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The Greek word katakein means to press down with force against something that is exercising a counterforce
The image that comes into my mind would be a giant steel spring, which would take the full weight of a human being to press down. Because of the tension, if the person lets go for a second, the spring will shoot right up. The word is used in a negative sense where people are thrown into prison and are held in prison against their will. They are, in a word, incarcerated.
Paul is saying that the truth of God is, in some way, pushed down, repressed, hindered, stifled. It almost sounds like a textbook in psychology, because modern psychologists note that this is exactly what we do with memories of painful and traumatic experiences. We push them out of the painful areas of our conscious minds and push them into the deepest recesses and chambers of our minds.
after the satellite detection of the birthpangs of the universe was announced to the American Physical Society in April 1992, an anonymous Guardian contributor wrote: ‘It is difficult to know what the appropriate reaction to such mind-expanding discoveries should be, except to get down on one’s knees in total humility and give thanks to God or Big Bang or both, for cunningly contriving to allow this infinitesimal part of the universe called Earth to be bestowed with something called Air.’ At the opposite end of the size scale, a consultant surgeon wrote to me a few years ago: ‘I am filled with the same awe and humility when I contemplate something of what goes on in a single cell as when I contemplate the sky on a clear night. The coordination of the complex activities of the cell in a common purpose hits the scientific part of me as the best evidence for an Ultimate Purpose.’
Immanuel Kant, perhaps the greatest philosopher in the history of Western civilisation, established a watershed in modern intellectual attempts to know God, by saying that it is impossible to use the traditional arguments for the existence of God, whereby men reason from this world back to a Creator. They look at the world around themselves and say, Something had to make this world. Kant said that it is not possible for us to move from visible things to an invisible God.
On that point we have an absolute collision between the best of secular philosophy and the assertion here of the apostle Paul. Paul is stating as clearly as he could possibly have stated, exactly what Immanuel Kant says is fundamentally impossible. He is saying that the invisible qualities of God are clearly seen in the created order. Just as we can look at a painting and know that there was a painter, so we can look at this universe and know that there is a Creator. Something of the nature of that Creator can be discerned from the visible things of his creation.
It has always seemed to most people that they are, on the whole, pretty decent people. They may not be perfect but they have done no great wrong. Since they are conscious of no really disastrous sin, they feel that they must be right with God. But for Paul the significant thing is not that people have met their own standard but that they have not met God’s. They have come short of his demand. They are in the greatest of danger because they are subject to his wrath.