“Why should the nations say,
‘Now, where is their God?’
Our God is in the heavens—
All that he delights in, he does.”
Indeed, those who have made gods to worship out of gold and silver do look at us and ask us how we can worship a God that we can neither see nor touch? The psalmist’s reply is an important one. Often, when we are pressed with the same question from a secularist, we retreat and are a bit defensive with our answer. We usually say something to the extent of, “well, it takes faith…” Or, if we are a bit more astute, one of the classic answers that is given is, “you cannot see the wind, but you see the effects of the wind—so it is with the Holy Spirit and with those born again of the Holy Spirit,” making a reference to Jesus’ language before Nicodemus. Yet, there is nothing defensive about the psalmist’s response. The psalmist replies to the question by saying, “Our God is in the heavens and he does all that he pleases.” Do you see what the psalmist is doing here? It is as if the psalmist is saying—you are criticizing me for not having a god made out of metal or stone that I can see, but your gods are inanimate objects—the creation of your own hands—how can I bow down to one who is incapable of answering my prayers? I worship a God who rises high above the heavens—he cannot be constrained by puny things of metal or stone, nor can he even be constrained by the world itself—and all that takes place is a result of my God’s good will. So, who will you worship, the god formed out of the dirt by the sweat of your own brow, or the God who created the dirt and all that is around with but a word of his power. Beloved, statements like this are anything but defensive, they cut to the quick, and address the problem at hand—who is the true God of heaven and earth and what ought to be done with all of the bad imitations?
Loved ones, why are we so often intimidated when people challenge our faith? We know the effect of the hand of God in our own lives, we have seen God’s work in the world, and we know the truth of God that is found preserved for us within the Holy Scriptures. In addition, creation itself testifies to God’s majesty! Where is there room for anything but bold assurance? It is not incumbent upon us to prove to the atheist that God does exist—it is his responsibility to prove that God does not exist if he wants to hold a position that is so contrary to reason and observation. Because we have allowed ourselves to be intimidated by academic degrees and titles, we have allowed unbelievers to turn the tables on us, forcing Christians to swallow lies in the name of “science”—lies that do not even stand up to the secularist’s own scientific methods of scrutiny.
The final statement is also telling for two reasons. First of all, it compliments the previous statement about God in the heavens. We do not worship a God that was like the gods of the Greek philosophers—ones who were transcendent and so separate from the world that they do not act, but only observe—but we worship a God who does act within the realms of men. But what is also important is that not only does God act, he takes pleasure in his acting. We spend a lot of time talking about God’s sovereignty and that he works out all things according to the council of his own will (Ephesians 1:11), but we often neglect the principle that is expressed here—that God does take pleasure in his actions.
Beloved, think on things this way: God is satisfied with himself to such a wonderful degree that all that he thinks and does brings him pleasure. And, to continue the line of thought to its logical end, if God finds his ultimate satisfaction in himself and finds profound pleasure in all that he does, we can find our ultimate satisfaction in Him and pleasure in all that he does in our lives. That is an easy statement to agree with when things are going well, but what about when the world around us seems to be falling apart? Can you affirm, even in the midst of your greatest heartache, that God is still working all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose? Though we may struggle with it, this is exactly how we should be thinking. Our God rules the creation and works out his good pleasure in your life and in mine; let us strive to take our pleasure in the working out of these things by his strong and steady hand—finding our hope and satisfaction in Him and in Him alone.
Forms of Special Revelation:
We have been speaking of and citing some of the weaknesses of General Revelation and our need for something more. Yet, let us point out that General Revelation was never designed to teach us our obligation towards God and our proper relationship to him as our creator. Indeed, it was never designed to even guide us in morality even if the fall were not to have taken place. How do we know this? It is because God engaged in Special Revelation prior to the fall of mankind. God gave Adam the law in the garden and regularly communicated with him in terms of instructing him in his role as regent over the creation. We are also told that God was prone to walk through the garden (by implication, to speak with Adam and Eve). Thus, communication beyond what could be learned from nature was part of God’s pre-fall relationship with his creatures. Now, one could argue that all revelation from God is Special Revelation. Was not God the author of the genetic code by which organic creatures function? Was God not the author of the laws of science by which the physical bodies of the universe operate? Certainly the limitation of understanding science lies within us, not within God’s revelation of it in creation. And certainly, in our fallen state, we sometimes mis-interpret the Special Revelation that is given to us. Thus, the important thing to note is that the purpose of General and Special Revelation is different. General reveals broadly and to all; Special reveals narrowly (dealing especially with God and our relationship with and obligation towards him) and only to whom it is delivered. How many people have read the scriptures only to come away with heretical teachings? Thus, not only is it delivered to few, its proper interpretation requires insight from the Holy Spirit, who effectively guides Special Revelation’s delivery.
We can categorize Special Revelation in the following way:
- Manifestations of God: God manifests himself to his people to guide them, encourage them, and teach them. And, God has done this in a variety of ways.
- Theophanies: Where God physically presents himself to the prophet while the prophet is awake and aware of such taking place. For example, God descended upon Mount Sinai when the law was given, He appeared to Job in a whirlwind, and He spoke to Elijah on Mount Sinai to mention just a few.
- Visions: This is where God manifests himself in a vision (not physically) to a prophet who is awake and aware of what is taking place. God came to Abram in a vision, to Samuel, and to the prophet Isaiah again to name just a few.
- Dreams: This is where God manifests himself visually (not physically) to a prophet who is asleep. God communicated this way to Jacob, to Joseph the son of Jacob, and to Joseph, the earthly adoptive father of Jesus again to name just a few.
- In his Son: Jesus is the ultimate manifestation of God given not just to the prophets, but to all people. He is also the perfect image of the invisible God and the object of all Special Revelation. All of scripture, not just the Gospels, points to Jesus.
- Prophesy: God also speaks to and through his prophets. The role of the prophet, as we have already discussed, is to faithfully be the mouth of God to his people. The role of prophesy is two-fold: it is to foretell and to forthtell. While some prophesy does speak of things that will take place in the future (foretell), the bulk of prophesy is to speak forth God’s word to the people of God, for rebuke and encouragement (forthtell). With this before us, God speaks prophetically in a variety of ways.
- Direct Verbal Prophesy: God speaks directly to his prophets and then the prophets relate it either orally or in writing to God’s people. This is the “thus says the Lord” clause in scripture.
- Indirect Prophesy: God also spoke to his people through indirect means. God gave the High Priest the Urim and Thummim, by drawing lots, and signs.
- Typology: As God is the God of history, it is not surprising that God would order events in similar ways as a means of demonstrating his hand at work. Typology is the study of these repetitions through persons, events, or institutions that are repeated with intensification in the events that follow—usually pointing toward Christ. For example, the institution of the priesthood, particularly that of the High Priest was designed to prefigure Christ’s priesthood. Moses, as a mediator for his people, prefigures Christ’s mediatorial work. There are many more such events that God has arranged in such a way as that they point to what is to come.
- Miracles: While miracles are not sufficient in and of themselves to generate faith, but they are given to confirm and strengthen the faith that is already present. They were given as signs that the prophets were genuine and given as signs that Jesus really is the Son of God.
In a sense, scripture is the ultimate Special Revelation of God as it is the record of the forms of Special Revelation we have already spoken of that is preserved in writing for God’s people through history. Scripture is the ultimate manifestation of God’s special Revelation to his people, revealing Christ and uniting in Christ all of these separate forms of Special Revelation. Thus, with the close of scripture, the necessity of such authoritative revelation from God has ceased. Scripture reveals Christ in his fullness for God’s people and thus, the completed canon of scripture is given to us as the capstone upon which our faith is held together. It is, according to the Apostle Peter when comparing the scriptures to his own experience of walking with Christ and witnessing (as well as performing) miracles, something that is “more sure.” Thus, we have General Revelation and Special Revelation, and all of the many forms of Special Revelation find their climax in the Scriptures—the written word of God.
This is a view that is hotly debated by the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements in the church, and this is not the place to go into an extensive discussion of the relevant issues. In short, the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements would look to what they refer to as gifts of the Holy Spirit (Prophesy and Tongues) from the New Testament as normative for the church in all ages. In response, the question must be asked, “Is the canon of scripture closed?” Certainly that is the Bible’s own testimony about itself, as we have discussed. If there is continuing authoritative prophesy, for example, thus God speaking verbatim (thus says the Lord) through an agent to his people, are you not adding to scripture? There are many good books which argue on both sides of the debate, but the most important aspect of this discussion is what scripture says of itself. Scripture’s testimony, as we have discussed, is that it is complete and sufficient for matters of faith and matters of life. If it is complete and sufficient, why is there need for further supernatural revelation to be given?