March 14, 2023

Special Revelation

Barry Cooper
Special Revelation

The Creator has revealed His existence by creating. But He has done much more than that. In this episode, Barry Cooper considers how God has made Himself known clearly and specifically by speaking to His creatures.


A teacher tells her class of five-year-olds they can paint whatever they like. After twenty minutes or so, she walks around the room to see what they’ve painted. “Ooh, that’s a nice house, Johnny; well done.” “What a lovely fish, Cynthia; good job.” Finally, she gets to Jeff, and his painting is a wildly abstract blur of colors and shapes. “Ooh, that’s nice—what’s that, Jeff?” “It’s God,” says Jeff. “But no one’s ever seen God,” says the teacher. “Well,” says Jeff, “they have now.”

Over the years, there’ve been no shortage of people who’ve painted imaginative pictures of “God.”

There’ve been gods in the shape of animals; gods in the shape of fire or water; gods who look like the stars and the sun; distant gods, inner gods; benign gods and fearsome ones.

And if I were to ask you to paint your picture of God, I’m guessing it would be different to Jeff’s and probably different to mine. Some people, presumably, would just leave the paper blank.

But would any of our pictures be accurate? How would we know? The only way we’d know for sure is if God had actually revealed Himself.

Theologians speak of two ways in which God has revealed Himself. There’s general revelation, and there’s special revelation.

General revelation is God revealing Himself to everyone through the universe He’s created. The natural world. This is what Psalm 19 means when it says, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” It’s what Romans 1 means when it says God’s “eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” So the existence of the glasswing butterfly, the Pacific Ocean, and the Hourglass Nebula would all fall into this category, as would the existence of human beings and our consciences. The Creator has revealed His existence by creating.

Now, everyone can see and understand this kind of revelation. That’s why it’s called “general” revelation. You don’t need to be an Oxford don to understand instinctively that a creation requires a Creator.

But general revelation is very narrow in what it can say about God. Yes, it reveals to us that there is a divine and eternally powerful Creator, but it can’t reveal anything more specific about what this Creator is like and how we’re supposed to relate to Him.

That’s why we need special revelation. Special revelation is God’s revealing of Himself in particular ways to particular people. Hebrews chapter 1, verses 1 and 2, describes how this special revelation has occurred:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
So what we’re being told here is that God has specially revealed Himself by speaking to us: first through the Old Testament prophets but most recently through His Son Jesus Christ. This is special revelation: a specific revealing of what God is like, to a particular people.

There’s only so much you can tell about an artist from the things he’s created. To really get to know him, we’d need to meet him.

That’s why Jesus is the ultimate example of special revelation.” He is nothing less than the Artist stepping into His own creation and meeting us in the flesh. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” says Jesus in John chapter 14.

Jesus, of course, reveals so much more about God than the Hourglass Nebula ever could. He reveals things about the Artist that we could never discover merely by studying His handiwork.

But what if we’re not able to meet the Artist in person? Well, this is the reason God has given us Scripture—another form of special revelation. Each biblical writer was carried along by God’s Spirit, to ensure that the portrait they were painting was truthful and reliable.

What that means is that all our guessing games about which of our various pictures of God come closest to reality can stop. In Scripture, God Himself has painted His self-portrait.