Nature and history acquire a grander perspective from the vantage point of the Bible, and Scripture becomes more colorful and alive with the help of natural revelation.
Glauber S. Araújo
Without God’s revelation in time and space, humanity would be utterly lost as to who He is, what His will is, or even if He exists. Morality would be completely alien to us, and life would probably return a daily routine of looking after one’s own needs. Thankfully, God is a relational Being. From the moment He created humankind, He began imparting knowledge about Himself, His actions, and His thoughts. Through direct contact (Gen. 3:8; Ex. 33:11; Num. 12:8), visions (Num. 12:6), dreams (Gen. 28:12; Matt. 1:20), theophanies (Gen. 18:1, 2, 13, 14), angels (Num. 22:31–35), the Urim and the Tunnim (Num. 27:21), nature (Ps. 19:1–4), history (Dan. 2:21; 4:17), human conscience (Isa. 30:21; Rom. 2:14–16), and ultimately Jesus Christ (John 1:18), God communicates truth and knowledge to us (Heb. 1:1, 2). This is a knowledge that itself originates from a divine revelation outside of us, beyond our power to acquire it through simple rational effort.
While God reveals Himself in many and different ways, Christians tend to classify His means of revelation into two categories: special and general/natural revelation. On special revelation, Millard Erickson’s definition is particularly enlightening. To him, it is, “God’s manifestation of Himself to particular persons at definite times and places, enabling those persons to enter into a redemptive relationship with him.”1 This revelation comes to us today through the Bible. It is the infallible revelation of God, the supreme rule of truth and faith, given by God through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is often referred to as God’s special revelation because it is His special disclosure to a particular set of people, and intended in the end for the whole of the human race. Plus, it is there where we find God’s greatest revelation—Jesus Christ.
God’s other means of revelation is often referred to by Christians as “general revelation.” It is God’s general manifestation to all of humankind in nature, history, and conscience. It comes to us through sense‑experiences of the everyday world, and it is accessible to all human beings, being universal in scope. As Alister McGrath argues, “There is an intrinsic capacity within the created order to disclose God. Here, nature‑as‑creation is understood to have an ontologically grounded capacity to reflect God as its maker and originator.”2
Although both types, special and general revelation, are called God’s “revelation,” the Bible surpasses God’s manifestation in nature by far. When it comes to the knowledge of God, it is more specific, content‑heavy, and instructive than general revelation; it is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17, NKJV).3 It also unfolds all of the plan of salvation, showing to sinners how to obtain forgiveness for their sins and the way to heaven.
So, some may ask, “If we have God’s special revelation—the Bible—why is there a need for a general revelation? Or do we even need it? What is its purpose?” To answer these questions, we need first to understand what God’s general revelation actually reveals. Is general revelation a biblical concept? Is it only a revelation of God Himself? Or does God reveal other things through this channel of revelation?
Is General Revelation Biblical?
Because general revelation (sometimes equated with natural theology) has come into question, even by some theologians, it may be necessary to review some of the biblical texts that discuss this issue to better understand the subject and extract the correct principles for it. There is a scarcity of material available in Adventist literature on this topic.
But first, it is important to consider the methodology and presuppositions of this study. Much of the discussion surrounding natural theology or natural revelation can become clouded because of unspoken presuppositions. Considering the diversity of theologies and ideologies in postmodern society, this becomes particularly pressing when the subject is revelation: “A clear explanation of theological methodology is necessary to justify the way in which we identify and understand the basic elements of Christian theology in the pluralistic atmosphere of twenty‑first century Christianity.”4 Unfortunately, most theologians nowadays do theology without giving much thought to their tradition’s methodologies and presuppositions. By doing this, they simply mimic their tradition’s way of doing theology and inhibit any possibility for new ideas or concepts.
This study is based on the following presuppositions:
1. Although God should not be confounded with time and space, He exists and acts within these two elements of reality. Therefore, He is not timeless or spaceless. His ontology includes time as well as space, yet He is not in any way limited to or by these two elements.
2. All of God’s actions (including His revelations) take place within a literal and factual time-space framework.
3. Once space‑time becomes a setting for God’s actions, it also becomes a witness to His existence and action.
4. Created as living souls within time and space, human beings were endowed with the image of God, having, among other aspects, cognitive capabilities to think rationally and understand their surroundings.
5. Because of the cosmic fall, the physical, social, spiritual, and cognitive capacities of human beings became affected by sin, jeopardizing their capacities to apprehend God’s actions and revelation.
6. Consequently, knowledge about God can be acquired by humankind only through faith and the help of the Holy Spirit.
“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens!” (Ps. 8:1, NIV). In many of the “nature psalms” the biblical writers praised God for His glory manifested in nature. The Redeemer‑King of Israel is the Creator, and His name is glorified “by virtue of his creative activities.”5 God’s name is qualified as “majestic” (“mighty”)—a royal attribute denoting His victories, judgment, law, and rule over creation. As he is taken by awe before the vastness of the universe, the psalmist praises the Creator, for he recognizes the glorious manifestation and the fullness of God’s glory in nature (Isa. 6:3). Nature itself is not the object of praise, but a witness to the Creator’s majesty.
Nature’s inherent witness of the glory of God is sometimes personified, as in Psalm 19:2 to 4: “Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language Where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world.” Although the psalmist declared that “there is no speech” (vs. 3), nature’s activity is clearly “vocal and linguistic.”6 This “language of their own”7 is a genre of communication often characterized by linguists as nonverbal language. Despite not being “vocal” or “written,” information is still being imparted. That this is a communicative activity can also be concluded from the use of expressions such as “declare,” “show,” “utter speech,” and most interestingly “reveal knowledge.” This last one implies information—a crucial aspect of any communication between two participants. In this pictorial description offered by the psalmist, knowledge is said to be communicated from “night unto night.” Poetically and without mentioning, the psalmist (and the reader) is treated as an eavesdropper, absorbing the content of that communication.
It is a speech that doesn’t seem to stop (Ps. 19:2) nor is it interrupted by humanly distractive activities. VanGemeren beautifully describes the universality of nature’s speech: “Natural revelation is without words and is universal, being unrestricted by the division of languages. It transcends human communication without the use of speech, words, and sounds. To those who are inclined to hear, revelation comes with no regard for linguistic or geographical barriers, even to the ends of the world.”8 It is through this medium of communication that God communicates to those who do not have access to His special revelation.
Ellen G. White even refers to nature as God’s voice speaking to humanity: “Among the heathen are those who have cherished the spirit of kindness; before the words of life had fallen upon their ears, they have befriended the missionaries, even ministering to them at the peril of their own lives. Among the heathen are those who worship God ignorantly, those to whom the light is never brought by human instrumentality, yet they will not perish. Though ignorant of the written law of God, they have heard His voice speaking to them in nature, and have done the things that the law required. Their works are evidence that the Holy Spirit has touched their hearts, and they are recognized as the children of God.”9
Nature doesn’t only “declare the glory of God,” but also speaks of “His handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). This is a reference to God’s original work of creation, the establishment of “the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them” (Gen. 2:1), as well as His ongoing work as Sustainer. As such, God’s handiwork should not be confused with God Himself. The Creator of whom nature testifies is not a pantheistic divinity. He is above nature and works through nature. “It is to this biblical God that universal revelation points to rather than to an immanent deity within the confines of nature and history.”10
Although some may question the concreteness or factuality of nature’s revelation, Paul is coherent in his argument when he points out that, because of natural revelation, humankind is “inexcusable” (Rom. 2:1). Ellen G. White reinforced this concept when she stated that “upon all created things is seen the impress of the Deity. Nature testifies of God. The susceptible mind, brought in contact with the miracle and mystery of the universe, cannot but recognize the working of infinite power.”11
This same point was hammered home when Paul appealed to the people of Lystra. God “‘did not leave Himself without witness’” (Acts 14:17). Although the Lystrans did not have access to or knowledge of God’s special revelation, the Creator employed nature as a witness of His goodness, giving them “‘rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling [their] hearts with food and gladness’” (vs. 17). By this, Paul understood that God’s constant providence through nature and history serves as a witness of God’s continuing action, care, love, and goodness. Jesus Himself made this point by using nature’s continuum as a source of revelation: “‘Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds?’” (Luke 12:24). By calling His disciples’ attention to the ravens, Christ was inviting them to examine nature to extract knowledge about the goodness of God.
It is not only God’s goodness that can be identified in natural phenomena. In Romans 1:18 to 21 Paul declared: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful’” (italics in original).
Here, Paul mentioned God’s wrath, His “‘invisible attributes,’” His “‘eternal power’” and Godhead as disclosures of the Creator in nature. For this, Paul concluded, “‘they are without excuse’” (vs. 20). What is most astonishing about Paul’s declaration is that he condemned humanity for knowing God and yet not acting accordingly.
This raises an interesting question: How could these people know God if they did not have access to Scripture? A few attempts to answer this question can be made from the text. First, Paul emphasized the guilt of unrighteous people by highlighting the clarity of nature’s revelation—“‘His invisible attributes are clearly seen’” (italics supplied). This means that, even though affected by sin, humankind is still able to detect God’s existence and nature through His created works.
Second, when declaring that God’s attributes are “‘understood by the things that are made’” (italics supplied), Paul showed that natural revelation isn’t limited to perception, but requires reflection and the “drawing of a conclusion about the Creator.”12 Therefore, interpretation is a key element in this scenario, and if human beings are inexcusable, the flaw is on their part. Therefore, although not possessors of all knowledge, all have enough information to decide on how they should relate to their Creator. And if they choose to live a life of unrighteousness, they are condemned.
Just as God left His mark on nature as Creator, He has left His mark in human history as the God of providence. For this reason, history is sometimes called “His‑story.”13 The biblical worldview of history and time is not static. “Time is meaningfully forward‑moving.”14 Its linear perspective sets God as the main Actor in history, conducting its twists and turns toward an ultimate goal—not an end of history and time, but the fulfillment of an eternal plan (Matt. 25:34; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9). God is the one who “‘changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings’” (Dan. 2:21).
Therefore, if God is at work in the world and is moving toward His intended goals, it should be possible to detect the trend of His work in events that occur as part of history. However, the evidence here is less impressive than that of nature. “For one thing, history is less accessible than is nature. One must consult the historical record. Either [the historian] will be dependent upon secondhand materials, the records and reports of others, or he will have to work from his own experience of history, which will often be a very limited segment, perhaps too limited to enable him to detect the overall pattern or trend.”15
Nevertheless, the Bible constantly refers to history as the arena for God’s divine action and manifestation. It speaks of God’s dealings with Egypt (Ex. 9:13–17; Jer. 46:14–26; Rom. 9:17), Assyria (Isa. 10:5–19; Eze. 31:1–14; Neh. 3:1–7), Babylon (Jer. 50:1–16; 51:14), Medo‑Persia (Isa. 44:24–45:7), the four kingdoms that followed the breakup of Alexander’s kingdom (Dan. 11:5–35), and the Roman Empire (Dan. 7:7, 23.). Scripture shows throughout that “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Prov. 14:34, NIV). It shows also that “although God may, for his own wise and holy purposes, allow a more wicked nation to triumph over a less wicked, He will in the end deal more severely with the more wicked than with the less wicked (Hab. 1:1–2:20).”16
In his Letter to the Romans, Paul stated that “for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them” (Rom. 2:14, 15). Although he later admitted that “there is none righteous, no, not one” (3:10) and that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (vs. 23), in Romans 2, he speaks of a working conscience on those who have not received God’s special revelation about His moral law. According to him, there is an inner law, “written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness” (vs. 15).
Paul spoke of the Gentiles, who did not know the law given by particular revelation, yet still had a law written on their hearts—not in the sense of the new covenant experience of Jeremiah 31:33, but in the sense of the image of God (imago Dei) with its awareness of right and wrong. He wrote that their consciences, together with this internal law, bore witness to them in these matters. The internal law is antecedent to the conscience.
Consequently, natural law as general revelation plays a specific role in the plan of salvation. This inner law informs the creature of one’s spiritual duties vis‑à‑vis the Creator and Judge of the world. Once conscious of his or her own guilt, the sinner is aware of the need for transformation and salvation.
“Only when one sees himself as a sinner before the God of Creation does the offer of reconciliation in the gospel make sense. If intuitional and inferential knowledge of God were not present, God’s gracious communication to man in the form of special revelation would remain a meaningless abstraction. Special revelation, then, begins at the point where man’s natural knowledge of God ends. Natural theology is properly the vestibule of revealed theology. . . . Special revelation completes, not negates, the disclosure of God in nature, providence, and conscience.”17
Despite Paul’s despairing portrayal of humankind in Romans 3, his reasoning in chapter 2 shows that “even in its estrangement from God, humanity still has some connection with its Creator and is not sunk away in total anarchy and lawlessness.”18 This became possible only because immediately after the Fall, God implanted enmity between humankind and Satan (Gen. 3:15). This enmity must be understood as a grace from God; otherwise, humankind would find it impossible to accept and appreciate God’s work on humanity’s behalf. “It is grace that implants enmity in human nature,” declares Gulley. “This is not to suggest that the enmity is sufficient to bring salvation. At best it is common grace that necessitates the new birth. In this sense it has everything to do with general revelation, for all humans have this ‘enmity’ within, which explains why so many non‑Christians have a sense of justice and fairness.”19 This double‑sense, he believes, are God’s natural revelation within humankind. All human beings, from all cultures and epochs, can attest to the effects of these two senses in their lives. It is a constant reminder that we were made for something far greater.
One further comment must be made on this issue. The argument of morality should not be stated as a proof for a specific set of standards that all human beings follow (which they don’t), but as a “moral impetus”20 or consciousness.21 Although God does have a set of moral laws to be followed, natural revelation does not reveal what these are. Although every culture has a concept of right and wrong, what these mean exactly can vary widely. What all have in common, though, is the sense that there is such a thing as “right” and “wrong.”
On this, Ellen G. White wrote that “Wherever there is an impulse of love and sympathy, . . . there is revealed the working of God’s Holy Spirit.”22 Hence, we should understand that the Holy Spirit is by no means restricted to Jews and Christians, but works on the minds and hearts of humankind everywhere. Paul’s message should be a warning against “Christians who are tempted to assume too narrow and selfish a view of salvation.”23
On this issue, most commentators seem to agree that natural revelation is not sufficient to build a theological system. Although it can provide general knowledge about the existence of a Creator and a vague understanding of His nature and capabilities, there’s hardly any concrete information to build a theology about God. From a biblical perspective, this also doesn’t seem to be the main purpose of natural revelation.
A question that is crucial for understanding the goal of natural theology is whether it is sufficient for salvation. In other words, is it possible for someone genuinely to know God through natural revelation and be saved?
Nestor Rilloma, for example, argues that by obeying the inner “natural law,” humanity would be able to obtain salvation, at least theoretically.24 It is also with this positive view of natural revelation that Vatican II adopted its new philosophy of religion, to the extent that all religions are now considered viable ways to God and that all humans are already reconciled in Christ, according to 2 Corinthians 5:19. Karl Rahner refers to them as “anonymous Christians.”25 This, however, raises a serious concern. If true, what should be done about the mandate to preach the gospel to the world (Matt. 28:19, 20)? Gulley notes: “The fact that this mandate is mentioned after the Cross indicates that the objective sacrifice for all humanity needs to be accepted by each person individually, or else human freedom would be violated.”26
What natural revelation truly seems to do is create a background for the presentation of the content found in special revelation. In other words, it is able to “give every human being enough of God’s revelation so that no one has an excuse to reject God on the basis of place of residence or status of education. Even the disadvantaged living in the Third World, without the ability to read, are still humans loved by God, and He can lead them to be open to His revelation and working through nature, history, and human life.”27
The elementary information provided by natural revelation serves as a common ground between Christians and non‑Christians, enabling the possibility to discuss and study the contents of special revelation. This possibility is illustrated by Paul’s discourse to the Athenians in Acts 17. As he called the Greek philosophers to repentance before the Creator of the world, he built his argument on a previous knowledge they accepted as given: “‘THE UNKNOWN GOD.’” In his discourse, Paul declared that this “‘UNKNOWN GOD’” not only created humankind, but also provided time and place for all nations to live (vss. 24–27). The purpose of God’s providential care for each person is the crucial point: “God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us’” (vs. 27, NIV). We may then conclude that God’s natural revelation intends to make humankind aware of God’s presence and of a responsibility to seek and worship Him.
From this perspective, general revelation becomes particularly helpful in a postmodern setting, as Gulley clearly argues: “Though postmoderns have overthrown the unified worldview of modernism and are awash in a seemingly meaningless sea of pluralism, they still have a God who comes to them, implants enmity for evil in them, and writes the law in their hearts. Their case may seem hopeless, but their very hopelessness makes them long for hope and open to the only One who can bring them meaning out of chaos. We should not underestimate the preparation Christ made in His salvific work for humanity. He is able to get through to the most hopeless because He implants a sense of right and wrong in the conscience, producing a sense of longing for something better through the ‘enmity’ factor. These facts should galvanize evangelicals to proclaim the gospel to postmoderns. . . . God can reach postmoderns through general revelation, and to that extent prepare them for the reception of particular revelation.”28
Limitations of Natural Revelation
Although God uses nature, history, and conscience to reveal Himself to human beings, natural revelation clearly has its limitations. To begin with, it is surprisingly devoid of propositional content on God. While it is a means for God to reach humanity, it cannot provide the basis for a theological system. For that, only the Bible seems to have the necessary information. What natural revelation can do, at most, is to create an awareness of the existence of God, or a vague sense of infinitude. All that the human mind can perceive is “that whatever lies beyond must be the Creator, who alone should be worshiped.”29
Furthermore, general revelation is not inspired, as is God’s Word. While nature has been referred to on occasion as “God’s second book,” nature is far from being considered inspired. “To elevate nature—and with nature the natural sciences—to the same level as Scripture, to accept both—nature and Scripture—as valuable revelations from God, overlooks an important difference and distinction. While nature has a divine origin, neither Scripture nor Ellen White attribute the quality of inspiration to nature. The Bible is God’s inspired book. Nature is not. Nature is God’s creation and came into existence through God’s special design. As such it reveals something about God, its creator. But nature is not inspired.”30
Another aspect that limits its revelational potential are the effects of sin on nature. While nature points to all the beauty, love, and wisdom that the universe contains, it also reveals a darker side, full of death, suffering, and misery. “The present condition of humanity and this world, filled with sin, disruption, disaster, and death, raises serious questions about the possibility of a true knowledge of God through the natural world or through human experience.”31
Furthermore, nature lacks what is most relevant for the present sinful condition of human beings. “There is nothing about the problem of sin or the plan of salvation, nothing about heaven and the life to come in a new earth, nothing about the cosmic controversy as causative of the different problems in nature found in general revelation. Ultimately the greatest limit to general revelation is its inability to say anything about Jesus Christ. Thus the very center of particular revelation is absent in general revelation.”32 Undeniably, special revelation is incomparable when it comes to the revelation of the plan of salvation.
This situation is aggravated by the fact that sin also dulled humanity’s intellectual capabilities, making human beings deficient in their interpretation of natural revelation. Ellen G. White stated that “God has permitted a flood of light to be poured upon the world in the discoveries of science and art; but when professedly scientific men reason upon these subjects from a merely human point of view, they are sure to err. The greatest minds, if not guided by the word of God, become bewildered in their attempts to investigate the relations of science and revelation. The Creator and His works are beyond their comprehension.”33
Despite being endowed at Creation with reason and conscience, humanity decreased over time in mental and spiritual strength, acuteness, and discernment. For these reasons, general revelation can be adequately and correctly understood only from the vantage point of special revelation. Nature, history, or human conscience can be rightfully explained only from the perspective of eternity. Even “historical knowledge of the human Jesus is not sufficient to yield the revelational meaning of his life and work.”34 One clear example of this is Peter’s confession of Christ’s divinity, to which Christ replied: “‘Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven’” (Matt. 16:17).
What About Natural Theology?
Now that we understand Scripture’s witness to general revelation, we can approach the issue of “natural theology.” Does natural revelation offer sufficient content to build a natural theology? Christian scholars have responded quite differently to this question over the centuries. Some believe that it is possible, and have even used the terms “general revelation” and “natural revelation” interchangeably. They maintain “not only that there is a valid, objective revelation of God in such spheres as nature, history, and human personality, but that it is actually possible to gain some true knowledge of God from these spheres . . . apart from the Bible.”35
In medieval times, for example, nature, history, and philosophy were treated as sources of knowledge and were studied by natural philosophers (what some would call the scientists of today) as a means to obtain knowledge about God. “From the beginnings of the medieval church natural theology was understood to take three forms: the way of negation (via negativa), by which philosophers negated attributes of the finite order; the way of affirmation (via eminentiae), by which they affirmed positive attributes of God on the basis of creaturely analogy; and the way of causality (via causalitatis), by which divine attributes by means of the relationship of effect to cause.”36
One medieval theologian who excelled at this method of doing natural theology was Tomas Aquinas. In his Summa Theologica, he developed his five proofs for the existence of God. He believed that natural theology was essential for the development of faith: “the existence of God and other like truths about God, which can be known by natural reason, are not articles of faith, but are preambles to the articles; for faith presupposes natural knowledge.”37 Through Aristotelian logic, Aquinas’s work shaped natural theology in such a way that it turned into a completely rational effort.
Such a system can become a reality only with certain assumptions: “One is, of course, that there is an objective, valid, and rational general revelation—that God actually has made Himself known in nature (for example) and that patterns of meaning are objectively present—independently of whether anyone perceives, understands, and accepts this revelation.”38 This view assumes that nature is basically intact—that it has not been substantially distorted by sin or anything else since the Creation. A second assumption concerns the integrity of the person perceiving and learning from creation. “Neither the natural limitations of humanity nor the effects of sin and the fall prevent him from recognizing and correctly interpreting the handiwork of the Creator.”39 A third assumption is that “there is a congruity between the human mind and the creation about us. The order of the human mind is basically the same as the order of the universe. The mind is capable of drawing inferences from the data it possesses, since the structure of its thinking processes coheres with the structure of what it knows.”40
Basically, “the core of natural theology is the idea that it is possible, without a prior commitment of faith to the beliefs of Christianity, and without relying upon any special authority, such as an institution (the church) or a document (the Bible), to come to a genuine knowledge of God on the basis of reason alone.”41
From what we have studied so far, it should be clear that natural theology, understood from these assumptions, is impractical. As a cognitive exercise, natural theology relies on presuppositions that are not compatible with what the Scriptures teach. For these reasons, general/natural revelation should not be equated with natural theology. Fernando Canale creates a helpful distinction between the two: “General revelation is a revelatory activity performed by God, while natural theology is an interpretive activity performed by human beings. In general revelation, God uses nature and history to reveal His will to each person with the goal of their salvation. In natural theology, however, human beings address these same objects, but with the purpose of interpreting them from their own perspectives to gain an understanding of God. In other words, they try to decipher God based on their interpretations of nature and events.”42
He further argues that “in general revelation, God is the agent and His will the content; His purpose is to lead each individual to Himself. In natural theology, human beings are the agents and the contents are theoretical ideas about God produced by their imaginations. . . . Natural theology is not the work of God, but the interpretive work of human beings.”43 To Canale, “natural theology is human invention rather than God’s revelation.”44 Furthermore, for a content to be considered part of general revelation, it must be universal in nature. As Canale argues, once a person takes his own experience and tries to translate it into a universal teaching, he or she introduces the human element of imagination, turning that content into a human product. “Therefore, the resulting teachings—natural theology—cannot be said to come from God.”45
Natural Revelation and Scientific Inquiry
As noted, when it comes to the knowledge of God, general revelation is occasionally deficient in propositional content. What can be discovered about the Creator is at times insufficient or even confusing. However, its capacity to impart general truth on issues such as science, history, geometry, mathematics, and the arts surpasses its disclosure about spiritual truths.
In comparing God’s two modes of revelation, an interesting contrast appears. On one hand, the Bible is rich in data about God and salvation, but it is limited when it comes to scientific, historical, and anthropological content. Though it may be scientifically, historically, and anthropologically accurate, it is not a textbook on science, history, or anthropology. Even though the Bible speaks the truth, not all truth is contained in it. God could have included much more in His Word, but He included only what was necessary for humanity’s salvation (John 20:30, 31; 21:25; 1 John 5:13).
On the other hand, natural revelation imparts very little information about God. It is sufficient for someone to become aware of God’s existence and some of His characteristics, but it is not enough to answer life’s deepest questions. When it comes to general knowledge, however, God’s second book is rich with content. The Bible itself constantly refers to nature and history to extract general information about our existence. The books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, for instance, constantly point to nature as a source of wisdom and knowledge.
On the importance of joining science with the Bible, Ellen G. White commented: “God is the foundation of everything. All true science is in harmony with his works; all true education leads to obedience to his government. Science opens new wonders to our view; she soars high and explores new depths; but she brings nothing from her research that conflicts with divine revelation. Ignorance may seek to support false views of God by appeals to science; but the book of nature and the written word do not disagree; each sheds light on the other. Rightly understood, they make us acquainted with God and his character by teaching us something of the wise and beneficent laws through which he works.”46
From this short comparison, it becomes clear that, considering the fact that both sources of knowledge find their origin in God, they should agree with and complement each other. One isn’t more valuable than the other. They just have different purposes and enrich our understanding of different aspects of reality. For these reasons, it is important that we, in our search for understanding about God and reality, use both of God’s revelations—special and general. Scientists, historians, and scholars in general need the Bible to interpret reality correctly, while theologians need natural revelation to better understand God, His will, and His actions. Studying one of these modes of revelation without the input of the other leaves a partial understanding of the Creator and His creation. Nature and history acquire a grander perspective from the vantage point of the Bible, and Scripture becomes more colorful and alive with the help of natural revelation. From their interaction, these two fields of study are mutually enriched.
This brings an issue of possible concern. Because Adventists feel deeply affected by the Darwinist/evolutionary worldview in scientific milieus, many Adventist theologians have become reluctant to give too much space to natural revelation in their theology. They tend to spend more time showing what general revelation cannot reveal than what can be learned through it. In some cases, it would almost appear that theology doesn’t need general revelation at all. Because of the increasing influence and space that science, history, neurology, and psychology have in normal life, however, Adventists need to grow in their discussions related to these fields and offer contributions that reflect their own theological understanding of revelation. Most of all, Adventists need to identify and clarify their biblical, theological, and philosophical presuppositions concerning these issues to properly offer answers to the urgent problems that are presently raging in society.
Much of what Adventism has done toward the integration between special and natural revelation can be summarized in our health message and our apologetic effort to defend Genesis creation and the biblical flood. While all of that is commendable and needs special attention, there is still much to be done and developed in such subjects as quantum physics, astronomy, philosophy of science, bioethics, genetic engineering, neurology, and consciousness studies. For instance, though Adventists believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ, a corporeal rapture to heaven, a physical and material new heaven and new earth, the importance of caring for nature and the benefits of having a healthful lifestyle, shockingly, not much has been done to link these theological concepts with the current developments and discussions in science. These are only a few examples that show that Adventist theology needs to integrate its theology into other fields of study.
Glauber S. Araújo is a doctoral student of systematic theology at River Plate Adventist University, Libertador San Martín, Entre Ríos, Argentina. He holds a Master’s degree in sciences of religion and is an Editor at the Brazilian Adventist Publishing House, Tatuí, São Paulo, Brazil.
NOTES AND REFERENCES