(Yesterday we looked at two further modes of general revelation. Today, we move to discussing special revelation, its definition and varieties.)
And yet, from the reprobate, the prophet Isaiah says, God hides himself. (45:15) In what way can Scripture say that God hides himself from those he guides so meticulously? To Israel, God says, “I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness, I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, 'Seek me in vain.'” (v. 19) In other words, some elements of God's purpose and character are revealed only to his particular people, while those elements remain hidden to the unbelieving and the reprobate.
In fact, God's partial concealment of himself is not the only “problem” with general revelation as a category. Two others intrude on our ability to rightly understand God through his revelation to all people. First, on an objective level: from natural disasters, pestilence, and disease to human evil to poisonous plants and thorny ground, we experience the testimony of creation and God's providential care commingled with systemic and persistent trouble post-fall. Creation, the Scriptures tell us, “groans and suffers in pain” awaiting the day of consummation (Romans 8:22). In addition, our subjective ability to perceive it and respond rightly has been destroyed by sin. We have “eyes to see, but see not [...] ears to hear, but hear not” (Ezekiel 12:2). These so-called “noetic” effects of the Fall blind us to the universal messages of God's creation and providence, as well as our consciences and innate sense of the divine. Atheists and idolaters stand before stunning vistas, relish quotidian joys, and do good to their fellow-men, yet give no glory to the God to which these testimonies point.
Obviously, more is needed; general revelation alone cannot save. And that much-needed unique revelation of God's purpose and character is usually called “special revelation” – the acts of God whereby he reveals himself to certain people at certain times and places, with the intent of communicating all that is required for salvation. The category of special revelation is quite broad in its scope, and can be divided into four categories: external or historical events, internal or subjectively-experienced communication, divine speech, and the Incarnation of Christ.
Special revelation also has an eschatological quality. While we see specific and frequent examples of special revelation in the Old Testament, the prophets of old envision a coming day when the character of that revelation will change and grow – when God's revelation of himself will become even more “special,” so to speak, even more potent and intimate. And although God has fully revealed himself through Christ Jesus in those “latter days” of which the prophets spoke, we still await the consummation when we will no longer see “through a glass darkly” but rather “face to face.”
Tomorrow we'll wrap up this series with a more detailed look at the modes of special revelation.