This view is called “Sensus Divinitatis” and is described as the natural capacity for humans to perceive God.

I understand from this Wikipedia article on Sensus divinitatis that although the concept is primarily associated with the writings of John Calvin it is also found in the work of other Christians:

Roman Catholic theologian Karl Rahner proposed an innate sense of God, which has been noted to share elements in common with Calvin's Sensus Divinitatis.

Jonathan Edwards, the 18th-century American Calvinist preacher and theologian, claimed that while every human being has been granted the capacity to know God, successful use of these capacities requires an attitude of "true benevolence".

Please be aware this question is not about philosophy. The Wikipedia article presented what seemed to me to be a secular view but I have no interest in delving into a philosophical discussion. I am interested in finding out what a Christian perspective is, and what Calvin, Rahner and Edwards might have in common with regard to this subject. However, for my benefit, it needs to be kept simple! I only stumbled upon this subject yesterday and what I read in that Wikipedia article made my head spin.

The Apostle Paul seems to suggest that humans have an inherent capacity to perceive God:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20)

What other Bible verses expound on this idea?

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    Paul's statement is conclusive. Humanity is without excuse for God has 'shown' to us what may be known of him, by his creation. The Psalms spring to mind as supporting what Paul teaches.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 24, 2021 at 17:05

1 Answer 1


In the Catholic ‘Encyclopedia of Theoloy’ edited by Karl Rhaner, there is a three-and-a-half page article under ‘God’ called ‘II. Knowability of God’ written by Eberhard Simons. He cites three passages, namely, Romans 1:18-21, 2:14ff., and Wisdom 13:1ff. Wisdom is not reckoned to be part of Holy Scripture in Calvinistic circles. However, Simons explains that the Wisdom passage

“affirms that God may be known from the greatness and beauty of visible good things, as Lord of all creation. Men’s failure to acknowledge God as Lord of creation is understandable but inexcusable. Paul writes in the same vein in Rom. 1:18ff.” Page 564 (quoting those verses in full, as do you).

The third text Simons uses is Romans 2:14-15. It reads,

“Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them” (N.I.V. 1987 edition).

The point is made that the knowability of God

“is seen to be inseparable from that of the proof of the existence of God, but not identical with it. It has the prior task of defining the framework within which alone a rational proof of the existence of God can be possible.”

In all that is said there regarding biblical reasons, and if the Wisdom passage is as explained, all Calvinistic groups that I know of would agree. They, too, use that additional section of Romans 2:14-15 in conjunction with 1:18-20, so it’s hardly worth reiterating the same points they make. There is agreement that all humanity is accountable before God, their Maker, because there is no excuse for anyone claiming God is unknowable.

Then Simons makes an important point regarding the two Romans passages, with which Calvinistic groups would similarly agree. The way the conscience of pagans and their words of self-accusation or excuse testify to the law written in their hearts,

“according to which they act by nature, we have here a clear indication of the universal knowability of God. But the knowledge is hardly meant as theoretical and conceptual. It is to grow out of man’s conscience in his contact with the things of this world, which is a sort of medium through which it is obviously discernible. Being a practical and existential knowledge of God, it is not threatened by stupidity or deficiencies on the intellectual or rational level, but by the moral attitude, the refusal of truth, injustice. Whatever be the exact translation one adopts for these passages, one must be careful not to read into them philosophical principles which cannot be intended [emphasis mine]. The fact that they affirm that the godhead of God appears and is obvious through the medium of the created world need not be taken to mean an indirect knowledge of God through causality or deduction.”

My Presbyterian Line Manager rejoiced at pointing out to me, when we were at gatherings of the mentally handicapped under the care of the Church of Scotland social services we worked for, that many of the clients were believers in God. Occasionally, some would even speak, in their own simple words, of their faith in Christ. No philosophical points had ever come to bear on their stance. They had not been indoctrinated with any particular ‘type’ of religion; they simply believed in God and knew they could trust Jesus, and nobody ever pressed them into speaking of that. They were happy to volunteer uncomplicated expressions of faith. Indeed, a child-like faith is never to be sneered at, for “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise” (Psalm 8:2 as quoted by Jesus in Matthew 21:16). And Jesus added, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes” (Matthew 11:25).

As a Calvinist, I would add those three scriptures to the biblical basis for believing that some sense of God exists in humans, right from infancy.

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    There is an anecdote describing how Helen Keller (born blind, deaf, and mute) was presented with the Gospel after having painstakingly learned fingerspelling. Her response is said to have been, ""Oh yes, I know God, I just had forgotten his name," Jan 25, 2021 at 13:13

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