I’ve heard it, once believed it, even said it, and maybe you have too: “Everyone is seeking God–only not everyone finds Him.” A few years ago, my belief altered through a study in Romans. The particular verse in mind is Romans 3:11: “There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.” Doesn’t that seem counterintuitive? I mean, there are so many religions. How can those be explained? Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, not to mention plenty of sects and cults. It sure looks like people are seeking God…right? Let’s answer the question from another angle.
Mankind’s wickedness is expressed by suppressing the truth of God (Rom 1:18), failing to thank Him and glorify Him (1:21), exchanging God’s glory for images and idols (1:23), and worshiping created things (1:25). Scripture is clear that sinners have a depraved mind (1:28). If we draw these verses together, one of Paul’s points would surely be this: mankind has rejected God and His truth, preferring their own idols and sins.
Before we answer the question (“How can all religions be explained if people are not seeking God?”), one other piece of the puzzle is necessary. Since Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6), being an adherent in Islam or Buddhism, for example, will not result in the discovery of authentic truth and divine revelation. Those paths deviate from the truth. So, Paul says, all mankind has “turned away” (Rom 3:12) and “no one seeks God” (3:11).
Here’s how the Bible portrays other religions and faiths. The multiplicity of religions are not demonstrations that people are seeking for God and His truth–they are demonstrations that people are rejecting God’s truth for a lie. You cannot seek God and reject God at the same time. Other religions are manifestations of mankind’s rejection of God. They did not want His truth. They suppressed what was evident about God in nature, and they are without excuse (Rom 1:19-20).
The reason there are so many religions is not because everyone is seeking God. Paul says “no one seeks God” (Rom 3:11). The reason there are so many religions is because sinners are rejecting God. The multiplicity of religions is no proof that people are desperate for God; instead, it proves that people are depraved in sin. Paul says in Romans 3:18 that “there is no fear of God before their eyes,” meaning that their outlook of the world does not originate from reverencing and fearing the Creator.
This provokes another question for me, and perhaps for you too. So how do Christians ever come to know the Father through Christ? After all, I believe I came to Christ, and, if you are Christian, you may insist you came to Christ as well. How do we explain that? Jesus is very helpful here. He says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).
Two things stand out from John 6:44 that pertain to this discussion. First, Jesus says, “No one can come to me.” This is because no one seeks God in their unrighteousness. Paul made that case in Romans 1, 2, and 3. Second, Jesus says, “unless the Father who sent me draws him.” Ah! This is the phrase we have been looking for. Those who come to Christ are those who are drawn by the Father. If you, or someone you know, becomes a Christian, it did not happen because they were first seeking God. God’s drawing was first, because Jesus said “no one can come to me unless the Father…draws.” When the Father begins to draw, then they will begin to come. The reason they cannot come without the Father drawing was established in Romans 3:11: “No one seeks God.” Since we do not seek God on our own, we will not come to Him on our own. Whereas Paul observes that no one seeks God, Jesus (going deeper, so to speak) says no one can. In other words, the reason people do not seek God is because they cannot seek God. We are unrighteous.
Let me state it as precisely as possible: God’s drawing causes seeking. People become Christians because the Father first enables them to come to Jesus (John 6:65). We have no natural inclination or ability to seek after the true and living God. Instead, because of our sin, we naturally reject and flee from the Creator. We treasure our idols and live in our sins. But when God draws someone to Himself, they will come (John 6:37). Our problem is that, in our sinful state, we cannot seek God without God. You know where that leaves us? It leaves us at God’s mercy. Praise God for His saving grace!