelation (Gen. 2:16-17). By this word revelation Adam received information not available to him from the study of nature. This information was about God's control of reality. He received a clear warning of the disastrous consequences which would follow if he failed to obey God's commandments. By sticking to God's wordand doing what God requiredAdam would remain wise and firmly rooted in the truth. By departing from God's wordand doing what was forbidden by GodAdam would lose possession of the truth.
We all know, of course, what Adam actually did. Genesis 3 tells us. And again, we want to represent thisin a simple wayin the diagram below (diagram 2). In this diagram we again represent God, man and the universe. But in this second "picture" we see how man set himself in opposition to God. Now it is quite clear that, in one sense, things remain much as before. Man is still living in the same universe, the universe created by God. Also, man himself can still be described as a being created in God's image. Yet, in another sense, everything is now quite different. It is different because man now denies the truth. He now pretends that there is no way to come to a knowledge of "the truth" except by the "trial and error method." Please note what it says in Genesis 3:6. "When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate it." What she was doing was simply this: she was thinking up her own list of possibilities. Or, to say the same thing in different words, she was seeking truth from within her own personality. She was, in effect, saying, "the only way to be sure about what will happenif I eat of the fruit of this treeis to try different things and find out for myself." And in this sin Adam willingly joined her!
This is what we mean when we speak of man's (pretended) autonomy. We mean that man has set himself up as the final source of truth. Starting from himselfdepending on his own resources (brains, research, and so on)he tries to work out his own conclusions. He endeavors to create his own interpretation of reality, and thus acts "as if" he himself is God. (But of course man is not God, and he can never attain to this false goal. That is why we call it a pretended autonomy.)
In the pages that follow we will try to show what has happened because of man's attempted autonomy. Here we simply want to make one important point: the two positions outlined above are the only two consistent positions that man can take. Every philosophy, and every religion, has to take one or the other of these two positions (or attempt to blend the two together). Only one of these is the right view, and it is the Christian position. This may sound like a bold statement, but it is true. Only Biblical Christians, today, understand the truth. The reason is quite simple. When Adam sinned and fell the whole human race sinned and fell with him (Rom. 5:12). This means that all menwith the sole exception of Jesus Christ (who is both human and divine)moved away from the situation shown in diagram 1 and into the situation shown in diagram 2. All men therefore operate on the basis of autonomy unless and until they are redeemed through the blood of Jesus. We say this with emphasis for the following reason: when man once moved from the original situation as shown in diagram #1, to the situation shown in diagram #2, there was no way that he could get back to the original situation by his own efforts. It is of the utmost importance to understand that this is true, and also why.
When man moved from theonomy (diagram 1) to autonomy (diagram 2) two things of momentous importance resulted. (1) The first was that God's wrath was aroused against man because of man's apostasy. We cannot deal with this point at great length just now. But we must note that God is absolutely holy. There is no way that God can just overlook sin. To do so would be a denial of his own holy nature. And the Bible plainly tells us that God cannot deny himself (2 Tim. 2:13). Therefore sin must be punished, and will be punished. There was no way that man could ever get back again to a happy and blessed relationship with God unlessand untilsomething was done about this problem. (2) The second thing that resulted was that there was now enmity against God in the heart of man which man himself could never remedy. This is one of the hardest things for us to accept. But the Bible clearly states that we areby naturedead in trespasses and sins. It uses this term "dead" because no other term teaches man's complete inability so clearly. It was impossible for usonce we became autonomousto bring ourselves back into humble submission to God. It is not hard to see why, becauseif we ever did humbly submit to God's revelation in the Biblewe would have to admit that we deserve eternal damnation. And that is the one thing we do not want to do so long as we are in our natural state.
In a later section we are going to see what God did about these two things. But what we want to emphasize here is the fact that there are only two consistent positionstheonomy or autonomy. We all live in the same universe but we live with radically different ideas about it. Some people prefer to think that the world was not createdthat it is just an accidentand that the only "truth" we can ever know is what we determine for ourselves. That is why so many people today will only say, "It's true for me." But there are other people who learn to think of the world as it really is. They are biblical Christians. They come to understand that the universe is created, and that real truthunchanging truthcan only come to man from God the creator. Our intention in the lessons that follow is to understand why our historic Christian faith is, indeed, the only solution.