You Can Know God

Apologetics is often associated with the so-called proofs of God’s existence: ontological, cosmological, teleological—and already my head is spinning. But the quest to prove God has several problems. First, it ignores that all people already know God. Even animals can tell us that God created the world (Job 12:7­–10). Everyone knows God. Not everyone honors “him as God or gives thanks to him” (Rom. 1:21). Second, it risks confusing intellectual assent with faith. Saving knowledge of God is a heart-soul-strength-mind love for him (Luke 10:27). “Our knowledge of God can never be limited to that which is merely grasped cognitively or academically.”[1] Third, it wrongly makes human reason the conclusive factor. But creatures have no right to decide if there is a creator. When Job and his friends were judging God, they put themselves on the wrong side of the bench (Job 38:1–2; 40:1). Fourth, it underestimates humanity’s brokenness. Denying God gives way to futile thinking and darkened, foolish hearts (Rom. 1:21). Is such a person competent to judge God’s existence?

Christian apologetics is not responsible for proving God. Instead, it establishes “the existence of a God who is capable of being known by man and who has made himself known, not only in nature but in the revelations of his grace to lost sinners, documented in the Christian Scriptures.”[2] To do this, Christian apologetics relies on three primary truths that we must believe and make known to others.

God Is

That God exists needs not be proved. It is understood. Humans are hungry for God. We are restless for him. Whether we admit it or not, we were made to seek and find the God who is (Acts 17:27). And we know this. We sense divinity because we proceeded from the divine.  John Calvin taught that “There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity. This we take be beyond controversy” since “God himself has implanted in all men a certain understanding of his divine majesty.”[3] J.H. Bavinck concurred: “There is in man an ineradicable intuition that there exists a Higher Being, a God, and that this God is concerned about his life… . Life continues to be… a dialogue with the mysterious Unknown, whose existence we can deny, but whom we can never wholly banish and expel from our thoughts.”[4]

Some people “deny that God exists, yet willy-nilly they from time to time feel an inkling of what they desire not to believe.”[5] Atheists establish God’s reality by venomously opposing the God they claim doesn’t exist. To borrow from Shakespeare, they protest too much. Only a fool denies the existence of God (Ps. 14:1). Only where such fools coercively challenged the corporate sense of divinity do we find any significant population that denies God.

Atheists want theists to bear the burden of proving God. But the existence of the Triune being who has created the world and still governs and preserves it doesn’t have to be proved. The onus rests on those arguing against God’s existence. But given human limitations, critics can never finish their search for the God they say does not exist.

The Bible “presupposes the existence of God in its very opening statement” and declares who he is and what he has done.[6] Paul seized on the Athenians’ sense of God to proclaim to them what they knew only vaguely (Acts 17:23). The confessions and catechisms of the Reformation acknowledge and announce the God who is. “We all believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that there is a single and simple spiritual being, whom we call God.”[7]

But even if God is, and even if we can sense the existence of a deity, can he be truly known?

God Can Be Known

Knowing God is the most basic of all truths. “And without faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6). God is. And we can know enough about him to believe that he blesses faith.

God is knowable by people because we are made in his image. "Our existence and our meaning…"

"…are derived from God. We are already fully interpreted before we come into existence. …We could not have existence and meaning apart from the existence and meaning of God. All this is the road from God to us. But surely we can get back to God by the road that he has used to create us."[8]

Divine image-bearing “makes man like God and assures true knowledge of God. We are known of him and therefore we know him and know that we know him.”[9] This is Paul’s approach in Acts 17. God isn’t far from us. We have life in him. We are his offspring (27–28).

Both atheists (who say there is no God) and agnostics (who say they cannot know) are guilty of ignoring, suppressing, and misconstruing God’s plain revelation. To paraphrase Romans 9:20, will what is molded say to its molder, “You don’t exist”? This is not to say that we can fully and exhaustively comprehend God (Rom. 11:33). If we could know God as he knows himself, there would be no distinction between us and him. “We see in a mirror dimly” (1 Cor. 13:12). Failing to accept this truth is the tragedy of unbelief: humanity’s imperfect knowledge of God is judged deficient. But “Man in his self-judgment and opinion can never arrive at the full objective truth… to form a just opinion, man should disengage himself from all his speculations and contemplations, and be willing to listen to God.”[10] Faith is an eagerness to hear and believe everything God says.

Still, we should be sensitive to the frustrations of those whose sense of God is weak, especially in times of crisis, those “Where was God when…” moments. Consider Psalm 13: “Long enough, God—you’ve ignored me long enough. …Long enough I’ve carried this ton of trouble, lived with a stomach full of pain.” (1–2 MSG). We feel that. God and his providence are mysterious. But the psalm ends like this: “But I have trusted in your steadfast love” (5). God’s ways are mysterious, but we shouldn’t doubt that they are good.

Being like God, “our knowledge is true.” Being unlike God. “our knowledge can never be comprehensive.”[11]

God Has Made Himself Known

The God who is and who can be known by his image-bearers makes himself known in three ways.

First, God makes himself known in creation. Every element of the world reveals God and his will to us. “The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the people see his glory” (Ps. 97:6). Zacharias Ursinus identifies ten ways this is so. God reveals himself (1) through natural order and harmony, (2) through the rational natures we have inherited from him, (3) through a more-or-less common sense of morality, (4) through our sense of divinity, (5) through the gift of consciences, (6) through judgments against sin, (7) through the possibility of organized civil governments, (8) through “heroic enthusiasm” worked by God’s Spirit (Deut. 31:8; Ezra 1:1; Jud. 14:19), (9) through the fulfilment of predicted future events, and (10) through the inherent purpose and “workability” of creation.[12] Every person “who is overwhelmed in beholding the mighty wonder in God’s creation, irresistibly … feels himself forced to confess that there must be Something, that there must be One out of whom all that splendor came into being. And that One, whom we call God, we meet in the immensity of nature”[13] (Ps. 19:1; Rom. 1:18–21).

Second, God makes himself known in the Bible. Scripture is a lot of things, but mostly it is divine autobiography. Sadly, not everyone sees God in Scripture; some see only an ancient religious text. But “when we truly believe in Christ, we recognize our deep dependence on the Word of God as uncontestable wisdom and truth.”[14] When Jesus speaks in the Bible, “the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:4).

Third, God make himself known in Christ. Apart from Christ, God is not unknown. But he is terrible. He is our enemy. We are rebels who, like the rulers in Psalm 2, “Take counsel against the Lord and against his anointed” (2). By nature we don’t see God as he truly is. Only “Through the lantern of Christ’s humanity we may behold the light of the Deity. Christ being incarnate makes the sight of the Deity not formidable but delightful to us.”[15] Christ “rescues us from spiritual darkness and terror of God.”[16] You can’t prove God as he is to someone who can only misperceive his beauty. In C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew, Uncle Andrew can’t recognize Aslan’s song as singing. Lewis explains: “What you see and what you hear … depends on what sort of person you are;” what type of a person Christ has remade you to be.[17]

This is not to deny that “Faith is a rational response to the evidence of God’s self-revelation in nature, human history, the Scriptures and his resurrected Son.”[18] But Abraham Kuyper was right to say that “The attempt to prove God’s existence is either useless or unsuccessful.”[19] It is unnecessary for those who already believe and impossible for those who do not yet believe.

Apologetics isn’t about proving God, but proclaiming the God who can be truly known.[20] And declaring God always succeeds in achieving God’s purpose (2 Cor. 2:14–17).

Read the previous post in this series here.

William Boekestein is pastor of Immanuel Fellowship Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Related Links

Podcast: "Reforming Apologetics"

"Nature and Apologetics" by Arthur Hunt

"Covenantal Apologetics," review by Stephen Myers

"Reforming Apologetics," review by Ryan McGraw

Defending the Faith by Gabriel Fluhrer

C.S. Lewis: Apologetics for a Postmodern World by Andrew Hoffecker


[1] Mark Jones, God Is: A Devotional Guide to the Attributes of God (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2017), 16.

[2] Warfield, “Apologetics.”

[3] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Library of Christian Classics, vol. 20 (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), 1.3.1.

[4] J.H. Bavinck, Faith and Its Difficulties (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), 15, 17.

[5] Calvin, Institutes, 1.3.2.

[6] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939), 21.

[7] The Belgic Confession of Faith, art. 1.

[8] Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Philadelphia: P&R, 1976), 40. Italics added.

[9] Van Til, Defense, 40.

[10] J. H. Bavinck, Faith and Its Difficulties, 44.

[11] Van Til, Defense, 41.

[12] Zacharias Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism (Phillipsburg, NJ.: P&R, nd.), 121–123.

[13] J. H. Bavinck, Faith and Its Difficulties, 10.

[14] Pratt, Every Thought Captive, 38.

[15] Thomas Watson, Body of Divinity (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1970), 194.

[16] Mark Jones, God Is, 17.

[17] Kruger, Surviving Religion 101, 43.

[18] W. Bingham Hunter, cited in Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 11.

[19] Cited in Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 21.

[20] Warfield, “Apologetics.”