As I write this, I’m cooking dinner for my wife’s birthday while she’s out. The goal: surprise her with shrimp stir-fry, her favorite meal. Something about the combination of sesame, vegetables, and shrimp makes the taste-buds dance!
Have you ever thought much about taste? It’s part of creation itself! God has put flavors in everything in creation, from the sweetest to the saltiest, from strawberries to ocean water. And so eating is just one way of enjoying the world that God has created!
Flavors are but a sliver of this incredible created order that God has made. It is a world full of wonder, mystery, joy, and fear. But what does creation do? Does it only exist to be enjoyed by God’s image bearers, to be used and then forgotten when we move on to the New Heavens and New Earth? Or does it have a different function, a deeper purpose?
Creation reveals God to us. It is – as John Calvin put it* – the “second book” of God’s self-revelation. Theologians call this second book “general revelation” because it is a vessel used by God to show himself to the universe. Meditate on this for a moment: God shows himself to us through the marvels that he has created! He is not equal with the creation but speaks through it, showing his glory through all the things his hands have made. How remarkable! Every tree you see, every taste you encounter, every smell or texture, every sound that rushes across our eardrums is part of a book that reveals our Creator to us.
This is a limited revelation, however. It reveals that God exists and that we are not him for we have not created. All the works of our hands are derivative and rely on God’s provided materials to come into being. Everything that we dream has been dreamed before because there is nothing new under the sun. True innovation belongs to the realm of the divine, not the created.
But general revelation can’t even tell us this much! Everything I’ve been saying is deeply informed by the Scriptures, the “spectacles” we use in order to understand the book of general revelation. Without God explaining himself to us through his word, general revelation speaks nothing to us but condemnation. We need special revelation to interpret what God is saying in general revelation.
More than this, we need special revelation to tell us who exactly general revelation is revealing. Who is the God who put the stars in their place and governs the ecological systems around us? Who is God? Without Scripture to define this for us, we are left to our own devices, customers at a Deity buffet who can shop until we discover a god that suits our fancy. But this is worthless! What good is praise and adoration if it is not directed to the one who has created all good things? If God leaves us with only general revelation, we’re lost!
Here’s what I mean. When Adam and Eve were living in the garden, they understood that God revealed himself through the world around them. But when they sinned, humanity fell and with that fall our understanding of creation was warped. Creation continued to shout to us and yet we purposefully ignored it, choosing to worship the created rather than the creator. We suppressed the truth and rebelled against our creator, recklessly embracing the transient instead of the eternal. So now, general revelation condemns us. It highlights our sinful stupidity! What evil creatures we must be to read the second book of revelation and worship the book rather than the writer!
Christians, however, are given the eyes to see and ears to hear what creation sings about our God. We have been redeemed by the death and resurrection of Christ. As claimants of resurrection life, we can enjoy general revelation as it was intended. God reveals himself through his creation as creation worships its Creator. What a beautiful cycle of worship that Christians are privileged to witness! We are able to read the book through the spectacles of Scripture, our minds opened by the Spirit as we encounter nature. And so our senses help us commune with our God who then prepares our hearts for worship.
It’s a mindset that we must develop and the Psalms can help us. They speak of God’s majesty and power in creation, the magnificence of his works. As we meditate on these ancient songs we are drawn again and again to the God who made all things and ordered them to his glory and for his name’s sake. We are able to view creation for what it is – the revelation of God himself. And when we are confronted with the awesome beauty of creation we are prepared to worship the Creator when we gather with the people of God Lord’s day by Lord’s day. We can stand in awe before our God having recognized our insignificance before such a mighty King, an insignificance reversed by the significant work of the Son on our behalf.
My encouragement to you today is to use general revelation to develop a sense of awe before God. Marvel at his power and majesty. Let your mind be stretched beyond its limits as you contemplate who your God is. And then let yourself be reminded by the words of Scripture that the God who created the universe calls you friend. He has adopted you as a son or daughter and he is transforming you into the image of His Son! Even more, he has rescued from sin and death through the cross of Christ and promised you resurrection life!
I pray that you meditate on both books of God’s revelation – creation and Scripture – allowing God to speak to you through his Word and define for you the eternal significance of the created order. God, the creator of all things, loves you and has demonstrated that love to you through his Son. If that doesn’t blow your mind, I don’t know what will!
*Calvin discusses these things in The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.6.1.