An Inward Sense of the Divine

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If you were to speak to a committed Christian on the street and ask them for the reason for the hope that is within them, any number of responses might be given. Perhaps you may find some that have studied the philosophy of belief, and have examined the rational arguments for belief in the God of Christianity. (Indeed, the physical evidence of the sciences is overwhelmingly stacked in favor of Christianity). You may also discover a handful of Christians who, having exhausted all intellectual pursuits of every other worldview, came to the conclusion that Christianity is intellectually satisfying far above and beyond every other option. I know testimonies of brilliant minds just like these.

Most average Christians in the pew however, when asked why they believe Christianity to be true, will not immediately fall back on logical evidences that appeal to scientific inquiry. Most Christians will likely say that, having interacted with the Scriptures, and having engaged with the Church, and having gotten alone with God, there was some kind of inner sense awakened within them that the message of the Bible must be true. The were drawn to Christianity by a force they could not fully rationalize or explain. For some it happened slowly over a long period of time as their hearts were slowly pried open to believe the Gospel. For others, it was a sudden onslaught of belief that overwhelmed them like a tidal wave. For both, their faith was primarily built, not on deductive evidences of logic, but on an inner sense of God. The great reformer John Calvin called this inward sense, this hum of the soul, the Sense of the Divine.

In our modern rationalistic world that claims to cherish the scientific method to validate all claims of truth, many modern Christians are tempted to feel inadequate or fearful for relying on something like a ‘sense of God’ rather than logical proofs for God. They may even have a fear and a lack of assurance about their faith, fearing that one day some smart atheist is going to present a piece of evidence that causes their entire faith to tumble like a house of cards. Is the simple Christian, who relies on this inner sense, foolish? Ought we be more intellectual about this whole thing?

Well, yes and no. The great news is that for those that desire the logic and the proof and the evidence, it is all around us. The scientific and philosophical evidences in support of Christianity and the biblical worldview are overwhelming. It takes more faith to believe that Christianity is not true, rather than that it is true, based on the evidence available. Were there such a thing as an open minded atheist, one need only study the evidences to know the Bible is true. But, the average Christian is no less a place of strength if they never learn these evidences.The great Reformer John Calvin wrote about what he called the Sensus Divinitatis. Calvin describes this ‘divine sense’ as follows

“That there exists in the human mind and indeed by natural instinct, som sense of deity [sensus divinitatis], we hold to be beyond dispute, since God himself, to prevent man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of his Godhead… This is not a doctrine which is first learned at school, but one as to which every man is, from the womb, his own master; one which nature herself allows no individual to forget.”

John Calvin

For Calvin there exists inside every human being a sixth sense of sorts, an implanted compass within the human soul that points our hearts and minds towards our creator. The Apostle Paul relays this idea in Romans 1 when he says,

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse."
(Romans 1:18- 20). 

Paul speaks of a natural inclination of the heart within every human being that “clearly perceives” the qualities of God within the created universe. The idea is that all one has to do is look up at the starry night sky, or look out at a tree covered in the intricacy of green leaves and chirping birds, or even more simply look on the face of another human being, and if that person is willing to be honest with their inner sense, they would be forced to admit that indeed the heart senses and perhaps even yearns for the personal God who reigns over all creation. This inner sense, is what Calvin called the sensus divinitatis. It is not that our experience of our creation such as seeing a starry night sky, creates this sense of the divine within us. Rather, the sense of the divine is always within, yet is often triggered and pulled to the forefront of our hearts and minds through examining God’s beauty in His creation.

In the above passage when Paul says that humanity has “suppressed the truth,” he is speaking of the consequences of sin in a fallen world. While every human being has this trinity-compass (sensus divinitatis), sin has had such an effect both on the heart and on the mind, that our default posture is to rebel against that inner sense, to deny its existence and in so doing to deny God. In other words, from a Biblical perspective, when an Atheist looks at a starry night sky and says with full confidence, “There is no God,” that Atheist may truly feel in that moment that he is speaking rationally and honestly, but he is in fact going against his deepest inner sense of what is true and what it means to be truly human. The trinity-compass within, broken as it may be by sin’s effects, still maintains enough function to leave the atheist with the nagging sensation that he has built his life on a foundation of lies. His worldview is the house of cards, not the Christian’s.

All people know that God exists, though not all people will acknowledge that they know him. Their primal sin is their refusal to honor God as God by refusing to acknowledge what they know to be true. People’s ignorance about God’s existence is willful and therefore sinful ignorance.

RC Sproul, The Consequences of Ideas, 59-60

So, Christian, do not be ashamed if you don’t feel you are well equipped with rational defenses for why you believe what you believe. Your heart rings for Jesus, and that ringing is part of your humanity. Own it. If someone asks you why believe, you can confidently tell them the truth. “I might not know all the fancy arguments for God, but this much I do know, my heart overwhelmingly beats for Jesus. I can’t explain it perfectly. I can’t rationalize it in a way that will satisfy you. But I believe it, and I’m building my life upon it.

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