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Romans 1:18-25 ESV
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 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. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
Acts 17:22-31 ESV
22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ 29 Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

These two passages seem to present different perspectives on the visibility of God to humanity. In Romans 1:18-25, it is emphasized that the wrath of God is revealed against ungodliness and unrighteousness, and that what can be known about God is plain to all because God has shown it to them. The passage further asserts that God's invisible attributes, such as eternal power and divine nature, are clearly perceived through creation, leaving humanity without excuse for their actions.

However, in Acts 17:22-31, the Apostle Paul, addressing the men of Athens, acknowledges their religious inclinations and encounters an altar dedicated to the "unknown god." In this context, Paul proclaims that the God who made the world is not far from each one of us, emphasizing that humans should seek God, feel their way toward Him, and find Him. This seems to suggest a more elusive or hidden aspect of God that requires active seeking.

This apparent paradox raises questions about the nature of God's revelation to humanity. How can God be both evident to all through creation, as stated in Romans, and yet simultaneously require active seeking, as suggested in Acts? Are these passages compatible, or do they represent different theological perspectives?

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The key to apparent paradox so ably pointed out by the OP is found in several OT passages:

  • Deut 4:29 - But if from there you will seek the LORD your God, you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul.
  • Jer 29:13 - You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.
  • Ps 119:10 - With all my heart I have sought You; do not let me stray from Your commandments.
  • 1 Chron 28:9 - As for you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve Him wholeheartedly and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands the intent of every thought. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever.
  • 2 Chron 15:2 - So he went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The LORD is with you when you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you, but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you.

The "search" for the true God of heaven cannot be a "half-hearted" search - it must be earnest and determined.

Ezekiel records some people in his time that did not engage in such an earnest seeking for God when he said:

Eze 33:31 - So My people come to you as usual, sit before you, and hear your words; but they do not put them into practice. Although they express love with their mouths, their hearts pursue dishonest gain.

It has been often observed that the fingerprints of God are all around us if we would take the time to notice; but most ignore them or choose not to see them. This is the essence of Paul's comment in Rom 1:18-22 and Acts 17:27.

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Romans 1:19 – 3:20 is a dialogue of Paul and a stereotypical Torah keeping, believing Jew (Judaizer). As an introduction to this section of the text, he says in the verse 18:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

The same phrase appears in 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16, where the apostle talks about the Judaizers:

For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!

Paul uses the Socratic method to show how ridiculous and oversimplified was the Jewish view of the gentiles. If the pagans could learn about God from His creation, why would they need the Torah (the law of Moses) that the Judaizers were forcing upon them at all?

Romans 1:19-32 describes how all gentiles were seen by the Jews. It is also a hyperlink to The Book of Wisdom (the Wisdom of Solomon), chapters 13 and 14. That is the thesis. Paul refutes that false opinion in the next chapter. If the Judaizers agree that God has written His law (the law of the Spirit) on the hearts of the gentiles, why do they force them to keep the letter of the law? He also uses some well known event, where some Jews seduced a Roman matron and stole her money, which she intended to donate to the temple in Jerusalem. Can the same generalisation work the other way? Is it reasonable to say that all the Jews are thieves and adulterers now?

He concludes exactly the same way as he started. Salvation comes through faith alone.

Romans 1:16-17 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith (faithfulness of Jesus Christ even unto death) for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Romans 3:21-26 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

In Acts 17:27 Paul talks plainly about the state of humanity before the gospel. People were spiritually blind and could find God only by chance. By which he means they could not. After eating from the tree of knowledge, human perception of God was distorted and influenced by the evil one. Both the Jews and the pagans saw the deity as an unpredictable and capricious. One had to please God/gods to have Him/them on his/hers side. The incarnation of Jesus and His sacrificial death on the cross revealed to everyone the true character of God and His love for us.

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