Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Revealed in the World and the Word

As you may know, the theological term “revelation” refers to the knowledge that God has given to humanity describing Himself. But that definition can be broken down further into two particular types: general revelation and special revelation. When discussing God’s love and care for us, it is important to have each of them in mind. David apparently agreed, because he wrote Ps. 19 as a testament to both.

The psalm has a clear structure. In vv. 1–6, David points to the witness of nature in proclaiming the power of the Lord. Then, from vv. 7–11, he switches to praise for the Lord’s instruction in Scripture. The break in subject is so sudden that it is almost jarring unless you see the theme of revelation that ties them both together. Whether in Nature or in Scripture, everything points to the glory of God.

Seen in Creation

General revelation, then, is what anyone can know through observation. We are designed in such a way as to contemplate and organize our lives and much of the world around us. As a result, we are able to see the order and rationality that exists in the operation of the universe. Everything in nature bears the mark of craftsmanship. This is not something we impose on nature, since we also exist in it. We did not invent reason. We possess it as a gift and are enabled to see it working around us. Simply by honestly taking stock of the world in which we live, we can come to recognize the need for a Creator.

In our very scientific day, this is most often stated in sterile ways. We talk about the “laws of physics” and the “language of DNA” as though there were no wonder in them, but we must occasionally allow ourselves to be struck by how marvelous these discoveries are. Again, we did not invent them. We merely observe their truth. We have learned to see such things as having the magnitude to hold the universe together while also having the minute exactness to bind the parts of an atom. We see that life is endlessly fascinating in its variety, and yet it is all united in the code that allows it to thrive. And in all of nature’s processes, we find reliability. We do not fear that tomorrow the sun will not rise or that gravity will turn off. The cosmos is not random or accidental. It has rules, which points to the need for someone to make them.

The ancients did not develop our way of speaking about these things, but they recognized the same concepts. When David said the sun “is like a bridegroom coming from his home; it rejoices like an athlete running a course. It rises from one end of the heavens and circles to their other end; nothing is hidden from its heat” (Ps. 19:5–6), he was taking note of the very same reliability that is what allows modern science to take place. He simply had a more poetic way to put it.

Heard in the Word

While it is possible to know something of God by observing His works, such knowledge is not sufficient to tell us everything we need to learn about Him. David began to remark on this even while discussing general revelation. He said that “Day after day [the heavens] pour out speech;
night after night they communicate knowledge. There is no speech; there are no words; their voice is not heard” (Ps. 19:2–3). That is not a contradiction. It is a recognition that the order of creation is a subtle expression. Nothing is spelled out for us. And because sin has alienated us from the Lord, the subtle expression is often too quiet to drown out the noise in our minds. That is why people can become deceived, turning to worship what has been created rather than the one who made it all (Rom. 1:25).

General revelation must be supplemented in order to be recognized for what it is. In order to find a restored relationship with God, we cannot reach up to Him. We need Him to speak down to us. And that is precisely what He has done in His word. That special, direct revelation tells us the things we can never hope to discover on our own. Most important among these is the knowledge that God loved us, and came to live as one of us so He could die for all of us to create the way to eternal life. No amount of stargazing can make that known.

David did not know all of what was to happen in the life of Jesus Christ, but he did know the necessity of God’s word. It is the only thing capable of “renewing one’s life” and “making the inexperienced wise” (Ps. 19:7). We are utterly lost without it. Because God cared enough to give it, it means it is possible for us to be found. That is why it is to be prized above all things (Ps. 19:10).

Necessity of Both

And that is where the last part of the psalm comes in, which I have not mentioned up until now. In vv. 12–14, David reaches the synthesis of both kinds of revelation. The implication of God’s voice that echoes in the heavens and resounds from the written word is that we are nothing on our own. We go back and forth between being too blind to see how we have wandered from the Lord, to being in willful rebellion against Him. But God has provided even for this if we are willing to hear His voice and draw near for His cleansing through Jesus. He has not abandoned us to ignorance. We just have to listen.

The dual expression of God is one that we should appreciate in all its fullness. On the one hand, no one can find salvation simply by looking at nature. On the other, someone who does not already believe the Bible is not going to be convinced simply by hearing it read. He needs to see how it resonates with the world around him and the need in his own heart first. As for the believer, we still need both. The word is our perfect and unchanging guide, while the world is an ever-changing canvas showcasing God’s creative genius. They complement one another in ways we should not allow ourselves to miss. Take some time today to make sure you don’t.

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