This series of posts is intended to be a progression from The Johannine Logos which deals with the Christian God as the necessary precondition to epistemology and will naturally presume much of that content. Those posts are linked here so that they may be referenced as needed.
7 “But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; 8 or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. 9 Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? 10 In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind. 11 Does not the ear test words as the palate tastes food? 12 Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.
— Job 12:7-12 (ESV)
In evangelical Christianity, God’s disclosure to man is referred to as revelation. This revelation can be segmented into two parts typically called general revelation and special revelation.1 General revelation deals primarily with the witness of creation to a creator while special revelation reveals God on a much more personal level which is reserved for Scripture. Therefore we can say that special revelation is everything identified in Scripture that is not already a part of general revelation. While creation itself cannot identify the means of Salvation, Scripture can and does. This post will look at general revelation in light of Romans 1:18-23 as it stems from the sense of Deity and relationship to God that every human being is born with.
Since general revelation is identified through the witness of creation it can be sub-categorized into areas of specific study. To start with, creation consists of the physical created order. This is the world in which we interact with in our day to day life. What we can perceive about the world around us can generally tell us something about the one who created it. The next segment is typically that of human nature. How we interact with the world around us as well as relate to our fellow man can and should be able to tell us a bit about our Creator. The final major category is what is often called God’s revelation in human history. In this case we are studying God’s work throughout history and His interaction with man.2
Apologetics will, more often than not, attempt to start on some sort of neutral ground with the non-Christian and build a case for a Creator as attested by creation. This would, for the most part, seem the appropriate thing to do but recall in the previous discussions for this series and from the discussions in The Johannine Logos, that we are already dealing with this understanding in place. Instead of seeing general revelation as a means or tool to reason someone to God, we should look at general revelation as a testimony to their innate knowledge of God or sense of Deity that is already in place. This, by no means, turns general revelation as we know it on its head, but rather, better aligns it with Scripture. In Romans 1:19-20, Paul writes:
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.3
There are several things that can be drawn from these two verses. First, that things about God can be known outside of Scripture. This is because God has shown it to all of mankind. Furthermore, the things that can be known about God outside of Scripture are plain. That is, we don’t need any more than our intuition, or common sense, to understand some of the most basic things of God. God has already given us the capabilities of knowing about Him.
I once saw an illustration of just how basic this understanding should be for us. It was a scenario of a bunch of fleas sitting around and discussing the existence of a dog. Their conclusion was that there was no evidence of a dog and therefore they decided that no dogs exist. Just as they were affirming this a storm erupted and the ground beneath them began to shake. The next thing we see is a dog getting sprayed with a garden hose and shaking the water off his coat. Now granted, we don’t believe in pantheism, but it is in this sense that Carson Weitnauer so well puts it when he writes that “[f]rom the Christian perspective, the atheist’s situation is akin to climbing the world’s tallest building in order to more ably broadcast the message that a belief in architects is a primitive fantasy.”4
The Physical World
That God can and does reveal himself in the physical world is evident. In verse 20, Paul describes a couple of divine attributes of God, his eternal power and divine nature. As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, these seem to allude to attributes that Stoicism had been using in their descriptions of the divine logos. The point is that these things are clearly perceived. Human beings don’t really even have to reason to get to this point. It’s just common sense. It is because of this that Paul states the pagan man is without excuse.
We can reason in a manner to explain what is clearly evident. That the universe is an ever changing environment tells us that it is not eternal, that is unchanging. Since the universe is not eternal it must have began at some point but whatever caused that beginning had to itself be outside of the created order, thus eternal and supernatural. So it is plain that an eternal God is the best explanation of the world around us.
We know that the Bible states the Christian God is the creator and thus the cause for the origin of the universe (Genesis 1). But God is also proclaimed as the sustainer of all things, that is to say that God upholds all things by His will and nothing could continue were it not through Him. These are juxtaposed in Colossians 1:16-17 where Paul writes that “all things were created … through Him” and that “in Him all things are held together.” This is further amplified In Hebrews 1:1-2 where the universe, the ages, the time worlds “was made through Him” and that he “sustains all things through His powerful word.”
God as sustainer is also evident by general revelation. Since the universe is clearly ever changing, there must be a governing principle by which it is sustained. Without it there is absolutely no good reason to believe that it will operate tomorrow in the same manner that it operates today. Without God, man is left void of any rational reason to believe that the world will continue on as it supposedly has in the past. However, the universe does function in a relational manner and it only makes sense to understand that the same principles the universe operates on today will be used to uphold the universe tomorrow.5 Therefore general revelation can also account for God as the sustainer of all things. These confirm our innate sense of Deity as the best explanation of the universe and even tell us, just as Paul says, that God is eternally powerful and has a divine nature.
In Human Nature
The natural man also has the light given by the Wisdom of God (John 1:9) and since we are His created creatures we are clearly in relationship to Him. Special revelation confirms that we are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and so from the worldview of the Christian it makes sense that human nature would also stand to reveal some of the characteristics of our Creator.
From the start, we are relational creatures. In order to be relational there is a necessary precondition that tells us we can communicate in a manner that makes sense and doesn’t result in nonsense. The fact that this sentence has meaning demonstrates that we can reason and communicate and make sense of the world around us. If we could not then there is no point to the discussion. This should confirm our innate understanding that the Creator who created us is also relational for how else could a relational being such as man exist? Special revelation confirms this in that God interacts with His creation and particularly makes and keeps promises with His people. Further, He has chosen to communicate with His creation by the written word, that is Scripture.
What’s more, human beings are thinking creatures with rational minds. The phrase I think therefore I am is self attesting in that you cannot think if you are not. Since mankind is rational and thinking it stands to attest to a rational mind as the Creator. Again, special revelation confirms this. We are commanded to “love the Lord your God with all of your … mind” in Matthew 22:37.
Our moral compass is a part of the intellect revealing God. By nature, man seeks justice. Anyone who demands that there is no objective moral standard has no reason to complain when you punch him in the face for no reason. What is often called the ‘golden rule’ seems to exist throughout all cultures and all of human history.6 Therefore objective moral values demonstrate an aspect of the Creator God. Special revelation confirms this through Scripture. God is called the “Just Judge of all the earth” in Genesis 18:25. From all of this, the Christian God is the best explanation for human nature.
God has revealed himself in human history in that His covenant people, Israel, have existed and still exist. Special revelation confirms this and further states that they will never cease to exist in Jeremiah 31:36. His interaction with them demonstrates their God must be the Creator God. John MacArthur in his sermon on Sovereign Election, Israel & Eschatology said:
When Frederick the Great asked his chaplain for proof of the truthfulness of the Bible, he said, “Give me a brief defense.” His chaplain replied, “I can do it in one word. Israel.” Israel. They exist. There they are. Israel, understood as a people preserved by God for an eschatological kingdom, has immense apologetic value. Immense.7
Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum calls Israelology “the missing link of systematic theology” and indeed it is.8 While Israel is neglected for various reasons the Jewish people desperately need to be put back in place as a subject of God’s revelation in human history. It is simply absurd for the Christian to ignore this incredible testimony to God’s interaction with mankind that is going on right now in our daily news.
General revelation is the attestation to the sense of Deity that is innate in mankind. Paul affirms this as does the field itself. Further, everything in the field of general revelation is subsequently affirmed in special revelation which not only discloses more of God to us, but also the path to Him, that is Salvation. God has revealed himself through creation in the sense that mankind is able to affirm his natural understanding of God. This does not mean that man can come to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ through general revelation, but that this revelation is adequate to condemn every man as accountable to God. In the next post I will look at the futile thinking that is the wisdom of the world.
- General revelation may also be referred to as natural theology. ↩
- Geisler, N. L. (1999). Baker encyclopedia of Christian apologetics. Baker Reference Library (670). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books. ↩
- All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. ↩
- Gilson, Tom; Weitnauer, Carson (2012-03-09). True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of Atheism (Kindle Locations 295-297). Patheos Press. Kindle Edition. ↩
- Although special revelation gives us further reason to trust that the universe will function tomorrow as it does today. Genesis 8:22 tells us “while the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” ↩
- This is not to say that all cultures interpret it the same. How the moral framework is implemented is not the same as the moral framework itself. ↩
- PDF transcript available here and audio available here. For a discussion of this topic see Probe Ministries essay Israel’s History Written In Advance. ↩
- His book is titled Israelology: The Missing Link of Systematic Theology. ↩
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