I’ve been asked and given permission to publish this week a series of chapters from the new A Faith and Culture Devotional: Daily Readings on Art, Science, and Life
. This first one is by Sarah Sumner, on General Revelation. I have a chp in this book on the robust gospel.
Bible & Theology:
By Sarah Sumner, PhD, professor of theology and ministry at Haggard School of Theology, Azusa Pacific University. She holds both an MBA and a PhD in systematic theology and writes books on leadership and relationships; www.leadershipabovetheline.com.
The word theology literally means “the study of God.” But if you think about it, no one can study God per se. We can study God’s words. We can study God’s actions. But we can’t study God himself. All we can study is God’s revelation of himself. So a better definition of theology would be “the study of the revelation of God.”
The marvel is that we can know God personally even though we cannot
study him. We can pray to him and listen to him speak. We can praise him
and apprehend his joy. We can sense the promptings of his Spirit. We can also
experience his comfort. Yet we would never know him if he did not reveal
himself to us.
Divine revelation is simply that which God has revealed and there are two
main types: general revelation (that which God has revealed to all people
everywhere at all times) and special revelation (that which God specially
revealed to particular people at particular times). The incarnation and Scripture
constitute God’s special revelation; the universe, by contrast, is God’s
If we take seriously the notion that all of nature and all of history are
aspects of divine revelation, then it’s logical to conclude that all there is to
study is revelation! The heavens are revelation (they declare the glory of God,
see Psalm 19:1); people are revelation (we bear God’s image, see Genesis
1:26 – 27); and God’s Word is revelation (it is God-breathed, see 2 Timothy
3:16 – 17).
Granted, not everything that exists has been revealed. “The secret things
belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our
children forever” (Deuteronomy 29:29). We will never know, for instance,
the fullness of the mind of God. As the apostle Paul said, “How unsearchable
his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! ‘Who has known the mind
of the LORD?’ . . . For from him and through him and to him are all things”
(Romans 11:33 – 36).
As Christians, we know that Scripture and the incarnation are both “from
him and through him and to him.” In other words, we know that special revelation
is from God. But sometimes we forget that general revelation is also
from God. The universe itself is “from him and through him and to him,”
even though it’s passing away (1 John 2:17). Though it is not the same thing to
study Scripture as it is to study the world (and everything in it), it simply isn’t
true that studying God’s general revelation is a “secular” activity, as many
have mistakenly claimed.
The proper work of a Christian is to seek God everywhere — in Scripture,
in prayer, in music, in math, in drama, in pain, in nature, in work, and in
relationships with people — both in special and general revelation. To me, it’s
fantastic that we can praise the Lord and feel moved to adoration, not only by
the words of a hymn that recall God’s special revelation but also by the melody
itself that generally reveals God’s beauty and creativity and brilliance.
Praise the Lord for sweet melodies that soothe us! Praise him for the marvel
of lyrics and language and words! Praise him also for our ability to communicate
with each other and share in the experience of being human! Praise
him for his love! Praise him for his presence here on earth! Praise him for
his greatness in Christ Jesus! Praise him! Praise him because the revelation
of God is so vast and expansive that it’s possible for us to think theologically
all throughout each day. Oh, may today be a glorious day of wondering at the
Great Revealer and trusting in his wisdom and love.
For reflection and discussion
? Sumner suggests ways that God is revealed through a hymn. What are
some ways God is revealed through your favorite poem, through a pendulum
clock, through a baseball game, through an integrated circuit, or
through an ant?
? Can you think of ways that your home or your marriage or your family is
a finger pointing to the glory of God?
? If “all there is to study is revelation,” be mindful of ways to enjoy God
today, and consider what you may want to say to God in response.