April 30, 2024

General Revelation

Barry Cooper
General Revelation

Just as a painting reveals the qualities of its painter, God’s world speaks powerfully of Him. On this episode of Simply Put, Barry Cooper considers God’s general revelation in nature.


Open a Bible about halfway through.

You should find yourself in the middle of a collection of songs called “Psalms.” And in the nineteenth one, the psalmist describes two ways in which God speaks to us. First, He speaks to us through the world that He’s made.

Just listen:

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.

What does that mean? It means that there’s a sense in which God “speaks” to us through the world. Nature is an open book. The beautiful things He has made declare His glory—His greatness, His kindness, His creativity, His provision for each one of us, and so on.

This understanding of God, communicated through creation, is known as general revelation.

When I was twenty, I went on a trek in the Himalayas. At about 2 a.m. one morning, everyone was asleep, I came outside and looked up absentmindedly. And for a moment my brain couldn’t process what I was seeing, it was so unearthly.

There was Mount Everest. And I could see the wind blowing the snow off the peak. And there was a full moon. And the moonbeams were reflecting off all these billions of ice crystals, as they drifted lazily through the darkness. It looked like a ghost, clinging to the top of Mount Everest.

And then beyond it, there were more stars than I’d ever seen in my life. It made me physically stagger back a couple of steps.

Have you ever felt like that? That kind of beauty does something to you, doesn’t it? In that moment, though you may understand the mere science of it, your gut-level response—a sense of profound awe and wonder—betrays you. You know there’s something more going on than one bunch of atoms looking at another bunch of atoms on a Nepalese hillside.

That’s what the skies, the stars, are meant to do. According to Psalm 19, they’re meant to stagger us, to shock us out of our complacency, our overfamiliarity. The skies reach out and grab us by the shoulders and shake us and say, “Where do you think we came from?”

And if the sky has ever left you speechless and breathless, what must the Creator of sky be like? That's the logic of Psalm 19.

The grandeur of the heavens draw our eyes upwards, towards something—or someone—beyond them. Mute as they are, they are communicating something to “all the earth . . . to the ends of the world.” By the fact of their existence, they constantly sing: “There is a Maker! He is powerful and beautiful and good. He created you, just as He created us. He sustains you—day after day—just as He sustains us.”

Now listen to the next two verses. We’ve heard from the skies and the stars; now we hear from the sun:

In [the heavens] [God] has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

The sun rising is “like a bridegroom leaving his chamber.” One writer put it like this: “Unheralded, unannounced, the sun leaps forth in all his splendour—a young bridegroom with the joy of the wedding day still on his countenance, a hero leaping forth on his path of conquest and glory.”

This, too, communicates something about God’s life-giving goodness. Every time the sun rises, and makes its circuit across the sky—like a triumphant athlete enjoying a lap of honor—it is sharing with us the joy, the generosity, the warmth of our Creator. “I am like this,” the sun seems to say, “because my Creator is like this.”

Just as a painting reveals the qualities of a painter, God’s world speaks powerfully of him. He is revealing himself to us with every single moment that the sky continues to turn, and the stars continue to burn.

Even if we had no Bibles, and no preachers, the psalmist says that God would still make his majestic beauty known to us through the skies, the stars and the sun. And this, incidentally, is why the Bible doesn’t try to prove the existence of a Creator. It’s just assumed to be as unmissable as the colossal flaming globe hanging over our heads.

But with that said, there’s only so much the skies can say. The world is not enough. A painting may be wonderful, but what it tells me about the artist is limited. I’d need to read her autobiography to get to know what she’s really like.

We need more than GENERAL revelation. We also need what theologians call SPECIAL revelation. But that… is for another day.