What is General Revelation?

What is General Revelation? General Revelation is "God's communication of himself to all persons at all times and in all places."[1] Through the created order, the human conscience, and human longing, God reveals to humanity His invisible attributes, their sin, their need for Him, and His disposition toward them. Although this revelation is intended to bring humanity to repentance, the results of the fall leave them unable to rightly perceive that which He has made known. While this knowledge robs all people of the excuse of ignorance, it does not reveal the truth of Christ's incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection. If God's saving work is to be known, there must be another form of revelation that does not rely on the moral ability of the agent to discover truth.

What does it reveal?

Through the created order there is much one can learn about God. In nature, one can observe that God is a God of order, beauty, and kindness. It has been said, "I think no one who lives by the sea, or by a little river, can be an atheist."[2]In the arts and music, one can learn that God is a God of splendor. In their conscience, one can learn that there is an absolute law that they know innately, and not just this, but can't help but to break. And in their desires, they can learn that there is something in them longing for something outside of them; that thing, however, is not a something but a someone. On this, C.S. Lewis wrote: “If I find in myself desires which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”[3]

What is man to do with all this knowledge of God? Paul answers this exact question: "[T]hey should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us" (Acts 17:27). Earlier in this passage, Paul observes that the people of Athens are very religious. When one searches the annals of history, they will see that all peoples, at all times and in all places have, in some way, ingrained religion into their culture. Religion is the fruit of a yearning heart. Perhaps the myths of the Babylonians, Greeks, and the Norse, are historical evidence of the nations reaching out for God; and though they did not find Him, they found shards of truth concerning Him.

General Revelation means that God has ensured that all peoples, in all places, at all times, possess some knowledge of Him. Not only do all peoples have a knowledge of God, but all have forsaken the law He has written on their hearts, and have substituted right worship of the Creator for worship of the created. What was meant as a window into heaven, because of the depravity of man, now serves as a mirror for humanity to marvel at itself. As one author notes: "The love of nature, when rightly understood, is thus a pathway to God; when wrongly understood, it is an impediment to the discovery of God."[4]

Why do we have this revelation?

God has graced humanity with General Revelation so that they might know Him, for they have the natural ability to do so and it is, therefore, their duty to do so. Sin, however, has left them with the moral inability to abide by God's law.[5]The resounding song of the whole of General Revelation is this: repent and believe. The Puritan pastor, Richard Baxter, writes: "Every time the sun riseth upon thee, it really calleth thee to turn."[6]This call to repentance, however, because of the effects of sin, cannot be heard unless God, through the illumination of the Holy Ghost, opens ears to recognize the tune through the cacophony of a fallen world. It may be concluded that human reason, conscience, and desires are impotent in coming to a true understanding of God and His disposition toward humanity. Hence, humanity is in need of another form of revelation that can help them make out that which has been obscured, marred, and ultimately hidden by sin.

[1]Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.:Baker Book House, 1998), 153.

[2]Peter Kreeft, “Twelve Ways to Know God,” http://peterkreeft.com/topics/12-ways.htm, (accessed September, 2013).

[3]C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2001), 136-7.

[4]Alister E McGrath, The Intellectual World of C.S. Lewis (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), 114.

[5]For more on this, see Andrew Fuller, The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation [in The Complete Works of The Rev. Andrew Fuller, ed. Andrew Gunton Fuller, revised Joseph Belcher (1845 ed.; repr. Harrisonburg, Virginia: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), II:328, 343, 345-6.

[6]Richard Baxter, A Call To The Unconverted, Kindle ed., n.d., Kindle Locations 2193-4.