Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Attributes of General Revelation

Previously in this post, we briefly articulated four of the central attributes or characteristics of Scripture as God's Word. Scripture is what theologians sometimes call "special revelation." In the writings of Scripture, God-breathed out what the prophets and writers should say so that the words were fully by men but fully the product of God's divine hand. The interpretations did not come about by men but by the Holy Spirit. 

Scripture describes another form of God's revelation and that is God's revelation in creation. God speaks in creation so that He is plainly made known and revealed.

Psalm 19:1-4 ESV 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.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
And:
Romans 1:19 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. 
This is important because they really is a clear revelation of God in creation. On the one hand it is in all created things so that we might sufficiently and clearly see his glory, eternal power and divine nature. On the other hand, man himself is made in God's image (even with his sin) so that he has a conscious and bears the marks of God. It is "clearly perceived."

The problem with general revelation is not the content--contra Barth and others--there is a real and clear revelation of God. God has supernaturally made his creation to communicate to us who He is. It speaks just as much as special revelation in Scripture speaks. It is so clear that a person who has never heard the gospel, when they stand before God at the judgment will be guilty and be able to offer no excuse to Him.

The problem with general revelation is that the receiver of it (you and I) take what God gives us and we suppress it, reject it and rebel against it. In sin we deny all that it screaming forth all around us.
Romans 1:21 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. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Humanity always takes the clear revelation and because it stairs us in the face we need to do something with it. So we make idols and false beliefs. All forms of unbelief takes the revelation of God (general and/or special) and has "do" something with to deny and suppress it. Our hearts are idol factories twisting the good revelation God has giving us so that our hearts become and stay darkened.

Cornelius Van Til used this understanding of Romans 1 to formulate his apologetic method. In an essay entitled "Nature and Scripture" in the book The Infallible Word, he applied the acronym NAPS to general revelation. Reading his essay first introduced me to this way of thinking. The thought that guides Van Til's thinking is that "God's revelation in nature was from the outset of history meant to be taken conjointly with God's supernatural communication" (p277). Revelation from God comes in a covenant character and so in creation prior to the fall we see the covenantal character.

Necessity: God did not create man in a state of independence but in a state of dependence. Adam in the garden was established as God's image and that entailed being a covenant bearer as God's vice regent. This into the position man was created man was given revelation that was absolutely necessary for his role. (1) He bore moral and regal qualities of God to exercise in the garden; (2) He was given given all creation as a display of God's glory.

This "necessity" was a consequent necessity in that once God determined to create, he could do no less than determine that it be necessary for his creation to display His glory. As the highest of all being, God cannot but glorify himself in all his actions. The structure and order of creation is a necessary reveal of God so that mankind is properly established in the garden.

Van Til also states that part of the necessity of general revelation is that it necessarily reveals the curse of God for sin in its post fall state. The creation groans await its redemption, thus imply that he clearly displays (reveals) the need of redemptive grace. Since God truly cursed creation it is necessary that the curse be proclaimed by the groaning of the creation.

Authority: Natural revelation is authoritative in that it tells us truth of God. In the pre-fall state, Adam without corrupt and with moral perfection and righteousness could understand and know God through what was made. Adam would have learned obedience in the garden by heeding the proscription against eating the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Adam's conscious in the garden would have also been a revelation of God. He was made to bear God's image. Created in a state of morality and as a moral being, the position in which he was created--in covenant--was binding to him, authoritative. As Van Til describes it "The mark of God's ownership was from the beginning writ large upon all the facts of the universe. Man was to cultivate the garden of the Lord and gladly pay tribute to the Lord of the manor" (p.273). In this way the revelation in the garden was authoritative.

Perpescuity: The revelation was clear. Note Romans 1:20 "his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world." The creation clearly displays who God is and something about his attributes.

Again, after the fall the problem is not with the creation that is sending the message and speaking, the problem is with those are listening to it. Consider how many people can see all the wonder, majesty and power of creation and still walk away denying a god exists or even suggesting we can never be certain.

We should point out that creation does not simply point out that there is 'a god'--as if it proves mere theism. Creation points to the God of the Bible. How? Creation was made subservient to a God who established a covenant order and hierarchy. It revealed the Covenant God. God set up Adam as his image in His creation. So in the garden man did not just see a non-desrcript presentation 'there is a god' but rather a descriptive 'this is who God is.'

Sufficiency: Here Van Til demurs a bit. General revelation is not sufficient in and of itself. It was never meant to function without Scripture. This is true is a post fall context where a person cannot get saved without coming to the light through the special revelation of God's Word and the illumination of that revelation by the Holy Spirit.

General revelation is not sufficient for all things in a comprehensive sense. However it is sufficient in the purpose for which it was created. Van Til notes it was historically sufficient. It was sufficient to give Adam what he needed to know in a prefall state--this is who God is and this is humanity's relation to him. It is sufficient in a postfall state to render all people everywhere without excuse.

Conclusion: The basic point is that we need to maintain that the creation displays the glory of God. It truly reveals God. It also lays the foundation for our understanding of redemptive grace.

The problem is that you and I in our sins do not listen to or respond to all that creation tells us. It goes to illustrate the depths of our rebellion and condemnation. Our hearts are so foolish and dark that we take the plain and obvious and make up false theologies and idolatries with it--all because our heart does not want to yield what the creation is calling out.

Thankfully as a Christian, you are regenerated. This means, next time you see something in God's creation, like for example a sunset, you have been equipped to recognize that this calls forth the glory of God to you. Rejoice and Worship.

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