All things revealed
Philosophically, Christianity’s claim to be God’s ultimate tool rises and falls with how it handles these ideas and questions. Earlier I had mentioned that it is a completely dependant religion. In this sense, Christianity is different than most other belief systems. There are two factors at play which make Christianity ultimately different than other tools for human salvation. The first is that it believes itself. The second is that its teachings come from outside of its own systems, in that there is a truth which cannot be learned but must be taught by God himself. Christianity believes in an absolute revelation. Revelation is a loaded word. It implies that a truth which was hidden has been exposed and is now vulnerable and open for receiving. With it comes an implied loss of the power that comes from secret knowledge while at the same time an excitement for an understanding that has never been attainable. It is a word that has been widely accosted by all religions and it is as much a somber word of divine communication as it is a terrifying word of infiniteness.
Christianity, unsurprisingly teaches that revelation is a foundational and distinct attribute of who God is. It is an aspect of his personhood embedded deep within the relationship of the trinity. God is a god who communicates. God the Father reveals to God the Son. In this infinite interaction, we find that we expect revelation and that we seek to reveal to each other. Therefore, whenever we see revelation, in its very least, we are reminded of who God is. At its very most, we are called to attribute Godhood to the revealer. What’s more is that these tendencies to remember or to ascribe are not necessarily at the forefront of our minds but can bring us to conclusions about our relationship with the revealer in a passive way. To this end, revelation should never be received without trepidation and careful consideration. We should guard our hearts and our minds whenever words are spoken.
As an aspect of the tool of religion, Revelation is the manufacturer’s instructions which tell humankind how he was meant to be used and operated. Christianity holds that there are two distinct ways in which this is given to us. The first is called General Revelation, the second is Special Revelation. Each form of revelation is a language, possessing laws and syntax that make it legible, as well as serving as a sort of canon when trying to make sense of it. Because revelation itself is a language, it helps at times to speak of it in terms of grammar and speech.
General Revelation is a simple concept. In plain language, it means that God has always spoken to us in all things and that it is a part of his nature to do so. This type of communication is a result of God’s character being pervasive in his creation much the same way that an artist’s distinct signature is seen in the choices he makes in his paintings. The brush strokes, choice of canvas and every other facet of the creation of a piece serve to reveal aspects of the artists character. General Revelation is not bound by space and time but is rather found in space and time and all within the broadest sense of these two boundaries. Traditionally, Christianity has taught that General Revelation is not enough to point humanity to a conclusive belief in God that can bring him to salvation. This is due to another facet of General Revelation. This is that there are two eras of General Revelation. These periods of communication are divided by the presence of a singular event in human history; the fall of Adam.
Before the fall, the aforementioned rules of General Revelation applied. All creation spoke of God’s character. Post-fall, creation ceased to accurately portray God’s character. It became restless as a reaction to man’s divergence from God’s image within him upon disobedience in the Garden. The Bible says that the Earth was cursed because of Adam. Added to this is that man is God’s prime creation and all things in creation are his subjects. Therefore, if man falls, so does his kingdom. The entire universe fell from God. In a very real sense, men were created to extol God’s virtues; to sing his song. When men chose to sing a different song, all of creation had no choice but to submit to this new song or dissent and choose God’s original song, effectively putting him at odds with his created master, man. But due to the fact that men were the choir directors the tune was doomed to be dischordant regardless of natures difficult decision. General Revelation in its practice ended when the brush strokes of creation showed man’s choices, rather than God’s. Doctrine teaches that God’s handwriting was not “entirely erased but became hazy and indistinct.” The focus of general revelation had been so marred that it was incapable of carrying an accurate truth as to the nature of the creator. Men had been left with a feeling of God, rather than a knowledge of him. They had traded this once intrinsic knowledge for a knowledge of good and evil instead.
A New Transmission
This radical departure from the image of God in man left him disconnected from his creator and all of creation was affected. Everything in his charge suffered. Everything to come would suffer. This was the necessitating factor in a new line of communication by God. This is not to say that the message contained post-fall was different than pre-fall, but that the approach to that message took into account course corrections for man’s new path. These new speech patterns included an emphasis on man’s sin and his guilt as well as instructions on how to accurately show the image of God which was once brilliant in man with no effort. These targeted steps to correct man’s course are known as Special Revelation. Special Revelation can be found most commonly through the Old and New Testament of the Bible, but it is present in moments of human history whenever the feeling of God, not to be confused with the knowledge of God, is given an event in real space and real time that confirms and shapes that feeling to be in line with the previously established truths found in General and Special Revelations previous. These are moments where God himself reaches into human history to tune humanity so they begin to see God more clearly and gradually approach a pre-fall understanding of who he is.
There are 3 basic ways in which God speaks to man outside of General Revelation. Each way has the same attributes and shows a cohesive and compounding image of who he is, but they are all at once distinct in their dispensation. There are Theophanies, dialogues and miracles. These three styles of communication cover the multitude of entrances into humanity over history. And they all carry the same message, character and can even overlap each other in space and time.
The God who is there
The metaphor of God is the theophany. God speaks directly into a creation as a pillar of fire, wind, or even a physical hand and allows people to relate to him directly in these and many other things throughout the Bible. Being that he is God, he is not merely a pillar of fire in summary, nor is he bound to being a pillar of fire, but for the purpose of communication he will at times take that form so that humanity may more easily converse with him. We need to be careful to make a distinction here. These are not modes of God. He is not merely putting on a mask as if performing a character. He is not pretending to be the pillar of fire or the burning bush. He is pouring the fullness of himself into an extension of his own imagination and therefore making that thing fully himself. This level of saturation for the artist in his own creation is only possible for the artist. A work of Picasso’s can have his full essence poured into it, but I can not fully pour myself into it regardless of how deep my love for a Picasso piece might be. The artist must be God to his creation to relegate himself fully to his art. Philosophically, only the artist can become his creation. Not even the creation of the artist can achieve such a profound connection to itself. The art can not be the artist, though the artist can be the creation. It is not him, but he is it. As we continue to explore Christian doctrine, we will explore God’s nature further. For now, let us suffice to say that God is the Pillar of Fire and let us not presuppose that we can fully understand what that means.
Why does God become these Theophanies? He does this to be productive in communication. For the Jews, taking the form of a pillar of fire was not a casual form for God but rather a causal form in that it passively produced practical realities for the Jews. God is bigger than they are. God is a force of nature. God protects them in the cold desert night. God gives them light so they may see. Each theophany of God carries with it meaning and purpose and is chosen by God to cause and carry a very distinct message. This form of communication is seen mostly by Prophets, a station of God’s servants who he gives special callings to requiring strong imagery and solid foundational language to complete. However, it can be given to all people at any time. The strongest most prolific example of Gods metaphor is that of the incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth. God became flesh in Jesus. Just as God is the man Jesus, God was the burning bush, the rock that Moses struck and the Pillar of Fire that led the people out of Egypt when they were slaves. God in these moments, relegates himself to a simpler form in practice, fully, as good communication, so that man can better process who he is.
Speaking in practical metaphor is not the only way in which God speaks. God has also proven himself capable of directly conversing with men. We must be careful to make the distinction here of a feeling that God is speaking. When God dialogues with men, we are speaking of an encounter that has consequences to real space and time. Without using metaphor to give men an object to speak to, he strips the metaphor and talks with vulnerability of his true nature. His voice speaks the language of the receiver and sharpens that persons understanding of who he is. These instances are the cliche’ of “I heard the voice of God.” They are open to the senses, and are meant to be understood.
God’s voice is always open to the senses, but it is not limited to these. God often times speaks directly to people through dreams making his voice known on an internal level. These times, however stay true to the compounded character of who he has presented himself to be and they are meant to be understood. Both Joseph and Daniel in the Old Testament interpreted dreams for their kings which were given with the intention of these prophets interpreting them. The visions in the apostle John’s Revelation calls for the saints to see the visions and interpret them. God’s voice is not bound to the senses. In every circumstance where God speaks, he calls on the receiver to interpret him, and to do so accurately against those truths which have already been revealed.
God’s voice is not always spoken, though it is always lingual. He has been known to speak directly through writing. This can be done through the use of a willing participant in the communication process, such as a prophet as well as directly with his own hand as was done with the ten commandments and the writing on the wall in the book of Daniel. The Holy Scriptures are a product of God’s direct voice speaking through the prophets. They are his words, in the language he chose so that he could accurately convey his message to be the most effective in space and time. Christianity views the Bible as being the literal word of God.
In conversations, it is sometimes necessary to create radical examples of concepts that cannot be received through direct speech nor through physical metaphor. Strangely, a skeptic may not believe that a burning bush is God if he sees it, it is too unbelievable to fathom and he believes that what he sees lies. A philosopher may not believe that what has been revealed to him is true merely because it has been spoken as truth. He has learned that the truth is too complex to be that simple. Revelations such as these might challenge humanity’s perception to the point that accepting them would destroy its worldview and instead of opening up to the message, it must close down to protect its psyche.
But if it can form a bridge that displays God’s power and character without shattering its psyche, than it might be able to understand. In simple terms,it is “easier” to believe that if Jesus could heal the blind, than Jesus was akin to God, and therefore can speak with God’s authority. This may not present the full picture of revelation, but it is a more palatable message for some than making a statement which forces the conclusion that Jesus is God. This isn’t a direct dialogue with man, nor is it God manifesting himself. The presence of a miracle is different than God’s voice or a Theophany in that it does not demand accountability to its message. Miracles have powerful effects on humankind while making passive statements about God’s character. They allow for interpretation, and encourage further exploration. It does this while pointing to a bigger message. This message, as you may have guessed is the same message laid out in all previous revelations. Miracles are the similes of God’s language. They show attributes of God in a way that reassures humanity that their is still a normalcy in their everyday outlook, though God is presented as well. A man cannot run away from a pillar of fire, or a voice from heaven but he can look the other way when water is turned into wine.
What is being revealed
General Revelation and Special Revelation have a distinct message to present about God’s character. Whereas General Revelation is a display of God’s status in creation and after sin, ( was a poor reflection of that truth) Special Revelation is a targeted thesis on General Revelation and God’s plan to restore the original fullness of General Revelation. It is a treatise on man’s relationship to God that includes God’s interaction with mankind since his creation. It reveals the details of mankind’s inability to live up to the image of God that he was made to accurately display, including how he became unable and how he will be restored to his fullness through God’s love which is personified in Jesus of Nazareth. The messages of the Old Testament Prophets, the Apostles of Christ and Christ himself are all considered a special revelation which is compiled into what we refer to as the Bible.
A divine transformation
Scriptures teach that there are certain benefits from even a minute contact with a Special Revelation. These benefits are certain in that once God speaks directly through Special Revelation, there is always an effect placed into the creation which restores the pre-fall order to some degree. Interaction with Special Revelation and in particular Scripture, is useful for all things which are productive in the restoration of God’s pre-fall General Revelation. Within the Scriptures themselves, is not only an added potential for humanity to act according to the image of God, but is also an added equipping to carry out God’s will. This includes equipping man in a personal accurate reflection of God’s image as well as providing tools to navigate communal interactions, everyday living and creation management in a Godly fashion.
When we are first introduced to our parents, we are interested in self-preservation. In order to meet our immediate needs, we let a cry out into the world hoping that someone interprets the deeper truths behind the shrill inarticulateness of our one sound vocabulary. We hope that someone will give to us the trust of care necessary to meet our needs. When we are first introduced to our parents, this is all we expect. As we grow older, if this doesn’t change, we begin to see this care at every beckon call as a reason to resent them. An over-attentive parent is seen as mistrusting and overbearing. The rules and guidance that once kept us safe become a cage for us as we are now able to navigate this world with some level of competency. But this comes at a price. Our parents quickly become symbols of our incompetence rather than champions of our growth. Our once beloved heroes die. For Christians, there is a growth process as well.
In salvation we come to the point of spiritual infancy and we are willing to somewhat blindly accept God’s Bible as the thing that will meet our needs and take care of us. It’s truths contain within them everything necessary to pull ourselves out of the spiritual messes we have inevitably made. This is a necessary step for all believers in that we all must understand at the heart of our growth in Christ the concept of his love being unconditional. But as we mature in our faith, we act as we do in our physical state. We push boundaries and interpret once sacred and unthinkable rules and this is a natural part of getting older. If God as a parent remains static in how he provides for us, than he is merely a machine which is there to serve our needs. The moment he doesn’t meet our needs any longer, he becomes a hindrance to our growth. More than this, he becomes philosophically smaller than us and therefore undeserving of the title of god.
We are not made to be static. We our made to grow and the Bible teaches that God longs for us to revel with him in that growth. He wants us to flex our abilities to reason and to be productive. It naturally stands to reason that our needs will become increasingly complex as we mature. One of the ways in which we grow is in communication. It is a facet of who the Bible reveals God to be and therefore being made in his image, who we are meant to be. Humans begin to truly grow when they start to learn language. The idea that concepts are being communicated in every action and sound being made and that these concepts are meant to be understood and to help us grow is a powerful knowledge. It establishes a world which is safe and a caretaker who is trustworthy. When Christianity presents religion without revelation, he presents a poor picture of the quality parenting exhibited by God.
God communicates, he intends to be understood, he adjusts himself to our needs, he is consistent in his message and he intends what is best for us. Without understanding that the Bible is revelation, we are left with a rule book. This is a particular cruelty in that the Bible states plainly that its rules are ones which cannot ever be perfected. If God has a manual to follow rather than a message to reveal about how we came to be here, than we will eventually outgrow his usefulness.
For God to be really deserving of being God, his rules have to be a precursor to a deeper truth. And this truth must be capable of fully holding the weight of our humanity. Believing that Christianity holds no real revelation but instead is a series of human ideas. And, or that these ideas are influenced not by an intentful relational Being but instead by mechanisms of necessity throughout human history, leaves Christianity to be relegated to eventual nothingness at the most and mysticism at the least.
When a person understands the nature of Revelation in scripture, they are sealed in the knowledge that God is worthy of that title because he is personal like we are, but more. He has a plan for us that is much bigger than we have imagined for ourselves. He is active in providing for that plan regardless of our inactivity. He seeks our commitment to that plan. He wants us. To be a Christian without understanding Revelation is to claim that you are the child of a machine; that a thing which is lesser than your ability to grow has sustained you. Logically, as you grow, you will have to come to understand that thing is not God or you will be forced to lie to yourself to keep it as God. If Christianity is what it claims to be, than none of these options is healthy.You may love God because he provided for you in your infancy, but in your adulthood, you will betray him rather than betray yourself. And not having an accurate understanding of Revelation has left countless Christians with a faith and a truth that is nothing more than beautiful but ultimately empty words. But with a proper understanding of Revelation at the foundation of Christianity, we can have assurance of a personal relationship with a god that is capable of reasoning along with us.