Basic Christianity, Part Five: God's Revelation
In this article we turn our attention to what Christians believe about the ways God has revealed Himself to humans. We have already looked at this briefly, so today we will review the two ways God has revealed Himself to us and provide some details about each.
In a previous article we answered the question of how God has revealed Himself to us. We saw that he has used Natural Revelation and Special Revelation. We saw that Natural Revelation is how God reveals Himself through nature and through what He has created. This means of revelation is seen and experienced by every human being. The second means of revelation is Special Revelation, which is seen and experienced by only some humans.
First we will recap what we learned about Natural Revelation. The word "natural" speaks about nature, so the first way God has revealed himself is through nature - through what He has created. Since we cannot see God, to learn about Him we must see Him indirectly in what He has made. For example, if I am a being that God created, I can learn something about God by looking at myself. I see that I have the capacity to love, to reason and to be spiritual, so I can deduce that God loves, has the ability to reason and is spiritual. Similarly I can learn about God from nature. I see that the universe is orderly and not chaotic and this teaches me about God's character. If God created the universe, I can deduce that He is a God of order and not chaos. Similarly, I can learn from nature that God loves beauty and variety.
Natural revelation also works through the things God has created that I cannot see. Examples of this are my conscience and my mind. My conscience and my mind tell me that there is a God.
There are three main areas we can learn about through Natural Revelation.
God's Existence. Natural Revelation is enough to convince us of God's existence. The world around us and our own existence is enough to prove to us that there is a God.
God's Power. Natural Revelation is enough to convince us that God is powerful and that He created the universe. Looking at the universe is enough to convince us that someone extraordinarily powerful must have done the work of creation.
God's Wrath. Natural Revelation is enough to convince us that there is a curse upon the world. We realize that the world is not perfect and that this is an unnatural state for it - there is something wrong with fighting, hatred and death.
Nature teaches us about these things, but that is not enough. Nature also convicts us of them. In God's view, there is no excuse for ignorance. Natural Revelation leaves us without excuse and every human being knows about God's existence, power and wrath, whether we are willing to admit it or not.
Natural revelation is all that God would need to reveal about Himself in a perfect world. However, since our world is not perfect, we need more - we need Special Revelation. Special revelation tells us what Natural Revelation cannot. It tells us about God's truth, mercy, grace and sacrifice. It tells us about how God relates to people.
Special Revelation has been unfolded through history. It began with God revealing Himself to just one man - the first man. Then he revealed Himself to a family, then to a tribe, a nation, a race and then finally to the whole world.
Special Revelation speaks about the same things as Natural Revelation, but does so in more detail. It also speaks of things that Natural Revelation does not and cannot. We learn further details about God's existence and power and we learn more about His wrath, including the reasons behind it.
There are several means God has used to reveal Himself in a special way.
God speaking directly. God has spoken directly and audibly to people.
God becoming Man. Several times in history God revealed Himself in human form.
Prophecy. God spoke through the mouths of prophets. These men and women, when they prophesied, spoke God's words with their voices.
Casting of Lots. God made his will known through seemingly random events. If God controls everything in the world, this must include things as small as a roll of a dice or casting of a lot.
Urim and Thummin. These were ancient tools used by ancient Israel. We know very little about them, except that they communicated God's revelation to Israelite priests.
Dreams. Dreams have been used to reveal something about God or His will
Visions. God has used visions to reveal Himself.
Miracles. God used miracles to give credence to what people said. If a man claimed to be speaking on behalf of God, God sometimes allowed a miracle to be performed as proof that the words spoken were indeed His words.
The Bible. God's primary means of Special Revelation is through The Bible. This is a topic unto itself, and in our next article we will turn our attention to this form of Special Revelation.