General Revelation (Part 1): How Is It Possible To Know Anything At All About God?

INTRODUCTION

In a previous blog, we said that using natural theology’s five arguments for the existence of God we could provide five excellent reasons to believe in God:
1. God is the best explanation for the existence of objective moral values and duties in the world.
2. God is the best explanation for the beginning of the universe.
3. God is the best explanation for why the universe is so finely-tuned to sustain life.
4. God is the best explanation why anything at all exists rather than nothing.
5. The very possibility that God exists indicates to us that he actually does exist.

In presenting these arguments, Christians bore the burden of proof or evidence.

FIVE OBJECTIONS ANSWERED

We’ve also responded to some of atheism’s primary objections:
1. Suffering: If a loving and powerful God exists, why is there suffering?
2. Origin: Is the question of God’s origin an effective argument against his existence?
3.Hiddenness: If God exists, why doesn’t he make it more obvious and end unbelief?
4. Exclusivity: How can you legitimately claim that Jesus is the only way to God?
5. Miracles: Are miracles impossible, and does the Bible need to be “demythologized”?

GOD’S APPARENT “HIDDENNESS”

In our blog on God’s “hiddenness,” we discussed atheism’s assertion that, if there were a God, he would make his existence more obvious to us, perhaps by printing “made by God” on every molecule in the universe or by putting a neon cross in the sky with a message that says “Jesus saves.” Atheists who think in this manner say that, if God existed, he would solve the problem of widespread unbelief in the world.

We responded by saying it’s hard to understand how someone could say that God is “hidden” in light of the five arguments we’ve already presented. We also said that God chooses to NOT reveal himself as much as we, in our humanity, sometimes think he should. We said that he does this in order to allow us to freely choose:
• whether we will believe in him and
• whether we will submit to his will.

However, God has revealed himself to man at various times throughout history, perhaps in instances where it would not inhibit man’s ability to choose freely. It’s possible that those he communicates with would already believe in him and obey him with or without such a revelation. So perhaps a revelation would not interfere with their agency to choose.

HOW CAN WE KNOW MORE ABOUT GOD?

There are people who stretch the idea of God’s alleged “hiddenness” to a degree that they say God is simply “unknowable.” This is not true. It’s possible to know God.

So how can we know more about him? First, we ought to ask: “How can we identify who God is? What differentiates God from his creation? What makes him ‘God’ and us ‘human’?”

There is an aspect of anything’s existence that philosophers refer to as “properties.” If something exists, it must have “properties.” In the case of God, we refer to these as “attributes.” These “properties” or “attributes” help us define who God is and distinguish him from his creation or other things that exist.

In this series of blogs we’ve listed many different attributes of God. In initially trying to learn about God, it is important to understand that he is “personal” and “infinite.”

There are pantheistic religions that believe in an impersonal God, a God that is one with the nature that we see all around us. On the other hand, monotheistic religions like Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Deism and a minority of Hindu religions believe in a God who is a “personal being,” separate and apart from the creation that he made.

“Infinite” is not really a single attribute, but actually an umbrella term that just refers to all of the superlative attributes of God that distinguish him from his creation. So it is important to understand that he is a “personal” and “infinite” God.

So we’ve said that to know about God, we need to understand his infinite attributes (i.e., “properties” he possesses that we do not). For example, we said in previous blogs that he is all-powerful (i.e., as to all things that are logically possible), all-knowing, all-good, eternal (i.e., no beginning and no end). It is by attributes like these that we come to know who God is and what he is like.

General revelation, the witness of nature and conscience which is available to every person, discloses to us that there is a personal, infinite being whose standards for morality (i.e., the right and wrong that we naturally sense) we have been unable to always uphold in our lives.

THE WITNESS OF CREATION

In the fine-tuning argument we pointed to a number of recent, and rather amazing, discoveries in physics. We explored three theories that try to explain “fine tuning”: physical necessity, chance and design. As we examine the fine-tuning of the universe, we’re struck by an intuitive sense that there must be an intelligence behind the precision, intricacy and delicate balance that is required to sustain life in the universe.

Along this same line, there have been some amazing scientific discoveries in the past 150 years such as Einstein’s theories of relativity, Maxwell’s theory of the electromagnetic field and the advent of quantum mechanics.

Science philosopher David Berlinski, who is not a Christian, says that these discoveries could easily be interpreted as God revealing his own majesty to humanity:
“But why not say with equal authority that for all we know, it is the God of Old who continues to preside over the bent world with His accustomed fearful majesty, and that He has chosen to reveal Himself by drawing the curtain on His own magnificence . . .”

As Berlinski has suggested, we believe that God attempts to reveal himself through what Christians call “the witness of creation.” It reveals to us that there must be an intelligence who sustains life by maintaining this precise, intricate and delicate balance in the universe. Theologians refer to this as “general revelation.”

There is a book in the Bible called Romans. It is a letter written by the apostle Paul that explains this “witness of creation.” Romans chapter 1, verses 18 through 20 (Revised Standard Version) says:
“18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

We don’t present this passage to persuade. It’s simply to let you know where Christians get this idea about a “witness of creation.”

THE WITNESS OF CONSCIENCE

In the moral argument, we refuted the idea that morality is an illusion and the concept of moral relativism. We refuted the idea that objective moral values exist without any need for God. We provided arguments against attributing morality to merely a struggle for survival. We also provided a rationale that, without God’s existence, objective moral values and duties would not exist. Everyone is given this sense of right and wrong. In the moral argument we said there are certain things we can all agree are obviously wrong.

Where does that moral sense come from? After examining the possibilities, we said that God is the best explanation for the moral sense or conscience that we find embedded in every person.

Christians call this the “witness of conscience.” It reveals to every person that there is a powerful being to whom we are morally accountable. Theologians say that together the witness of creation and the witness of conscience make up this concept they call “general revelation.”

In that same book of Romans, the apostle Paul describes this “witness of conscience.” Romans, chapter 2, verses 14 to 16 in the RSV Bible says:
“14 When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”

So this is where Christians get the idea that there is a “witness of conscience.”

Theologians call these two witnesses of creation and conscience together: “general revelation.”

GENERAL REVELATION

So based on the fine-tuning argument and moral argument for God’s existence, we would submit that God uses general revelation to reveal himself to us through the vehicles of the “witness of creation” and the “witness of conscience.”

Based on these two witnesses, general revelation then gives us this understanding: “There is a powerful, personal creator of the universe before whom we are morally accountable and whose moral standards we have not always lived up to.”

Theologians call this “general revelation” because:
1. This insight is “generally available” to every person who was ever born (it’s not hidden from anyone).
2. This insight provides just a “general understanding” about God (just a basic understanding).

One of Christ’s apostles named John wrote a book in the Bible that describes this phenomenon of God revealing a basic understanding of himself to all people. John chapter 1, verse 9 says: “That was the true light which gives light to every man coming into the world.”

This light that comes from creation and conscience has been given to everyone, but not everyone receives it. For example, it’s a common human experience that, at various times in our lives, the moral sense in each of us has made us aware of our own moral shortcomings — a willfulness and failure to live up to the standards that we know to be right.

ATHEISM’S REJECTION OF GENERAL REVELATION

It’s common for humans to reject this moral sense and try to deny its existence so that they can have a moral license to do as they please.

In 1937, the atheist philosopher Aldous Huxley forthrightly conveyed that his motivations for being an atheist and existentialist were to achieve moral liberation:
“I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning . . . the philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics, he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do. For myself, as no doubt for most of my friends, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation from a certain system of morality.”
Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means: An inquiry Into the Nature of Ideals, (London: Transaction Publishers, 2012), 318.

GENERAL REVELATION: COGNITIVE DYSFUNCTION IN ATHEISM

You might ask, “Okay let’s just say that you’re right about general revelation, so where does that get us?”

First, this idea that God actively reveals himself through nature and conscience would indicate that a person can only be an atheist by suppressing such general revelation from God.

Romans 1 says that they “suppress the truth” about a God who is “plain” to them. It also says, “His invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.” Romans 2 says that “our conscience bears witness” to us of our immorality.

In light of this, our cognitive faculties would have to be impaired to some degree in order to deny that innate sense of divinity that God is trying to communicate to us. This does not in any way suggest that atheists are insincere in their beliefs, but denying general revelation in this manner belies some degree of cognitive dysfunction.

GENERAL REVELATION: THE PERSONAL CREATOR GOD OF MONOTHEISTIC BELIEF

Second, general revelation exposes us to the truth about a personal creator God. “Personal” meaning a person or being, as opposed to pantheistic (i.e., in all things). It gives us a generic monotheism that would only be acceptable to a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian or a Deist (includes belief in a God of nature) and just a few forms of Hinduism that are monotheistic.

So general revelation would seem to ELIMINATE beliefs such as polytheism, atheism, Daoism, and most forms of Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Each of these does not believe in a personal creator God, but rather a pantheistic God who is supposedly in all things.

General revelation does not establish that Jesus is the Son of God. It does not point the way out of this moral morass in which we have failed to always live up to standards of right and wrong that are embedded in our conscious awareness.

NATURAL THEOLOGY vs. GENERAL REVELATION

We need to keep in mind that natural theology and general revelation are two different things. The five arguments of natural theology are a human product, fallible and constantly being improved. Whereas, general revelation is an untainted and basic understanding about God that is available to every person, without the aid of churches or scriptures or religious teachers. This would indicate that each person on earth potentially has direct access to God.

Just like brush strokes in a painting that indicate it was created by a Van Gogh or Rembrandt, general revelation reveals to us the attributes of a loving and powerful creator.

SUMMARY

General revelation:
1. brings to our awareness an intuitive sense that there must be a creator who sustains life in the universe and to whom we are accountable.
2. points us toward monotheistic traditions that teach a personal Creator God as opposed to a pantheistic concept of God.

As Paul stated in his letter to the Christians in Rome: These things are “clearly perceived.”

All you have to do is consider explanations like the arguments for fine-tuning and morality and then ask God if these things are true. If you do this, the God who has loved you all of your life will respond, maybe not in a way that you are expecting, but he will speak to your heart and provide an assurance that these things are true.

He is a personal creator who is available to you at this very moment. Instead of hiddenness, it is the availability of a personal creator that makes the avenue of evidence-based faith both exciting and challenging.

Please consider the evidence for creation and conscience and reach out to him today!

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