Remedial Theology (2) – The God Who Speaks Generally
That God speaks could potentially be filed in the ‘No Kidding!’ category for most Christians.
Modern Christianity simply loves the idea of a God who speaks – and as far as it goes, we should.
Yet for all our love of God speaking and ‘hearing’ the voice of God, there is a lot of confusion about how God actually speaks.
Some think our speaking God communicates with us through a “still, small voice” – the spiritual equivalent of ‘hearing voices’. Others think God speaks through words of prophecy and through dreams and visions and the like. Yet others say God speaks through an institution – whether based in upstate NY, Salt Lake City or Vatican City.
In short, God is the one voice everyone wants to claim – but when we read the Word of God, we see that God speaks in two ways. We refer to these two methods of revelation or speaking as general and special revelation.
General revelation refers to that knowledge of God that can be derived from the created order. In other words, general revelation is God speaking in creation and conscience.
Creation testifies to the reality of God’s existence:
Psalm 19:1-6 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, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
Romans 1:18-20 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 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.
Pay special attention to that verse marked in Romans 1 – what man, in his natural state, is able to know is evident because God has made it plain to him. As the ESV Study Bible notes in its excellent article Biblical Doctrine: An Overview:
General revelation shows attributes of God—such as his existence, power, creativity, and wisdom;
The Puritan Stephen Charnock noted the following attributes of God as seen in His creation:
- The power of God – in creating a world out of nothing
- The wisdom of God – in the order, variety and beauty of creation
- The goodness of God – in the provision He makes for His creatures
- The immutability of God – if He were mutable, He would lack the perfection of the sun or heavenly bodies which never change
- The eternity of God – for He must exist before what is made in time
- The omniscience of God – as Creator, He must know everything about what is made
- The sovereignty of God – “in the obedience his creatures pay to him, in observing their several orders and moving in the spheres wherein he set them”
- The spirituality of God – insofar as God is not visible “and the more spiritual any creature in the world is, the more pure it is”
- The sufficiency of God – He gave all creatures a beginning and so their beginning and so their being was not necessary, which mean God was in no need of them
- The majesty of God – seen in the glory of the heavens
There is another element to God’s self-revelation in the created order and this is much closer to home – the human conscience:
Romans 2:14-15 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
Dr Warren Wiersbe, in his commentary Be Right, gives a helpful definition of what the conscience is:
God did not give the Law to the Gentiles, so they would not be judged by the Law. Actually, the Gentiles had “the work of the Law written in their hearts” (Rom. 2:15). Wherever you go, you find people with an inner sense of right and wrong; and this inner judge, the Bible calls “conscience.” You find among all cultures a sense of sin, a fear of judgment, and an attempt to atone for sins and appease whatever gods are feared.
Note the three things that form that definition – a sense of sin, a fear of judgment and an attempt to atone for sins and appease whatever gods are feared.
This in-built sense of sin, righteousness and judgment (cf. John 16:8-11) rings true regardless of whether you are from the Big Smoke of London, the bluegrass of Kentucky, the hustle and bustle of New York or the back of the bush in Papua New Guinea – that silent witness is already there, accusing or excusing.
Now this is not to say the conscience is perfect or infallible. Scripture tells us:
- It can be defiled – 1 Corinthians 8:7
- It can be weakened – 1 Cor 8:10, 12
- It can be seared – 1 Timothy 4:1-3
Nevertheless, this indwelling knowledge of an absolute standard is a means of God revealing something of Himself to us.
Here’s the main point:
Natural revelation contains enough information to show who God is as Creator, Sustainer and Sovereign
But that alone won’t save you – there is something more necessary and we’ll take that up in the next instalment of Remedial Theology.
- God speaks in general revelation – that knowledge of God that can be derived from the created order
- This revelation takes two forms:
[Contributed by Kofi Adu-Boahen]