Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers through the prophets,
but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son...
“You would not have called to me if I had not been calling to you,” said the Lion.
– C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair
Revelation is any act of God in revealing himself to people, thereby communicating himself to them. This implies, of course, that something of God would be hidden did he not reveal it. Scripture is clear, though, that all humanity knows something of God, that inherent in human experience is the realization that God exists and works in the world. This kind of revelation we call “general revelation:” when these acts of revelation apply to or are witnessed by all people. Special revelation, on the other hand, occurs when God reveals specific information about his character and will, communicating those details necessary for salvation. Both are part of God's character as creator: one who speaks the world into being and then communicates with his creation.
Broadly, we can divide general revelation into three categories: empirical, innate, and providential. Probably the type of revelation most commonly understood to be “general revelation” is that of God's revelation of himself in his creation – his revelation, that is, by empirical or observable evidence. David pictures creation as a herald of God's glory and handiwork in Psalm 19; the heavens “declare,” the expanse of sky “proclaims,” day “pours out speech,” night “reveals knowledge.” And not only to God's people do these elements of creation unceasingly communicate information about their creator! No, David insists: “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 ends of the world.” (v. 3-4)
Romans 1:18ff, in which Paul defends God's justice in judging sinners by demonstrating their rejection of God, and the consequences of this rejection, gives us a little more insight into further content of this revelation. “For what can be known about God is plain to them,” Paul argues, “because God has shown it to them […] in the things that have been made.” (Romans 1:19-20) What has God shown them through his creation? Paul explains: “His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature.” To whom does this making-visible of God's “invisible attributes” apply? To all men, “since the creation of the world,” even those who will ultimately misuse and misinterpret this revelation and turn to idolatry and immorality – even, in short, the reprobate.
Tomorrow: God reveals himself through the human conscience and his providential care of mankind.