What is Natural Revelation?
It is important to understand that we cannot know anything about God unless He reveals Himself to us. God is infinite, and we are finite. The distance between God and man is so great that we could not know anything about Him or what He requires if He did not reveal Himself to us (WCF 7.1). As Isaiah says, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” There are two ways that God reveals Himself to us. Theologians classify these as “special” and “general” or “natural” revelation. Special revelation is when God speaks in His Word, the Bible, and would also include God speaking in the Son (Heb. 1:1-2). It is in particular times and places that God speaks, it is special in that it clear and direct.
Natural revelation is God speaking and making Himself known in His creation. The Bible teaches that God made all creation and has put His attributes on display for us in it. We call this “natural” revelation because it is something that God has made known in creation. This does not mean that the creation is God but only that God makes creation to reflect aspects of His glory. We can also call this “general” revelation because it goes out to all people. Everyone can see and hear it. We are surrounded with this revelation of God. By virtue of being made in His image the knowledge of God is plainly before us.
So the creation speaks the glory of God:
Psa. 19:1-4: The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun,
Natural revelation is ‘as plain as day.’ We see it and cannot hide from it. The creation is, in a sense, talking to us. It is telling us everywhere that the Triune God is real. This does not mean we are always listening to it.
Paul tells us that while this knowledge is all around us, we suppress it:
Rom. 1:19-21 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 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 foolish hearts were darkened.
Paul tells us that we suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). The picture is that creation is telling all these things about God, who He is and what He is like. It makes known to us “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature.” These things are clearly there (“being clearly perceived”). However, we in our sin are like the little child who crams his fingers in his ears and shouts “I’m not listening…I’m not listening.” This does not deny the fact that someone is speaking. So too, our rejection of God does not deny the fact that God has given sufficient knowledge of Himself in creation.
This knowledge is not saving knowledge. God uses the means of His Word and the Holy Spirit to bring redemptive knowledge and to remove the blindness from our hearts. Yet, natural revelation is sufficient to bring accountability and judgment. When an unrepentant person stands before God on the day of judgment they will not be able to make the excuse “I did not know; I had never heard.” We ‘hear’ every day who God is as He has evidenced it in His creation. He is speaking.
Tim Bertolet is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College and Westminster Theological Seminary. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pretoria, South Africa. He is an ordained pastor in the Bible Fellowship Church, currently serving as pastor of Faith Bible Fellowship Church in York, Pa. He is a husband and father of four daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @tim_bertolet.
As a Christian, I should study both the book of God’s Word (the Bible) and the book of God’s creation. This is why a Christian can be a scientist. We can explore God’s creation. Should we ever have the chance to colonize Mars or explore interstellar space, I hope that Christians will go so that they can pay further attention to all God has made. For now, we are on earth, but let’s not forget the wonder and glory of God that He is shouting forth to us in creation. May we have eyes to see and ears to hear, not to praise creation, but so that we might be led to praise the creator God.