General Revelation

storms“10 Things You Should Know About General Revelation” – Dr Sam Storms (original source here)

Because of our focus on the inspiration and inerrancy of God’s written revelation, the Bible (i.e., Special Revelation), we often tend to ignore the other ways in which God has made himself known more generally to all mankind. Theologians call this General Revelation. What is it and why is it important that we understand what is meant by it?

(1) General Revelation refers to the truth that God has made himself known in the observable design and majesty of natural or physical creation. In Romans 1:18-20 we read:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 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” (Rom. 1:18-20).

The invisible is made visible via creation or nature. Divine wisdom, power, eternity and goodness, for example, are not in themselves visible, but their reality is undeniably affirmed and apprehended by the effects they produce in nature. See also Psalm 19:1-6; 8; 29; 93; 104; Acts 14:15-17; 17:22-31.

(2) General revelation in natural creation makes available to all mankind a true knowledge not only that God exists but what kind of God he is. What exactly is the content of that revelation about God made known in nature and conscience? Ronald Nash (What About Those Who Have Never Heard? [IVP, 1995], p. 67) identifies seven elements: (1) God exists; (2) this God created the physical universe; (3) this God is loving; (4) this God is personal, since love cannot characterize an impersonal deity; (5) this God is a moral being; (6) we have violated the moral law and thus are guilty; and (7) we have displeased the morally perfect God who is the source of the moral law.

Bruce Demarest extends this by appealing to other texts as well. Scripture, he says (General Revelation, pp. 242-43), suggests that all human beings know more or less the following about God from the light of universal general revelation:

God exists (Ps. 19:1; Rom. 1:19); God is uncreated (Acts 17:24); God is Creator (Acts 14:15); God is Sustainer (Acts 14:16; 17:25); God is universal Lord (Acts 17:24); God is self-sufficient (Acts 17:25); transcendent (Acts 17:24); immanent (Acts 17:26-27); eternal (Ps. 93:2); great (Ps. 8:3-4); majestic (Ps. 29:4); powerful (Ps. 29:4; Rom. 1:20); wise (Ps. 104:24); good (Acts 14:17); righteous (Rom. 1:32); God has a sovereign will (Acts 17:26); God has standards of right and wrong (Rom. 2:15); God should be worshiped (Acts 14:15; 17:23); man should perform the good (Rom. 2:15); God will judge evil (Rom. 2:15-16).

(3) The truth of general revelation means that there is no such thing as an honest atheist! All people know God. We see this in Romans 1:21: Note well: “For although they knew God” (v. 21a). Again, “what can be known about God is plain to them” (v. 19; not hidden, obscure, uncertain, but disclosed, clear, and inescapable). There is a distinction, of course, between a cognitive apprehension of God, i.e., knowing that there is a God and that he is worthy of obedience, worship, gratitude, and a saving or redemptive knowledge of God. All people experience the former whereas only the redeemed experience the latter. Continue reading