How do we know God?
Well that's a very good question.
Firstly it is important to understand that human beings are unable to discover God by their own initiative, knowledge or natural senses. It is God who has taken the initiative by revealing himself to man. He has done this in two ways.
These two basic methods of knowing God, called General Revelation and Special Revelation.
The word revelation means simply to make khow, to draw back the curtains.
General Revelation teachers that it is possible to know God through the world and the universe we live in. Christians would recognise this as God's creation. Others may have different views which might be based on science, physics, philosophy or other religious teaching. We will not all agree on the way the universe came into existence, however, I am sure we will agree that we live in a wonderful world. A world where it is impossible to know every detail no matter how advanced our scientific knowledge becomes, however large and sophisticated our scientific instruments, telescopes or microscopes are.
Never has a previous generation been able to see and understand the wonders of nature in the way we are able to. God has revealed himself to us through his creation and also through the conscious mind.
This verse in the New testament written by the apostle Paul in the first century explains general revelation very well.
Rom 1:19 — Rom 1:20
"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 people are without excuse."
General revelation, in all its forms, is directed to all men. It is, however, not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary to lead to induvidual salvation.
(Westminster Confession of Faith 1647, I.1 Although the light of nature and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; (a) yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing: which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.)"
Through General Revelation, mankind has received ample witness to God's invisible attributes, His nature, power, and disposition toward them, yet they remain blind and unable to comprehend a true knowledge of Him. Because of this, God, not out of compulsion or necessity, has graciously given some a Special Revelation of Himself and Christ's redemptive work on the cross. While General Revelation was granted to all peoples, at all times and in all places, Special Revelation is granted to particular persons, at particular times, in particular places.
In Special Revelation, God reveals Himself through the miraculous, supernatural manifestations of His power, through His Word, the Bible, and through Jesus Christ, the God-man who came to the world He created with the intention to die for it. Only through Special Revelation can one come to a saving knowledge of Christ, although, not all who experience or hear of these revelations are guaranteed faith.
The Holy Scriptures are, in and of themselves, a prime example of Special Revelation. In the Bible, through the hands of human authors as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit, God communicates His mighty acts in time and space, His law, His truth, and His plan of salvation. The Bible serves as spectacles by which humanity can now rightly see what, because of sin, they were unable to see in General Revelation.
Not only does Special Revelation allow subjective sinful people to see rightly, it shows them the means of their salvation, Jesus Christ.
In miracles, God supernaturally manifests His power. In the Bible, God communicates with humanity directly. In the person of Jesus Christ, however, God not only reveals His acts, His law, and His truth, but He reveals Himself. Since Special Revelation is the only way to receive a knowledge of redemption, this revelation reaches its summit in Jesus Christ, for all of the Scriptures exist to testify about the Son (John 5:9). Only through Special Revelation can one learn that Jesus Christ is the truth, the life, and the only way to be reconciled to the Father (John 14:6).
To illustrate the insufficiency of General Revelation in communicating a saving knowledge of Christ and the subsequent need for Special Revelation, John Calvin writes: "They [unregenerate] are like a traveler passing through a field at night who in a momentary lightning flash sees far and wide, but the sight vanishes so swiftly that he is plunged again into the darkness of the night before he can take even a step–let alone be directed on his way by its help."
This illustration shows the stark distinction between General and Special Revelation. If General Revelation serves as a flash of lightning, a brief moment of illumination, then Special Revelation is the sun. This sun is none other than the Son of God, Jesus Christ, the one whom all revelation, both general and special, testifies.
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