How not to know God – creation

Previously on Christ the Truth:

We must begin all theology with the Word of God – Jesus.

This means ruling out other starting points, such as…

Reason

and

Religion

Now we consider creation as another false foundation for theology.  Not, of course, that the heavens are silent about God – they pour forth speech day after day! (Psalm 19).  What I am opposing here is the idea that creation gives us a sub-Christian witness that is a kind of stepping stone to Christian knowledge. 

I turn to this issue now because it is just so common for people to argue that revelation cannot be solely mediated in Jesus since ‘general revelation’ is not a specific witness to Jesus.  If this were true then I would have to give up my claim that all revelation of God is in and through Jesus.

So then let us then apply ourselves to the question ‘Does the creation tell us general things about God without Jesus?’

Well the Scripture has a very high view of the creation. The heavens and the earth were created very good and though the universe is now fallen due to human sin, the Father is committed to redeeming it through the Son and making planet earth His eternal home. In Romans 8, creation itself groans in its longing for this time and cannot wait for its liberation from the bondage to decay. Throughout the Psalms the personality of the creation is proclaimed again and again. A famous example is Psalm 19:

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” (vv1-4)

The creation is an evangelist – it declares continually and universally the Glory of God. And notice, this is intentional evangelism. It is declaring, proclaiming, speaking and displaying. The creation is not concealing special clues in odd places. It is not that creation has simply left marks of design that point to some kind of god. This is proclamation. This is the pouring forth of speech. And there is no speech or language where this proclamation is not heard.

So, many claim “there it is!” The creation reveals general truths about God but without the need for Jesus.” Not so fast! Let’s see how the Apostle Paul understands the Psalm:

“Not all Israel accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, ‘LORD, who has believed our message?’ Consequently faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did:

‘Their voice has gone out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.'” (Romans 10:16-18)

Paul makes it abundantly clear that Psalm 19 is not declaring general truths about some kind of god. Psalm 19 declares message of the ‘good news. The heavens of Psalm 19 are declaring “the word of Christ.”

We may ask, ‘how are they declaring the word of Christ?’ Well let’s note, first of all, that verse 1 of the Psalm tells us the heavens are declaring the Glory of God. The Glory of God is not primarily a shininess of character- the Glory of God is fundamentally His Son.

From verse 4, the Psalmist develops the way in which the Creation proclaims the ‘word of Christ’ – he gives us one small illustration – the sun:

“In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat.”

 So the sun, which is the light of the whole world (nothing is hidden from its heat) – is like a Bridegroom who is also a Champion as He moves from east to west across the sky (east is estrangement from God, west is His presence.  Note that the High Priest travels east to west on day of atonement to enter into the presence of God)

What is the sun trying to tell us? Well it represents One who is both Bridegroom and Victor and the Light of the World . Who could this be but Christ? The Apostle Paul agrees! (Rom 10:17) The creation does not mutter general truths about God but boldly proclaims the word of Christ.

What about Romans 1?

Perhaps the most frequently cited passage used to establish a Christ-free revelation of God is Romans chapter 1. It is asserted that these words from Paul prove that creation reveals God in a non-Trinitarian, non-Christ-centred way. If this were true then Christ would not be the sole mediator of revelation. Let’s look at the verses:

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” [For] the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities –his eternal power and divine nature –have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:16-20)

Here we have a simultaneous revelation of the righteousness from God and the wrath of God from heaven to earth. This revelation is (v17) in the gospel. It is in the gospel that we see God’s anger at sin when the Father metes it out on the Son at the cross. It is also in the gospel that we see God’s offer of righteousness as Christ rises again to offer us His righteous status before the Father. Both those things, the righteousness from God and the wrath of God, are revealed in the gospel. Unfortunately, v18, we suppress the truth of the gospel by our wickedness.

But this does not deter the Living God from revealing Himself. No – He continues to reveal these truths whether we suppress them or not! Verse 19 shows that God reveals an incredibly vast amount about Himself in the creation. “What may be known” about God is made plain to every human being. This is very similar to what we saw in Psalm 19. In the creation – if we have eyes to see it – God is revealing Himself in depth and in deliberate universality. Verse 20 tells us that this revelation could not be more full – even God’s invisible qualities can be clearly seen. (We’ve already noted from Colossians 1:15 that the invisible God is only made visible in Christ). We are told that this revelation explicitly includes the power of God (which has helpfully been defined in v16 as the gospel) and His divine nature.

All of this plain revelation of ‘what may be known’ about God renders every single human being without excuse on judgement day. No-one will be able to stand in front of Jesus, the Judge of the World, and say “Who are you? The creation said nothing of You”.

The heavens declare daily, deliberately and universally the Jesus Christ, who IS righteousness FROM God. That is why all humanity is without excuse. The only excuse on judgement day IS the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet Paul says no-one can claim ignorance of this ‘excuse’. The creation proclaims the word of Christ day after day, night after night.  Thus the creation removes from people any excuse that they are ignorant of Christ since it proclaims Him, every day, in every detail of His world.

It may seem like an odd idea to us that the creation speaks specifically of Jesus (rather than just ‘some kind of god’). Most western people think that if the creation is saying anything spiritual at all it is proclaiming the god of western philosophy. However, if we asked a Hindu they might say that the creation tells of many different gods. The atheist claims that the creation says nothing spiritual. It is clear that we only ever hear what we want to hear. That is the point of v18 – “we suppress the truth by our wickedness.” Though the gospel is trumpeted into our ears day after day, we pursue our own agendas in wilful ignorance of the Truth. Verse 16 gives us the remedy though: ONLY as the church does its work of evangelism, is the power of God unleashed to open blind eyes, unstop deaf ears, and bring salvation to the world.

When Jesus picked up a seed to demonstrate some spiritual truth, He didn’t say “Hey look how cool seeds are, they’re incredibly complex and well designed, isn’t God a powerful and intelligent Creator?!” When Jesus looked at a seed He saw a picture of His own death and resurrection and from it the new life made possible for many! (John 12:24) When the Apostle John is given ears to hear the song of creation in Revelation 5:13 it is explicitly about the Father and the Son who is the slain Lamb! The creation does not reveal some kind of Unitarian non-Christ-centred god who may as well be Allah. The creation is an evangelist – it tells the Trinitarian gospel.

The Apostle Paul said it best in Colossian 1:23. Having told us that Jesus is the image of the invisible God in v15, he tells us in v16 that He is the Creator of all things – the Father made everything through Jesus and for Jesus. In v17 Paul writes that Jesus is the operating system in which all things hold together. In v19 we see that all the fullness of God dwells in Jesus. In v20 He is shown to be the universal reconciler of all things in heaven and on earth. It is therefore no surprise when we get to v23 that Paul says this:

“This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.”

Paul proclaims the same gospel that the heavens proclaim. Day after day the non-Christian is confronted with Jesus Christ the image of the invisible God, the Creator and Purpose of all life.

To summarize

The proclamation of general revelation is, according to the Apostle, the same as the proclamation of special revelation. And humanity is equally blind to both in our wicked truth suppression. Only through the preached word of Christ (Romans 10:17) are people able to see what is most manifestly true about the universe – Jesus is LORD.

The pagan looking up into the night sky sees everything yet sees nothing. He ought to know everything yet he knows nothing. He is without excuse for Christ is proclaimed in every way possible. He is ignorant exactly because he rejects Christ in every way possible.

In all this, it should be clear that Jesus is not incidental to the question of revelation. Not a speck of the knowledge of God can be credited to the one who rejects Christ. Yet it is Christ who the unbeliever rejects, in every aspect of their being. For this they will be judged – judged by the One who they have actively and wilfully resisted all the days of their life.

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Posted on by Glen in revelation, theological method

About Glen

I'm a preacher in Eastbourne, married to Emma.

4 Responses to How not to know God – creation

  1. Andy M

    Hi mate

    A question on Romans 10:16-18

    Given your interpretation of these verses and the rest (i.e. general rev = special rev), would you say that creation essentially reveals the word/gospel and its doctrines i.e. justification, the cross, atonement, faith/repentance, incarnation?

  2. glenscriv

    Hey there,
    Let me write my next post on that subject.
    Hope all is well,
    Glen

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