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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: God Has Spoken to Us

Don Stewart :: Why Are the Truths of General Revelation Inadequate for People to Know God?

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Why Are the Truths of General Revelation Inadequate for People to Know God?

God Has Spoken to Us – Question 12

Though general revelation is universal, and everyone has access to it; it is still inadequate in a number of ways for people to know God. The following points need to be made:

1. General Revelation Does Not Accurately Interpret the Truths It Reveals

For one thing, general revelation does not accurately interpret the truths that it reveals. General revelation constantly tells us about God’s greatness and His majesty. However, it cannot tell us about God’s plan of salvation or how an individual may be saved. General revelation testifies that God exists, but it tells us nothing of God’s character, why humanity exists, or how we relate to Him. General revelation only provides a limited picture. It gives us an imperfect presentation of God’s character.

2. The Human Race Has Been Distorted by Sin

The knowledge of God that is available through general revelation has been distorted by sin. Some of the specific things that nature reveals may not be correctly understood because of sin. Fallen humanity has no ability to accurately understand specific details about God through the means of general revelation. The human heart is also deceitful. Jeremiah wrote,

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 RSV)

The thinking process of godless humans is also futile. Paul wrote to the Romans,

For although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened (Romans 1:21 NLT).

In contrast, the Scripture itself is ‘God-breathed.’

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NLT)

Therefore, general revelation, when observed by sinful humanity, does not lead to answers to our ultimate questions. Our limitations, as well as our ignorance, need more than general revelation.

3. Sinful Humanity Continually Suppresses the Truth of General Revelation

While general revelation should raise questions about God, sinful humanity rejects what is known. Human beings bring darkness upon themselves. Paul wrote,

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness... (Romans 1:18 NASB)

This is an active, willing suppression of what God has revealed. People are actually running away from the truth of God. Not only do they suppress the truth of God, they approve of, or applaud, evil. Paul also wrote,

They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them. (Romans 1:32 NRSV)

As human beings continually suppress the truth that God is revealing to them their conscience becomes more and more seared. It gets to the place where its voice is hardly ever heard. When the message of general revelation is distorted or suppressed it will eventually lead to God’s judgment upon the individual.

A person may get to the place where they neither recognize nor respond to God’s revelation of Himself. People who constantly reject the truth of God may eventually find themselves incapable of responding. Their heart may become hardened to the place where God removes the inner witness of Himself.

We find Jesus refusing to answer the questions of King Herod. The Bible says,

He asked Jesus question after question, but Jesus refused to answer. (Luke 23:9 NLT)

Jesus warned about those who do not listen to what He teaches:

“So be sure to pay attention to what you hear. To those who are open to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But to those who are not listening, even what they think they have will be taken away from them.” (Luke 8:18 NLT)

The constant rejection of God’s truth is dangerous.

4. The Different Religions Testify to the Confusion about Which God Exists

There are so many different religions that exist in the world. This fact gives evidence that humanity consistently misinterprets what they can learn from creation, providence, or their own conscience. Instead of worshipping the God of the Bible, they substitute nature, or parts of nature, to worship. The Bible says their hearts are darkened. Paul wrote,

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. The result was that their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they became utter fools instead. (Romans 1:21, 22 NLT)

Their darkened hearts created human-made religion. The ancients, as well as modern humanity, have the same testimony from the natural world. However, neither the ancients nor modern humanity has come up with any consensus about who God is or what He expects from us. Humans are still in darkness over who we are and what will happen to us when we die.

5. Nature Is Still under the Divine Curse

While nature does give some testimony to the power and majesty of God, it must be remembered that the Bible says that it is under the curse of the Fall. The Book of Genesis records this event occurring. We read the words of what took place:

He [God] said to the woman, “I will increase your pain and your labor when you give birth to children. Yet, you will long for your husband, and he will rule you.” Then he said to the man, “You listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree, although I commanded you, ‘You must never eat its fruit.’ The ground is cursed because of you. Through hard work you will eat food that comes from it every day of your life. The ground will grow thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat wild plants. By the sweat of your brow, you will produce food to eat until you return to the ground, because you were taken from it. You are dust, and you will return to dust.” (Genesis 3:16-19 God’s Word)

Paul wrote about how the original creation was subjected to futility. He wrote the following to the Romans:

I am sure that what we are suffering now cannot compare with the glory that will be shown to us. In fact, all creation is eagerly waiting for God to show who his children are. Meanwhile, creation is confused, but not because it wants to be confused. God made it this way in the hope that creation would be set free from decay and would share in the glorious freedom of his children. We know that all creation is still groaning and is in pain, like a woman about to give birth. (Romans 8:18-22 CEV)

Since nature is under the curse of God, it does not give perfect testimony about God’s creation. Nature does not tell us if we are any different than the beasts of the field or whether we have an immortal soul. It does not inform us if there is really life after death. An imperfect creation can never give us a perfect revelation of God.

6. A Biblical Example of General Revelation Being Insufficient: The Star of Bethlehem

We seem to have a biblical example of general revelation being insufficient. When the Magi came from the east looking for the Christ child they were lead by a star. The Bible says,

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:1, 2 NASB)

God must have allowed the Magi to understand something about the birth of Christ through this star. Although this star that led them may have been a supernatural event, it was not sufficient in-and-of itself. It did not bring them to Jesus; it only brought them to Jerusalem and Jesus’ enemy—Herod. When they needed to find the exact location of the birth of the King of the Jews it was not the stars but the Scripture, special revelation, which was consulted. The Bible says the following:

When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’” (Matthew 2:4-6 TNIV)

Therefore, we see that the general revelation of the birth of Christ through the guiding star was not sufficient. When the Magi got to Bethlehem they worshipped the One whom God’s special revelation spoke of.

7. The Experience of the Writer: Ecclesiastes

The fact that general revelation is insufficient can be seen in the experience of the person who wrote the Book of Ecclesiastes, traditionally believed to be Solomon. Although he had unparalleled wisdom, this was still not enough to know any specific truths about God.

From the standpoint of general revelation alone, he made the following observations:

These are the words of the Teacher, King David’s son, who ruled in Jerusalem. “Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “utterly meaningless!” What do people get for all their hard work? Generations come and go, but nothing really changes. The sun rises and sets and hurries around to rise again. The wind blows south and north, here and there, twisting back and forth, getting nowhere. The rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows again to the sea. Everything is so weary and tiresome! No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content. History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. What can you point to that is new? How do you know it didn’t already exist long ago? We don’t remember what happened in those former times. And in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now. (Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 NLT)

This teaches us an important truth. All the knowledge in the world, without divine revelation to explain its meaning, is worthless. We need more than general revelation. This is because the testimony of nature is contradictory. On the one hand, it reveals the power, wisdom, and majesty of God, but nature can be very unforgiving; its power can bring death and destruction.

8. General Revelation Should Raise Questions about God, but Cannot Give Ultimate Answers

For the unbeliever, general revelation ought to raise questions about God’s person and plan. There is certainly enough evidence to testify to His existence, His power, and His loving character. These truths should lead the unbeliever to ask further questions about the identity of this God. Jesus said,

“...if any man’s will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.” (John 7:17 RSV)

His rule or Lordship over everything testifies to His existence. People are accountable to respond to this testimony.

Conclusion: People Need to Hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Because of the inadequacy of general revelation, people need to hear the message of forgiveness of sin through the work of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul made this clear when he wrote to the church at Rome:

How can people have faith in the Lord and ask him to save them, if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear, unless someone tells them? And how can anyone tell them without being sent by the Lord? The Scriptures say it is a beautiful sight to see even the feet of someone coming to preach the good news. Yet not everyone has believed the message. For example, the prophet Isaiah asked, “Lord, has anyone believed what we said?” No one can have faith without hearing the message about Christ. (Romans 10:14-17 CEV)

People need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, general revelation, while revealing certain truths about God, is inadequate. The message of Christ must be proclaimed!

Summary – Question 12
Why Are the Truths of General Revelation Inadequate to Know God?

General revelation provides a number of truths about God. However general revelation has its limits. There is no explanation of who God is, who we are as humans, or the plan of salvation from general revelation.

In addition, because of sin, humanity is not able to fully appreciate what God has revealed by means of general revelation. The fact that different religions interpret general revelation in various ways speaks of its limitation.

General revelation will raise questions about God’s nature and plan, but it cannot give the ultimate answers to those questions. For this more is needed–the message of forgiveness of sin through Jesus Christ must be proclaimed.

Therefore, humans need a divine revelation in written form. The testimony of God’s creation is incomplete. Furthermore, creation is now under God’s curse, its perfection has been marred by sin. Imperfect humans, marred by sin, cannot correctly interpret an imperfect creation.

Does General Revelation Prove That the God of the Bible Exists? ← Prior Section
What Conclusions Should We Draw from General Revelation? Next Section →
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