One of the most wonderful things about God is that He wants everyone to know Him. Everyone! But there are many people in the world (over 6 billion), and most of them live in places where there is limited or no access to the Bible. Does that mean that most of these people can never know anything about God?
The answer to that important question is “No”. Although the Bible is precious and tells us many things that we could not otherwise know about God, He also communicates truths about Himself through general revelation. It is called general revelation because it is revelation about God made generally to all people, whether they have a Bible or not. Sometimes general revelation is referred to as “natural revelation”, because it is revelation given through the natural world. When God communicates truths about Himself to a particular person or persons (like the Bible, dreams, visions, etc.) it is called special revelation. This truth is not available to all people but is sent specifically to a certain person or group.
External Witness: Creation
How do we know that God communicates to people through natural revelation? If you didn’t have a Bible, could you know that God is trying to tell you something? In all of history we see mankind preoccupied with questions about whether God or gods exist, and if so, what He or they are like. Where do people get these questions? Why does the subject come up in practically every culture in all of history? The answer is that the human situation forces these questions to arise. The world is made in such a way that it provokes the questions. In other words, the creation itself is revealing something to people about God.
Another way we know that God reveals Himself through nature is that the Bible tells us that He does. Romans 1:19-20 and Psalm 19:1-6 affirm that God is revealed through what has been created by Him. The Romans passage tells us that people know that there is a God because of what He has made. Perhaps Paul, the author of Romans, had in mind the following observations: Just as a watch needs a watch-maker, a house needs a house-maker, and a computer needs a computer-maker, the complexities and order of the universe point toward a universe- Maker. This Maker must not Himself be created, because then He would need a Maker, too (and that Maker would need a Maker, and so on). So, some Force outside of creation must have been responsible for creation. You might be thinking, “All right; so nature points to some Force that has created it … but that doesn’t necessarily point to the God of the Bible.” That’s true, but keep reading!
Creation itself is revealing something to people about God.
Creation doesn’t only tell us that the complexity and order in the universe need a cause. The wonder and beauty of the natural world tell us that the cause is personal and good. Think of some of the most beautiful places you know of — the Grand Canyon, or an island in Hawaii, a sunset over the ocean, or a grand waterfall in the mountains. What do you feel when you experience scenes like these? You’re searching for words, aren’t you? Glorious, gorgeous, magnificent, proud, resplendent, or maybe superb? It’s hard to find just the right words to portray the indescribable beauty that we sometimes encounter in nature, isn’t it? This beauty points to a God that is imaginative, personal, beautiful, and artistic.
Internal Witness: Image of God in Man
Not only do we see evidence of God in nature around us, we also see it in ourselves! The Bible says in Genesis chapter 3 that God made men and women in His image. (Think about that! God’s image!) In other words, there is something about us that is somehow like God. But what?
The “image of God” in people has to do with the following things:
- God is a thinking Being … we are thinking beings. We both (God and us) think!
- God is an emotional Being … we are emotional beings. We both feel!
- God is a Being that makes choices … we are beings that make choices. We both choose!
- God is a creative Being … we are creative beings. We both make things!
- God is a moral Being … we are moral beings. We live in a universe where there is right and wrong.
Just because we are like God in some ways doesn’t mean we are like Him in all ways. For instance, God always does what is right! We don’t. And, God is an all powerful Creator. But we are much more limited, aren’t we?
The point about morality is especially important. The moral natures of all people point toward the image of God in mankind. All people, in all cultures, have a sense of right and wrong, although different cultures work this out somewhat differently. However, there are some standards of goodness that are the same everywhere. For example, can you imagine a culture where the idea of a friend was someone that you do terrible things to and try to destroy? Can you imagine a culture where most people think that it is good to torture babies merely for the pleasure of it?
In Romans chapters 2 and 3 Paul talks about the moral law that is on the hearts of all people. This is a type of natural revelation. He is saying that, even without a Bible, people have a basic knowledge of right and wrong. They may be mixed up about it all, but they still have remnants of moral knowledge. This doesn’t mean that people all think exactly the same about issues of right and wrong, but it does mean that people all act as though there is real right and wrong … and they know some things are right. They may say that they don’t believe in right or wrong until you steal something from them, or hurt them, or lie to them! They may suppress this knowledge in unrighteousness, but they still have some knowledge of it through natural revelation.
Another way to see natural revelation at work is to notice the instinctive need to worship that people have. All people in all civilizations worship something. Of course, you have your atheists, too, but even they are “worshipping” something (e.g., Themselves, “Humanity”, Careers, Money, etc.). We are creatures of vast needs, and we have an instinctive knowledge that we need more than we can provide for ourselves.
And, we also know that we’re not what we “ought” to be. You’ve heard the saying, “Nobody’s perfect”? That is a moral truth gleaned from natural revelation. We all have our frailties and imperfections … but what sense would it make to talk about imperfection if there was not an idea of a Perfect Being somewhere? If we didn’t have an idea of something perfect, how would we ever know we were not perfect?
Summing up, natural revelation has shown us some things about God: that He is the Creator, He is powerful, He is personal, He is beautiful, and He is wise. But, it doesn’t tell us how to be right with Him. Somehow God has to tell us His thoughts and His plan about our imperfections and sins. And that, among other things, is what we find in the special revelation of the Bible. See how they work together (natural revelation and special revelation)?
If we didn’t have an idea of something perfect, how would we ever know we were not perfect?
The Bible seems to indicate (e.g., Acts 10) that as people respond positively to the natural revelation that God gives them, He will send them the special revelation that they need to know Him and be reconciled with Him. This is because He wants all people to know Him, just as we started out saying! If many people end up NOT knowing God, in spite of all that He has revealed, ultimately it is not His fault. God is such a good God— everybody ought to know Him! May He increasingly help us to know Him as He reveals Himself in natural and special revelation.
- Meditate on Psalm 19: 1-6
- Enjoy the change in seasons, natural
wonders in the world
- Marvel at the complexity of the
human body (e.g. the eye, the brain,
- Marvel at the balance of the
processes of nature (e.g. the oxygen- carbon dioxide cycle; the rainfall, etc.).
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