What does it mean to "suppress the truth in unrighteousness"?

Question:

Good afternoon, Jeffrey.

I've been meaning to ask for a while now what it means to "suppress the truth in unrighteousness." It's something that gets said about atheists quite a bit. For the longest, in regards to Yahweh, I've thought it meant pretending He doesn't exist for the sake of being able to sin without the fear of judgment lingering in the back of the mind. On a recent episode of his Dogma Debate podcast, David Smalley had an illustration to counter the idea, with it being a teenager throwing a party while his parents were away. One of his friends tells him how upset his parents would be if they found out, and the boy laughs it off and acts like they don't exist.

I look forward to your input on this matter. Thanks.


Answer:

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them" (Romans 1:18-19).

To suppress translates the Greek word katechontôn, which means "to hold down." Of this phrase, A.T. Robertson said in Word Pictures in the New Testament: "Truth ... is out in the open, but wicked men, so to speak, put it in a box and sit on the lid and "hold it down in unrighteousness." Their evil deeds conceal the open truth of God from men." The same word is used in Luke 4:42, "Now when it was day, He departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowd sought Him and came to Him, and tried to keep Him from leaving them." Thus, the idea is to hinder others from recognizing the truth.

The truth that Paul had in mind was the evident truth of God, His existence and His nature. That truth is clearly available, but some are hindered from seeing it.

The means being used to cause this hindrance is their deeds of unrighteousness. Paul elaborates on it further as the chapter progresses.

"For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. ... For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator ... And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer ... and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them" (Romans 1:21,25,28,32).

Thus, sin is more appealing that admitting that God exists and that we must obey Him. Instead, God is replaced by idols that allow men to commit whatever sins they desire.

This does describe atheism because it goes to the heart of why people turn to a denial of God and the evidence of His existence -- if they did so, they would have to change the way they live. It explains why don't want religion and morality taught in schools -- if they did so, they would have admit they are accountable to those rules. It even explains why you can show people plain passages in the Bible that contradicts their beliefs and they can't grasp the passage's meaning. To these types of people, it is easier to deny the evidence than to change their lives.

"So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness" (Ephesians 4:17-19).