General Revelation: What Is General Revelation?

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These wonders of nature are more than just breathtaking phenomena. They’re evidence of general revelation, also known as natural revelation, an essential concept for every devout individual to grasp.

In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about general revelation and why it matters.

Let’s get started!

What Is General Revelation?

When diving into the vast ocean of theological concepts, the term general revelation definition emerges as a beacon of understanding. 

General revelation, in essence, pertains to the myriad ways through which God unveils His nature, power, and divine attributes through the intricacies and marvels of the created world. 

From the awe-inspiring galaxies that paint the night sky to the delicate symmetry of a snowflake, these are all reflections of this type of revelation.

Distinct from specific revelations, which God manifests through direct avenues like prophetic dreams, angelic visitations, or the sacred scriptures, general revelation operates on a grander, all-encompassing scale. 

It’s not confined to specific moments or chosen individuals; it’s a universal display of divinity. This omnipresent revelation can be witnessed in every sunrise, heard in the harmonious songs of birds, and felt in the gentle embrace of a breeze.

The Bible underscores the concept of general revelation in various passages. Psalm 19:1-4 (NIV) beautifully encapsulates this:

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. 

They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

Similarly, Romans 1:20 (NIV) affirms:

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

These verses are testaments to the truth that God’s essence and majesty are ever-present, echoed in every facet of the natural world, inviting all to recognize and revere Him.

**If you’re enjoying this post on general revelation, you might also enjoy our post titled, Natural Revelation: How To Ignite Passionate Church Growth.

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Biblical Roots: Tracing General Revelation in Scripture

general revelation

The concept of general revelation, while profound, isn’t a novel idea—it’s been intricately woven into the fabric of biblical teachings for centuries. 

At its core, this doctrine signifies that nature serves not merely as a backdrop to our existence but as a living, breathing testament to the Creator’s grandeur.

In the Psalms, this is articulated with poetic elegance. 

The verse, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1 NIV), isn’t merely a poetic flourish. 

It’s a profound theological statement. It tells us that every sunset, every mountain peak, and every star-lit night isn’t just a beautiful spectacle; they’re all divine sermons, silent yet resounding, drawing our gaze upwards.

But this isn’t the sole biblical testament to general revelation. Romans 1:20 (NIV) underscores this doctrine, stating:

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

In other words, the Creator’s attributes, His omnipotence, and His essence are imprinted in every element of creation, from the vastness of galaxies to the intricacy of DNA. 

And Job, in his reflections on suffering, acknowledges the wonders of nature as revealing God’s wisdom and power:

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you” (Job 12:7-8 NIV).

It’s evident, then, that the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, continuously reminds us of a God who reveals Himself not just through miracles, visions, or scriptures, but also through the rhythmic cadence of waves, the dance of fireflies, and the whisper of winds. General revelation, in essence, is God’s signature on the canvas of creation.

General Revelation Through Church History

The concept of natural or general revelation has been discussed, debated, and discerned throughout Christian history. Its roots trace back to early Church Fathers and have evolved through the lenses of theologians, scholars, and thinkers over the centuries.

Early Church Fathers

For the early Church Fathers, such as Augustine of Hippo and John Chrysostom, the natural world was a clear testament to God’s handiwork. Augustine, in his works, would often marvel at the beauty and order of creation, seeing them as reflections of God’s wisdom and care. He wrote in Confessions,

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

For Augustine, the longing we feel when we experience nature’s beauty is a yearning for the Divine, the ultimate source of all beauty.

Augustine’s reflections often aligned with Psalm 104, a song that praises God as the creator and sustainer of all.

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Medieval Theologians

During the medieval era, luminaries such as Thomas Aquinas further explored the relationship between reason, nature, and faith. 

Aquinas believed that truths could be discovered both through revelation (Scripture) and reason (nature and human understanding). 

He argued that while special revelation was vital for salvation, general revelation (or natural theology) could provide knowledge about God’s existence and attributes. 

Referencing Romans 1:20, Aquinas emphasized that nature itself offers knowledge of God, though not a complete or salvific knowledge.

Reformation and Enlightenment

The periods of the Reformation and the Enlightenment brought challenges and nuances to the understanding of general revelation. 

While figures like Martin Luther and John Calvin acknowledged the value of nature in revealing God, they were wary of human reason’s capacity to fully comprehend divine truths without the guidance of Scripture. 

Calvin, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, observed that the world is a “theater of God’s glory” but also pointed out the limitations of relying solely on nature due to human sin and finitude. 

He often reflected on passages like Psalm 19:1-4 to emphasize nature’s revelatory role.

Modern Reflections

In contemporary theology, the dialogue around natural revelation continues with renewed vigor, especially in the context of science and faith debates. 

As our understanding of the universe expands, from the vast cosmos to the microscopic realm, theologians grapple with what this expanded knowledge means for general revelation. 

Many argue, echoing Psalm 8, that the more we discover, the more we see God’s handiwork.

In tracing the historical journey of natural revelation, it’s evident that while interpretations and emphases have shifted, the core belief remains: the world around us, in its beauty and complexity, continuously points us to its Creator.

If you love this post on libertarian free will, you will also love this shocking solution to the free-will dilemma.

Why Natural Revelation Matters

In the journey of faith, believers often encounter intersections where the Word of God provides clear boundaries but not always specific directions. 

While Scripture may outline the “do’s and don’ts,” the nuances of daily decisions often require us to look beyond the written Word to the unwritten world around us. 

This is where the significance of natural revelation, or general revelation, becomes particularly relevant.

Navigating Life’s Gray Areas

Consider the decision of marriage. Scripture advises believers to be “equally yoked” with their partner in faith (2 Corinthians 6:14). 

This directive provides a boundary, ensuring that believers align their core spiritual values with their life partners. 

Yet, the Bible does not offer a detailed guide on how to choose that godly spouse. Here, the insights from general revelation play a pivotal role. 

Knowledge from fields such as psychology and understanding personality types can provide invaluable insights into compatibility, communication, and conflict resolution.

Charting Career Paths

Similarly, when it comes to professional endeavors, the Bible paints a picture of the character a believer should embody in their work: diligence, integrity, and service to others, as seen in Proverbs 22:29 and Colossians 3:23

However, the specifics of which career or business venture to pursue remain undefined. Spiritual discernment, through the leading of the Holy Spirit, is vital. 

Yet, practical insights—such as understanding market trends, gauging financial viability, and seeking wise counsel—derived from general revelation are essential. 

A believer must also consider the practicality of their chosen field. 

Will it provide sufficiently for their family? Is there a genuine passion or calling in that direction?

The Symphony of Special and General Revelation

In essence, the interplay between special revelation (Scripture) and general revelation (knowledge from the world) is akin to a symphony. 

While the written Word provides the foundational notes and rhythm, the unwritten world offers the melodies and harmonies that enrich the piece. 

By appreciating and understanding both forms of revelation, believers can navigate the complexities of life with greater clarity and purpose, ensuring their choices resonate harmoniously with God’s design and intentions.

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The Church’s Historical Interplay with Natural Sciences

Historically, the Church and the study of nature have been intertwined, with many early pioneers of science viewing their work as an act of worship. 

Yet, as cultures shift and narratives evolve, there’s been a tendency to secularize areas of creation that can indeed draw us closer to understanding God’s nature and attributes.

Faith-fueled Exploration

Many early scientists were not just scholars in their respective fields but were devout believers who pursued their research as an extension of their faith. 

Oceanography, atmospherics, and several other scientific disciplines were birthed from the inquisitiveness of these faith-driven individuals. 

They ventured into the uncharted territories of the natural world, not to disprove the existence of God, but to marvel at the intricacies of His creation. 

Their explorations were grounded in the belief that by understanding the natural world, they were delving deeper into the mind of God.

For instance, Johannes Kepler, the renowned mathematician and astronomer, once said, “Science is thinking God’s thoughts after Him.” 

Sir Isaac Newton, whose work laid the groundwork for classical mechanics, saw the universe as a riddle and believed in a divine Creator who designed this complex puzzle.

Science and Faith: Not Mutual Exclusives

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Contrary to the contemporary narrative that places science and faith at opposite poles, these disciplines are not inherently at odds. 

Instead, they can beautifully complement each other. The intricate designs observed in nature, the precision with which celestial bodies move, or the complexity of human anatomy—all point toward an intelligent Designer. 

As Romans 1:20 states, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.”

Reclaiming the Narrative

It’s essential for believers today to reclaim the intertwined history of faith and science. 

Instead of viewing them as competing entities, understanding them as two lenses through which we can appreciate the grandeur of God’s creation is vital. 

By engaging deeply with the natural world and its phenomena, believers find yet another avenue to connect with and celebrate the Creator. 

The universe, in its vastness and complexity, is a testament that continuously points back to its divine Originator.

If you love this post on libertarian free will, you will also love this shocking solution to the free-will dilemma.

Embracing Both General Revelation & Special Revelation

In the journey of understanding God and His purposes for humanity, believers have been graced with two incredible tools: natural theology and special revelation. 

Each offers its own set of insights and perspectives on the divine, and when utilized together, they provide a comprehensive understanding of God’s character and intentions.

general revelation

The Balance of Natural Theology

Natural theology, sometimes known as general revelation, refers to the knowledge of God that can be derived from observing the natural world. 

Everything from the vastness of galaxies to the intricate details of a single cell speaks volumes about the Creator. As Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” 

Through this lens, nature serves as a continuous, universally accessible sermon about God’s power, wisdom, and artistry.

The Clarity of Special Revelation

While natural theology offers broad strokes about God’s character, special revelation provides explicit and direct knowledge about Him. 

This includes the scriptures, prophecies, and the life of Jesus Christ. It’s in the Bible where we learn about God’s love, mercy, justice, and plan for salvation. 

Special revelation provides the specifics—guiding principles, moral commandments, and promises that inform a believer’s life and relationship with the Creator.

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Grounding in Scripture: The Bedrock of Belief

Though both natural theology and special revelation offer invaluable insights, it’s crucial to ground all understanding in the Word of God, the Bible. 

The scriptures act as the litmus test, ensuring that the knowledge and wisdom derived from both these sources align with God’s revealed truth. 

Every revelation, whether derived from nature or direct divine interventions, should resonate with the teachings of the Bible. 

This grounding ensures a holistic, accurate, and consistent understanding of God’s character and purpose.

By embracing both these avenues of understanding, believers can nurture a faith that is both deeply personal and universally relevant. 

This dual approach ensures that faith is rooted in the timeless truths of the Bible while also being responsive to the continuous revelations in the ever-unfolding tapestry of God’s creation.

If you want more on this subject, check out our post, General Revelation VS Special Revelation.

General Revelation FAQs

1. What is natural theology?
Natural theology, often referred to as general revelation, is the knowledge of God that we gain through observing the natural world. It’s the concept that nature, in its vastness and intricacy, reveals aspects of God’s character.

2. How is special revelation different from natural theology?
Special revelation provides explicit and direct knowledge about God. It includes sources like the scriptures, prophecies, and direct divine interventions such as visions or the life of Jesus Christ.

3. Why is grounding in scripture important when studying natural theology?
Grounding in scripture ensures that the insights derived from observing nature align with God’s revealed truth. The Bible acts as a standard, ensuring consistent and accurate understanding of God’s character and purpose.

4. Does studying nature contradict the teachings of the Bible?
No. In fact, scriptures like Psalm 19:1 suggest that nature itself is a testament to God’s glory. The key is to always ensure any insights from nature align with scriptural teachings.

5. Are science and faith at odds with each other?
Not inherently. Many pioneers of science were devout believers who explored creation to better understand and connect with the Creator. Science can often reveal the intricacies of God’s creation, further solidifying faith.

6. How can one balance the teachings from natural theology and special revelation?
By ensuring that all insights, whether from nature or direct divine sources, resonate with and are grounded in the teachings of the Bible.

7. How does natural theology affect everyday decision-making for believers?
Natural theology, by revealing God’s attributes through nature, can provide insights into decision-making, especially in areas where scripture provides general guidelines. It helps believers discern within the bounds set by scripture.

8. Why did many originators of the natural sciences explore creation?
Many were devout believers, and their exploration of creation was a way to engage more deeply with the Creator and discover His attributes.

9. Does the Bible provide specifics on all life decisions?
While the Bible provides guiding principles, moral commandments, and promises, it doesn’t dictate specifics on every life decision. This is where natural theology and spiritual discernment, grounded in scripture, play a role.

10. How does special revelation provide clarity in understanding God?
Special revelation, through direct divine interventions and scriptures, offers explicit knowledge about God’s love, mercy, justice, and plan for salvation, providing believers with a clear understanding of God’s purpose and character.

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