Man’s Ultimate Environment

What we have said about man’s knowledge of God is really determinative for what we have to say about man’s knowledge of the universe. By the term universe we know mean the whole of the created world including man himself and his environment.

The first question we must ask with respect to the relation of our knowledge of God to our knowledge of the universe is which of these two is prior?

Man cannot help but know himself at once in relation to his environment. The subject of knowledge must know itself in relation to and in contrast with the object of knowledge.

This contention that man must know himself in relation to his environment is not merely a general consideration obtained by observation of experience. It is implied in the very bedrock of Christian-theism. This may be seen by again referring to our idea of God and of God’s relation to the created universe. Man exists by virtue of God’s existence. Man’s environment precedes man. God is man’s ultimate environment and this environment is completely interpretive of man who is to know himself.

In other words man’s environment is not impersonal. It is, moreover not merely personal in the sense that simultaneous with his own appearance there are also other finite persons in relation to which he knows himself to be a person. Back of this relationship of finite persons to other finite persons and to other fine but impersonal things is the absolute personality of God. Back of the question as to whether man needs other finite persons or needs a finite non-personal environment is the question of the environment of man’s immediate environment. God is man’s ultimate environment and this ultimate environment controls the whole of man’s immediate environment as well as man himself. The whole of man’s own immediate environment as well as man himself is already interpreted by God. Even the denotation of the whole universe exists by virtue of the connotation or plan of God. Thus we have answered our question about temporal priority by answering the question of logical priority. Because man’s knowledge of God is logically more fundamental than man’s knowledge of the universe, we may be indifferent to the question of temporal priority. Even if in our psychological experience we know ourselves and the universe about us before we speak self-consciously of God, we have all the while known God if we have truly known anything else.

(Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 41-42)

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