The author of Hebrews began his epistle with the words “at many times and in many ways, God spoke…” (Heb. 1:1), reminding his readers that supernatural revelation is not a rare commodity. Jewish Christians in the first century are not the only ones who need to be reminded that such revelation exists. Twenty-first century humanity is very adept at convincing itself that it is impossible to know if God is real. The evidence that God has revealed himself is abundant, but contemporary humanity has stupidly mislabeled the boxes where all the evidence is placed.
The First Box
God revealed his existence and character through the universe he created. David speaks of the cosmos as a constant light and picture show displaying how glorious God is (Psalm 19:1-6). Paul asserts that unbelievers are not excused for rejecting God since “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” (Rom. 1:20). This is the first box of evidence, which should properly be labeled CREATION, but is often labeled EVOLUTION, a term that suggests no need for an explanation beyond what is to explain what is.
Looking closely at the evidence in this box you will find a universe that has an origin that cannot be explained adequately through the powers and processes that currently exist. Secular science has suggested some “big bang” happened billions of years ago to account for the present universe. But secular science also predicts that the current universe will eventually be destroyed because there is no power available within it to preserve it. However, many scientists acknowledge an anthropocentric aspect to reality. That is, the universe seems to be designed for a purpose, and humanity seems to be central to that purpose. The universe also seems to contain sources of power that are not always apparent. The religious are quick to point out that one of those sources of power (indeed the ultimate source of all power) is God himself. Therefore the future of the universe is not as bleak as secular science suggests.
God is a Puzzle Maker
Providing one dares to assume that creation is displaying evidence of its creator, one can draw conclusions about the nature of the creator from a reasoned look at creation. For example, the universe can be categorized as a combination of systems, each of which has a definite structure. There are star systems in space, climate, geological and ecological systems on the planet, and circulatory, pulmonary and digestive systems among creatures. The existence of these systems suggest an intelligent designer who enjoys artistically producing unity from diverse objects. It is almost as if every system is a puzzle, and God is encouraging humans to search for the patterns so that we can understand the systems as a whole. Science is our attempt at putting together the pieces of the puzzles. If there were no order to the systems – that is, if everything was random chaos – the universe would be impossible to figure out, and that would lead to an altogether different view of God.
God has a Purpose for Everything
The unity that God builds into all these interlocking systems is a unity of purpose. The systems work together to foster and sustain life, reveal God’s craftsmanship in the master design, and promote more unity-in-diversity.
As children, one of the first lessons we learned is that everything has a purpose. We make mistakes when we use things for the wrong purpose. Children of God learn this lesson as well. We learn that everything that happens to us is allowed by God to benefit us in some way. So Joseph told his brothers who had sold him into slavery ion Egypt: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50:20). Paul told the Romans that “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Seeing God at work in the difficulties we face is not always easy. That is why David encouraged his soul not to forget all of God’s benefits (Psalm 103:2). Each of these texts points to the fact that God is at work in the universe all around us orchestrating it for his own purpose.
The Second Box
The second box of evidence for God’s existence is a number of kinds of direct revelation (like miracles, theophanies, angelic visions, etc.), that eventually became encapsulated in his written word, the sixty six books of the Holy Bible. God revealed his standards, his desires and his plan through the scriptures (Psalm 19:7-11). God is our father. As a father, he wants us to do more than just acknowledge his existence. He wants us to follow his commands. That is why deism, theism, or unitarianism will never please God. It is not enough to admit that he does (or might) exist. He is our father, and we must acknowledge that relationship through obedience. The Bible is God’s way of showing us what he wants – how we can obey him and please him.
Union University president David Dockery said “it is not enough to affirm that the Bible is a human witness to divine revelation because the Bible is also God’s witness to himself.”1 This truth serves as a foundation for all talk about revelation. Biblical theology assumes that the author of Hebrews is right – that God has revealed himself. Thus the task of defining revelation does not have to be inductive. One does not have to begin where an unbeliever does. Instead, a biblical theologian starts with affirming what the Bible says about itself, and then invites unbelievers, skeptics and atheists to evaluate the truthfulness of the statements.
Professor Herbert Byrne defines “the properties of scripture (as) authority (Isaiah 1:2; sufficiency (2 Tim. 3:15); clarity (Psalm 119:105); and cannot be broken (John 10:35).”2 It stands to reason that each of these qualities would describe scripture because each faithfully describes the source of scripture: God himself. He is the ultimate authority, having no superior from which his authority could derive. He is entirely self-sufficient, having no need for any other for fulfillment. His words and thoughts are completely clear to himself (in spite of the difficulty humans often have understanding them). His words cannot be broken because the truth they reveal does not change, or go out of style. He is dependable. Therefore the best thing anyone can say about scripture is not a negative statement (like “inerrant,” or “infallible,” ) but a positive one. Scripture is from God.3
Scripture records the incidents when “God showed himself. He let himself be heard. He disclosed his presence. He revealed who he is. He made known his name.”4 Today’s reader may wonder why God chose to do so thousands of years ago to the fathers and prophets and apostles. She may question the wisdom of embedding the most important truth the world has ever heard in a collection of ancient Jewish stories. But she cannot deny that the revelation has happened. Even if she sets aside the internal evidence presented in the scriptures themselves, she is overwhelmed by the impact that these Jewish stories have had on the planet.
Paul on Revelation
When the apostle Paul commented on the fact of revelation (the fact that God has revealed himself in scripture) he usually emphasized three results of that revelation. These results are 1) transforming grace (God’s revelation changes those who believe it), 2) present task (God’s revelation commands a change in behavior and mission), and 3) eternal destiny (God’s revelation points us to a life beyond this life, so redirects the lives of those who believe it).
Consider Col. 1:24-28; 2:1-3. Here Paul speaks of his ministry as a stewardship of a mystery that has now been revealed to believers. Believers now have this knowledge that they did not have before the gospel was proclaimed to them. One of the results of this revelation is that Christ is in them (Col. 1:27). He is not just with them or for them. This is the result of transforming grace.
A second result of this revelation is that believers are more likely to suffer and struggle as they seek to do God’s will, and pass on his message. The believer’s orientation gets redirected away from self, and towards Christ’s body, the church. Thus the believer is willing to put up with difficulties and challenges in order to meet the needs and fulfill the lives of fellow believers. Paul called this “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body” (Col. 1:24). He was not referring to penal suffering (the ordeal Jesus endured for the salvation of the lost). That was something that only Christ himself could do, and no one else can add to it. Instead, Paul was referring to somatic suffering (the ordeals believers face as representatives of Christ in order to win others to Christ and minister to them). This somatic suffering is evidence that God has revealed himself to believers, and has motivated them to alter their present task.
A third result of this revelation is Christians can now change their temporal focus from past failures, or present difficulties, to their future destiny. Paul referred to this focus as “the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Remember, he was not using the word hope as a verb, thereby emphasizing that Christians can wish for pie in the sky by and by. No, he used the term hope as a noun. When the word hope is used as a noun, it refers to the believer’s eternal destiny. In fact, the phrase “the hope of glory” can be translated “the glorious eternal destiny.” Because God has revealed himself to believers, they are free to forget the failures of yesteryear (and yesterday), overcome the obstacles of today, and press on toward their future destiny (Phil. 3:12-14). This is why it is appropriate to use the adjective Advent to describe a Christian.
The Third Box
God has overwhelmed his creation with evidence of his existence – first by placing trademarks in creation itself that point to his character and power, then by getting specific through the special revelation which has become encapsulated in the Bible. Through these means anyone in creation can recognize that he exists, and have a clear understanding of what he wants. Sadly, humanity has mislabeled these evidence boxes, and have developed world-views that enable them to either ignore the God of the Bible, or replace him with a substitute that they can be more comfortable with. But occasionally God intervenes in this mass stupidity and his Holy Spirit produces a believer. A third box, which might be labeled REGENERATION opens an unbeliever’s eyes, and suddenly she can see a universe that reflects its creator, and a Bible that reveals his will.
The result of this miracle is a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The miracle itself is a third means of God’s self-revelation. David was speaking of this kind of revelation in the final words of Psalm 19:
Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer (Psalm 19:12-14).
The focus of this section of Psalm 19 shifts to the personal level, as can be seen the use of the first person (me, my). The focus also shifts from instruction though the law to redemption from sins. This amazing psalm shows that God wants to do more than just get us to acknowledge his existence, or accept his word. He wants to cleanse us from our personal sins so that we can be reconciled with him, and redeemed for the purpose of an eternal relationship with him.
A Dangerous World-view
Of all the philosophies propagated today, the one most responsible for the mislabeling of these boxes is relativism. This world-view holds “that conceptions of truth and moral values are not absolute but are relative to the persons or groups holding them.”5 As a result of this philosophy, someone staring into a microscope or gazing at space through a telescope will see all the evidence for God’s existence that others have seen, but will never come to an absolute truth (such as the existence of God) because he has been taught that no such absolute truths are obtainable.
Ironically, that is an absolute statement, thus is not relativistic itself. Relativism as a philosophy has helped society recognize that everyone addresses issues with inherent biases – that no one is totally objective. Unfortunately, die-hard relativists tend to approach religious affirmations with an anti-God bias, but often fail to acknowledge that. Thus the philosophy breeds subjectivity and agnosticism.
Creation makes it clear that there is a creator. The Bible shows what he wants of his creatures. Redemption allows us to have personal relationships with him. After all that revelation, relativism as a mind-set just does not make sense. It fails to take into account all the evidence. It rejects the Source of truth, thus denies the possibility of truth. The source of truth behind all theological constructs is God himself. Although he has chosen to communicate those truths in radically different ways, they can still be understood without paradox or contradiction because they originate within the unity of God. In this age of relativism, Christians need to stand firm behind the truths that God has revealed in loyalty to him.
God’s revelation in scripture is the ground for a belief in absolute truth. When God reveals something in scripture, there is no room for debate. The only discussion is what God revealed, not whether he has done so. Once the task of exegesis has discovered what the scripture says, the Christian is compelled to believe, live and defend it. The reason is not that the Christian has a high view of scripture. The reason is that the Christian is loyal to the source of scripture, God himself.