God is a relational God, a Trinity from all eternity, who has put relationships at the center of his creation. He is a God of glory, and a God of truth and of justice, as we have seen earlier in this series. He has never failed to have a revelation of himself in his creation, especially to us whom he created in his image.
From before the creation of the first man and woman, the heavens were declaring the glory of God. And they still are: they still display truth concerning God.
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
But this is odd: what is their language? What do they say? The apostle Paul fills it in for us in Romans 1:18-23, in the midst of a passage on the responsibility all persons have before God. The question arises there, how can we all be responsible if we know nothing about God? His audience in this passage is those who have turned to idolatry. (Paul moves on later to speak of religious and moralistic persons’ responsibility; this one really is pointed toward idolatrous paganism primarily.) It should have been obvious to them all along how small those idols were.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 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. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they obecame futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Here we have clearer insight into what we can learn through the voice of the heavens declaring God’s glory. God’s creation reveals his “eternal power and divine nature.” It is the signpost toward his omnipotence, his all-encompassing knowledge and wisdom, his transcendence above all that he has made. It is enough to call forth our worship.
The nineteenth Psalm came from the pen of a shepherd-king some 3,000 years ago. It has remained remarkably solid thinking for all these millennia. Today’s science continues to reveal to us more and more beauty and glory—from the Hubble telescope photos, among other sources—and mystery as well. Some 90% of the universe’s matter and energy is believed to be in the form of “dark energy” and “dark matter,” whose properties are almost completely opaque and unknown. We know they’re through (or at least we think we do) through their effects on the expansion of the universe, among other influences on what is visible. But that’s all we know about them.
This is the first of two ways in which God reveals himself to all persons; what theologians call General Revelation.
There is a second form of General Revelation. I’m going to jump to the end of Psalm 19, and then come back to the middle to close.
Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
This second mode of General Revelation is human knowledge of the law of God. It is incomplete and flawed and in need of help, but it is nonetheless real. Again we hear clarification from Paul in Romans, still in the context of man’s responsibility before God, even man without the Scriptures:
For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:12-16).
Thank God for Jesus Christ and his work to free us from God’s judgment; and God help us bring the rest of the truth to those who do not have it!
The Gentiles, Paul said, did not have the Law; but they show that it is written on their hearts and their consciences. This is God’s self-revelation too, for it is his moral character planted within us who bear his image. We don’t need the Bible to know certain things are wrong. Atheists, skeptics, pagans, tribalists, all persons everywhere have a sense of right and wrong, and it’s fairly accurate to a degree. It doesn’t mean we understand it all correctly, and it certainly doesn’t mean we follow it consistently, but we do at least know it to some real degree.
Frequently I hear from atheists and skeptics, “Do you think I have to be a Christian to be a moral person?” They’re fairly indignant at the thought. The answer is no, of course not. I’ve known non-believers who were far more trustworthy and of finer reputation than many believers I’ve known.
I’ve also heard non-believers say, “We don’t need the Ten Commandments; we know all that and do all that without needing God to write it on stone!” But in this they are quite wrong: they have forgotten the Ten Commandments begin with placing God before and above everything else!
General revelation tells us much, but not nearly enough. There is no other way God reveals himself quite so clearly as he does through his book written to us. Here’s David’s Old Covenant perspective on it (Psalm 19:7-11).
The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the LORD is clean,
the rules of the LORD are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
The Bible is God’s Special Revelation to us. There is too much to be said about it; I will save that for next time.
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