For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his 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. So they are without excuse.
The Belgic Confession, Article 2
The Means by Which We know God
We know him by two means:
First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: his eternal power and his divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20.
All these things are enough to convict men and to leave them without excuse.
Second, he makes himself known to us more openly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for his glory and for the salvation of his own.
Our world is attracted to novelty and personal meaning. This isn’t an uncommon thing in the history of the world. We even have an idiom for it, ‘The grass is greener on the other side.’ This isn’t simply a fun phrase, it is how people live. Humans are looking for meaning and because they don’t believe they have it now, they look for it somewhere else, in a new experience, in buying something new. The problem lies in the fact that no thing in creation gives lasting meaning to creatures. It is only the creator who satisfies our longing for meaning.
This new year, I am writing a series of devotionals that reflect on the general nature of God and his world. Last week, we basically reflected on God and his nature. This week, we are going to reflect on how we know God. I began with the human desire for novelty and meaning because this so often gets in our way of God’s revelation. At least 2 movements have undermined the doctrine of revelation in the church of our day. The first is the Americanism (my phrase) and the second is Pentecostalism (I will leave it up to you to discern between the Pentecostal movement and more specific nuances for how God’s Spirit works in the world). Americanism is best understood by considering ‘westward expansion.’ Americans in the 1700’s and 1800’s left the comfort of the east coast and went west. The story is that they tamed the wild west. This is the pull yourself up by your bootstrap sort of lifestyle. The problem, at least for Biblical revelation, is that Americanism is defined as a hyper-self-sufficiency. It says, ‘We don’t need anything outside of ourselves to help us.’ The second, Pentecostalism, made religion such a personal experience that personal experience undermined the essential grounding of scripture. My four-year-old daughter has thought that saying, ‘No daddy, I’m right,’ works to convince us of her opinion and what she feels to be true. Whether it is choosing a cart in the grocery store or buying a certain treat. The worst in Pentecostalism (because even John MacArthur can point to some things we can learn from the movement) has ungrounded our doctrine of revelation from scripture. Instead, revelation is based on experience so that people can convincingly say, ‘I’m right because I feel this.’ This interpretive trick was not new or unique to Pentecostalism, liberal German theology had already done something similar earlier on and contemporary liberal Christianity maintains a similar interpretive trick. It is quite common in modern secular America.
What should our response be? We must reground our doctrine of revelation and be happy in the gloriously sufficient word of God. The confessions of the reformation importantly can help us retrace our footsteps here. The Belgic Confession, one of the reformed confessions in the Trinity Psalter Hymnal (the red hymnal in our church), defines quite nicely the doctrine of revelation for us. First, we can know God through the world. God’s creation declares his glory so that men are without an excuse. But secondly, we can know God more fully unto salvation through his word. His word is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and for training in righteousness. It is sufficient to teach us about salvation. It doesn’t tell us all history. Certainly such a short book can’t do justice to the entire history of the world. There are many biographies on one man or woman that are longer than the Old Testament, the New Testament, or the whole of Scripture. Instead, the word of God is sufficient to make known to us God’s salvation in Jesus Christ, and then how we ought to live in light of the gospel. The scriptures specifically reveal to us Jesus Christ, the Son of God who took on flesh and dwelt among mankind; he exegeted God for us, and his teaching is distilled in the New Testament: all the Old Testament speaks about him. All the New Testament reflects on his work. It is only from this strong conviction that we can then place our feelings of right or wrong in proper perspective. There are times that I know my feelings are off the wall, and Scripture chastens me. Then there are times my feelings correspond with God’s revelation and are proper.
So all this being said, this new year, may we recommit to bathing our experience in the truths of scripture. May we deeply come to know the God of Scripture through his revelation in the world and through his word. The author of Hebrews says, ‘Don’t neglect to meet together as is the habit of some,’ and I think that in part this is because the church community and its weekly gatherings challenge us to submit to the simple means and tools that God has given us to grow and be discipled and disciple others. May we take care to appreciate this wonderfully simple gift of God.