We move horizontally between the images, among the things of earth, understanding how they relate to each other, so that the whole picture and experience of the world can then lead us to God. God draws us into this web of creation so that we might know him through it. It’s how he reveals himself to us in a way that fits our frame.
What the Heavens Declare
Psalm 19 begins with one of the most famous verses in the Bible: “The heavens declare the glory of God.” The first half of the psalm celebrates God’s glory in nature—in the heavens (v. 1), in the sun’s course across the sky (vv. 4, 6), in the similarities between the sun and a warrior and a bridegroom (v. 5). This revelation has gone out to the entire world so that there is no place where God’s revelation is not heard (vv. 2–4). In other words, the psalm begins with a celebration of what theologians call “general revelation.” General revelation includes all the ways that God reveals himself in creation—in the ordinary course of nature and the general course of history. In other words, it’s not just the heavens that declare the glory of God.
Everything that God has made declares the glory of God. The apostle Paul tells us that God’s “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). In other words, made things make invisible attributes visible. Created things make eternal things perceivable. God’s own power and righteousness and beauty and wisdom and mercy are invisible attributes. We can’t see them directly. But when we see a tornado tear across the plains, we see his power. When we stand on a giant mountain, we feel the firmness and stability of his righteousness. When we watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean, we see his beauty. When we witness the magnificent intricacy of the food chain—deer eating grass and then being eaten by lions—we see his inscrutable wisdom and mercy over all that he has made. Made things make invisible attributes visible.
How do Christians enjoy the good things of the earth while still enjoying the Creator? Scripture supports the wholehearted enjoyment of both. Here is a book for Christians struggling to enjoy the things of earth for the glory of God.
That’s what we mean by general revelation, and by its nature, it is pervasive and constant. It’s accessible to all men everywhere. “There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard” (Ps. 19:3). As C. S. Lewis said, “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.”1 Jonathan Edwards, an eighteenth-century American pastor and theologian, testified that he believed that the whole universe, heaven and earth, from top to bottom and front to back is filled with “images of divine things, as full as a language is of words.”2 By this, he meant that everything in creation is communication from God about God. God speaks to us everywhere and in everything.
Earthly Categories for Spiritual Things
General revelation works both directly and indirectly. It works directly by creating categories in our minds and hearts for knowing God. This is direct because we move straight from the made thing to God himself. How do the heavens declare the glory of God? Through their size and majesty. The vastness of the heavens points to the greatness of God. Or the beauty of a sunset gives us a visual picture of the beauty and holiness of God. Or the sun’s perpetual and constant shining images God’s constant and everlasting goodness. In each case, we move straight from the made thing to God himself. Our experience of the world gives us categories for knowing God and his word.
And not just God himself. General revelation gives us categories for knowing many aspects of the spiritual life. Consider Psalm 1.
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.