Paul begins the book of Romans by saying that the righteous wrath of God is coming in judgment against the ungodliness of humanity because “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” (Rom 1:19-20).
These verses provide perhaps the central biblical support for the Christian doctrine called “General Revelation.” General Revelation is the idea that God reveals himself in Creation. The “things that have been made” reveal God to us. While God reveals himself specifically in the Bible, he also reveals himself generally in all of Creation. Thus “General Revelation.”
Another passage that supports this idea is Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”
Trees don’t talk. They don’t have speech or words or a voice. Yet trees do have a voice. All of creation has a voice, and the voice goes to the ends of the earth, according to Psalm 19. Day after day the creation is speaking. There is no remote corner of the earth where Creation is not shouting, “I am what God is like!”
“The heavens, though without a tongue, are yet eloquent heralds of the glory of God, and this most beautiful order of nature silently proclaims his admirable wisdom” writes John Calvin.
Truly, this speech which declares the glory of God goes to the end of the world, to every island in the Pacific, to every database and every computer system, to every molecule, to every planet – the whole thing is filled to the brim with the beauty and glory of the Lord.
When Isaiah sees a heavenly vision of Yahweh sitting on his throne with Seraphim flying about him, the Seraphim declare:
“Holy, holy, holy, is Yahweh of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
This is interesting, because you wouldn’t necessarily expect the seraphim to point out how the earth is full of God’s glory while Isaiah is in the glorious presence of Yahweh himself.
Why earth? Why not heaven? Surely, heaven is full of the glory of God. Yet the seraphim point to the earth. This is amazing to me. In such a majestic moment our seemingly mundane and certainly trouble-filled earth is held up as evidence that Yahweh is glorious.
The seraphim say the whole earth is full of his glory. These are all-encompassing words. Much like Psalm 19, the emphasis is on the entirety of world, the whole earth is full. Not just the big mountains, but also the lions, the ants, the escalators, the volcanoes, the tennis rackets, the rainy days, the bread, the remote tribes in Papua New Guinea, and the chair you are sitting on.
The Scripture does not speak little of the glory of God in Creation:
Ps 95:4-5: “In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.”
Is 40:26: “Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.”
Ps 139:14 “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”
Ps 96:11-12: “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy”
Ps 8:1-2: “O Yahweh, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.”
I live in Portland, Oregon. A quick drive will take you into the Columbia Gorge. There are dozens of hikes with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and the Columbia River. Mount Hood is just a bit further down the highway. I live in perhaps one of the most beautiful places in the world, and I love it.
Christians are generally happy to recognize the beauty of God in a mountain or a river. We are comfortable acknowledging the glory of the Lord when we step outside the city life into the woods. We love Thomas Kinkade.
But what about recycling systems? What about computer systems? What about chairs and coffee and cabinets? What about sunglasses and paint? What about the day to day stuff beneath our noses?
We must not see the glory of God in a mountain and then fail to see him in traffic systems, in skyscrapers, in movies. How often does God reveal himself as a fortress or as a shepherd or a door? These are images of human innovation, and God is found in human innovation just as readily as he is found in a tree which has never been touched by a human.
The Greek word “cosmos” and the Hebrew word “erets” and the English word “creation” include more than just the woods, or a mountain, or a river. The word also includes everything humanity has ever made, like the pyramids and go-gurt. We kid ourselves when we separate the God-made and the man-made into two different realms: “The Earth belongs to Yahweh, and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1), including thunder clouds and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The whole show belongs to God, including all the innovation of humankind. We do not need to enter “Nature” to step into Creation; God’s Creation is the encompassing reality all around you. And the character and glory of Yahweh is proclaimed in all of it.
“Let the world become our school if we desire to rightly know God,” writes John Calvin in the preface to his commentary on Genesis. According to Calvin, creation is like a school in which God has placed human beings so that they can learn about God and delight in him. “For God, who is normally invisible… clothes himself, so to speak, with the image of the world in which he would present himself to our contemplation.” Famously, Calvin called creation the “theater of the Glory of God.”
But the human condition is one of sin, according to the narrative of Scripture. Sin means separation and estrangement from God. The implication of sin is human rejection of God. To be a sinner is to find God strange and unappealing and irrelevant and boring. To be a sinner is to be obsessed with work and career and to completely miss the Lord.
Truly, we have “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” and career and hobbies and social life and instagram. We no longer care about the glory of God in the world around us. We have become obsessed with the world itself to the extent that we are utterly unable to see its meaning.
So Calvin speaks of Scripture as a pair of glasses which allow us to see with clarity the glory of Christ in the world around us. We do not see God in creation “unless we, having emerged out of the lowest depths, are borne up above all heavens in the chariot of his cross, that there we may by faith apprehend those things that the eye has never seen, the ear never heard, and that far surpass our hearts and minds.”
People don’t discover God when they first look at a tree. We must be students of Scripture and meditate on his word, and we will know that He is the True Vine, the Tree of all trees, and then we will never look at trees the same again.
Creation points to God. But does Creation point to Jesus in the same way that Creation points to God?
One of my professors in Bible College criticized several local churches of being “Jesus Cults.” He meant that these churches talked about Jesus too much, to the exclusion of the Father and the Spirit and the doctrine of the Trinity in general.
While I do believe that the doctrine of the Trinity has been seriously neglected in many evangelical churches, I do not believe that the answer is less Jesus and more Trinity. Less Jesus is clearly never the biblical answer. Rather, a biblical understanding of the person of Jesus is the answer.
If we understand the Jesus of the Bible we know that when Jesus is glorified the Father is glorified, and when the Father is glorified Jesus is glorified.
“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (John 17:1).
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:9-11).
“No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 3:23).
There is no knowing God without knowing Jesus, and no knowing Jesus without knowing God. As we discussed in Chapter 1, we cannot speak of the Character of God, the Name of God, the Glory of God, the Fullness of God, the Righteousness of God, the Beauty of God, the Faithfulness of God, the Word of God, or any of God’s attributes without speaking of Jesus.
We cannot possibly answer the question, “What is God like?”, without looking to Jesus. And if the Jesus we preach excludes the Father or the Spirit, we need to rethink our idea of who Jesus is.
The Scripture tells us that to be amazed by Creation is to be amazed by the Glory of God. And then, Scripture teaches us that the Glory of God is not an abstract, nebulous concept. The Glory of God is Jesus himself, the Eternal Word of God. To be amazed by Creation is to be amazed by Jesus.
The human soul longs for Jesus and finds its fulfillment in him. God meticulously designed our being to be satisfied in Christ. He is the True Bread, the Bread of all bread. His Spirit is the Living Water, the Water of all water. He is the Light of all light. We long for physical bread and water, but these only satisfy for a while. But Jesus satisfies eternally.
As we experience this world and we are satisfied with bread, and satisfied with water and wine, and as we enjoy music and savor hard work, and as we are amazed by mountains – while we do all these things we are experiencing a taste of the character of Jesus. We are experiencing a shadow of his glory. The reason people are stirred by good music or good food is because these things are a bit like Jesus.
Even people that don’t want anything to do with Jesus are captured by his character in absolutely anything they have enjoyed.
God designed the world in such a way that human beings are unable to do anything except dramatize the reality of Jesus. We do this as we eat, drink, work, sleep, and play. We do it over and over again. Our day to day is a walking drama of Jesus, even if we live in rebellion against him.
As I sit and work at my desk I become thirsty, and I take a drink of water. So does my co-worker next to me. When I wake up I take a shower. And I proclaim Jesus and his Gospel when I do these things. He is the water that satisfies our hearts, and he is the baptism which washes our souls.
I perform these sort of mini-dramas every day along with the other seven billion on the planet.
Jesus uniquely teaches us that God is Triune. Jesus, being the Beloved Son, teaches us that God is a Loving Father.
There are several moments in the Gospels when people witness the clouds opening and the Father declaring, “This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” Peter speaks of this event in his letter to the churches as well.
This moment is significant because it reveals the Teaching which God had been attempting to teach Israel and indeed all of humanity since the beginning of creation. The Teaching is this: God is a loving Father. Jesus is this Teaching walking around as a human being. He is the Beloved Son who is God himself.
When Jesus prays in John 17 he talks about the glory and the love which the Father gave him before the foundation of the world. In other words, before God created anything – when only God existed – the Father was pouring out his love on his Son in the Holy Spirit. This means that community and love and relationship and vibrant life all existed when only the one God existed.
Truly, the world reflects the Teaching. Think for a moment.
Everything can be broken into smaller pieces. You cannot possibly imagine one thing that can’t be broken into smaller pieces. One single car has an engine, frame, interior, and dozens of other parts which make up one car. The relationship, the harmony, and the unity of all these parts create one single car. One atom contains protons and electrons which make up the whole atom. Relationship and unity are utterly fundamental in our world. We cannot comprehend an existence without relationship and unity.
If relationship did not exist then art would not exist. Art involves the beauty of harmony, whether it is the symmetry (or lack thereof) of a sculpture or the contrast of colors in a painting. Relationship of multiple pieces is the substance of art, even if the relationship of the pieces is dissonance.
If relationship did not exist then music would not exist. The relationship of multiple notes make a chord. The relationship of multiple instruments make a band. There must be variety and harmony and relationship.
If relationship did not exist, then neither would sports, good meals, beautiful homes, or gardens.
The warp and woof of our entire reality involves relationship, community, oneness of multiple parts, and unity. In this way there is extremely strong evidence that the Trinity created the world. Our universe is made by the God who is harmony, relationship, unity, and love. Everything you can see and indeed anything you can possibly conceive is a reflection of the relationality of Jesus, the Eternal Son of the Loving Father.
As an artist’s character is reflected on a painting and as a musician’s personality is displayed in her song, so the God who is love is displayed in absolutely everything in the universe, because he made it.