I have recently met with a group of men to discuss a concept in systematic theology called "general revelation." We use Erickson's Systematic Theology book titled, "Christian Theology" as our discussion guide for this group and the discussion was excellent. Anyway, I wanted to post some of my thoughts on the subject and would welcome any comments.
Erickson defines general revelation as: "God's communication of himself to all persons at all times and in all places." He goes on to discuss the three loci of general revelation which are nature, history, and the constitution of the human being. So God reveals Himself to mankind through created nature, the historical events of the past, and through our moral character that exists inside of every person. There are basically two important passages in the Scriptures that discuss the general revelation of God towards His creation. I would like to discuss and briefly comment on these.
The first passage that discusses God's general revelation of Himself towards mankind is found in Psalm 19:1-6 which state:
In these six verses and in verse 1 specifically, the Psalmist states that all of creation is telling the glory of God. The original Hebrew text suggests that creation is passionately or with great feeling telling the glory of God. Verse 2 continues by stating that “their expanse is declaring the work of His hands,” and thus we learn that the created world is saturated with the presence of God. Based on this declaration by the Psalmist, we can know that every created person has a witness to him from God. The created world cries out for all to hear about the existence of God.
This brings us to the next relevant passage which is found in Romans 1:18-32. In this passage, Paul is writing about unrighteousness and how the unrighteous one has no excuse for his actions since God is revealed to him through creation.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”
Specifically, in this passage it is necessary to focus on verses 18-20. Here in this passage, the reader can come to understand two important things. First, that the NT writers subscribed to a belief in a general revelation of God. Second, that due to that general revelation no person can be without blame for his sin. Paul states, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made…” So according to Paul, God has clearly manifested Himself to His creation through His creation. Thus, as Paul states, the consequence of His general revelation to mankind is that no man can be found blameless for his own sin. Paul states, “…so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”
So the Biblical conclusion that can be reached thus far is that God does in fact provide a revelation of Himself through His natural creation of the world and through His movement throughout history. Finally, Paul writes about the work of God in the hearts of mankind or on the conscience of the human being. Romans 2:14-15 are a part of a statement from Paul about the condemnation that the Law brings to the Jew. In this passage, Paul remarks about how the Law has been written on the hearts of even the Gentiles who have never heard it’s formal tenets. He writes:
“For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them,”
So even the gentile is without excuse for his sins against God since God has in fact written His law on his heart.
These three different passages have shown that the idea of a general revelation from God to mankind is indeed a biblical idea. The consequences of this general revelation are far reaching and a discussion about them could easily fill the pages of a book.
Let me leave you with one final thought. The next time that you find yourself gazing into the vast blue sky, walking deep in the woods, or even lost in your own thoughts remember that all of these are the results of God’s creative work. His glorious presence saturates all that we are and all that we know about existence. All of us, however, have turned away from this revelation and so we need His grace, the grace that has been exhibited through the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, His Son. He has provided the blood atonement for our sins and unveiled our sinful eyes and sin filled lives to the true general revelation of God!