Knowing God in Two Senses
The difficulty with respect to the natural man’s knowledge of God may be somewhat alleviated if we remember that there are two senses in which we may speak of his having knowledge. The natural man has knowledge, true knowledge of God, in the sense that God through nature and man’s own consciousness impresses his presence on man’s attention. So definitely and inescapably has he done this and that, try as he may, man cannot escape knowing God. It is this point that Paul stresses in the first two chapters of Romans 1. Man has the sense of deity indelibly engraved upon him. He knows God and he knows himself and the world as God’s creation. This is objective revelation to him. Even to the extent that this revelation is in man, in his own constitution, and as such may be called “subjective” it is none the less objective to him as an ethically responsible creature, and he is bound to react as an ethical person to this objective revelation.
But it is this objective revelation both about and within him that the natural man seeks to suppress. Having made alliance with Satan, man makes a grand monistic assumption. Not merely in his conclusion but as well in his method and starting point he takes for granted his own ultimacy. To the extent that he works according to this monistic assumption he misinterprets all things, flowers no less than God. Fortunately the natural man is never fully consistent while in this life. As the Christian sins against his will, so the natural man “sins against” his own essentially Satanic principle. As the Christian has the incubus of his “old man” weighing him down and therefore keeping him from realizing the “life of Christ” within him, so the natural man has the incubus of the sense of deity weighing him down and keeping him from realizing the life of Satan within him.
The actual situation is therefore always a mixture of truth with error. Being “without God in the world” the natural man yet knows God, and, in spite of himself, to some extent recognizes God. By virtue of their creation in God’s image, by virtue of the ineradicable sense of deity within them and by virtue of God’s restraining general grace, those who hate God, yet in a restricted sense know God, and do good.
Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology, 65.