I am reading through The Wonderful Works of God by Herman Bavinck and am using the free discussion guide by Charles Williams as a writing prompt in order to organize my thoughts and learn more as I study this classic Christian book.
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“If it is true that man can have knowledge of God then this fact presupposes that God on His part voluntarily chose to make Himself known to man in some way or other.” -Herman Bavinck
By studying inanimate (non-living) objects and digging into various related phenomena we can create from what God has already provided by using raw materials and our creativity and discover facts along the way. However, the deeper we dig into a phenomena and the closer we come to its “essence”, the mysteries increase and we are confined by the unknowable. Even with a perfect science, we cannot hope to become all knowing. Some amount of unknowable-ness is inherent to the human condition.
And if this is true of the study of inanimate objects. How much more would it be true of the study of animate objects, of life?
The Limits of Deduction
Take your friend as an example. We can study the external via observation. But the internal, we can only study via what your friend chooses to reveal. You can use facial expressions, blood pressure, and other signs to infer what is going on, but in order to truly know your friend he or she must choose to disclose their thoughts and emotions to you.
In order to truly know your friend, you are utterly dependent on him or her. If you simply rely on your own Sherlock Holms-esq detective skills you have no friend, you have a subject to study and analyze but not a friend.
This is even more true with God. We can study morality and come to the conclusion that if there are morals that are objectively bad, say raping and murdering, then there must be a God/gods/higher power/s because without someone or something beyond humans, morals are doomed to relativity. We could analyze our world and universe and come to the conclusion that things are simply too fine tuned for it to be mere chance, therefore in all probability, there is a God/gods/higher power/s.
And yet, even if we do this. We don’t have any real clue about who or what created everything. Or why that being or beings or power or powers created anything and how that should affect us. We can study and learn and use that learning to point to God, but aside from his special revelation to us we are stuck at generalities and trends. To know God, we are utterly reliant on his revelation to us.
There are two types of revelation, general and special. Both forms of revelation are revealed to us by God’s choice. General revelation refers to the world at large. It has been revealed to everyone. For general revelation you can think of science or generally shared morality among differing cultures, the usual phenomena and course of events. His general revelation shows us his power, wisdom, and goodness. Special revelation is more specific, and this knowledge is not available through study alone. God reveals his special revelation through appearances, prophecy, and miracles. This is done to show his holiness, righteousness, compassion, and grace. We only have access to special revelation through Jesus Christ.
No man knows the Son except the Father; neither does any man know the Father except the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal Him. (Matt 11:27).
So, in order to actually know God, we are limited by his special revelation. General revelation will not truly reveal God, it will only point towards him, if honestly assessed. However, when used together, our understanding of God will be more complete. Our knowledge of God will never be complete because of our human limitations, yet this doesn’t mean we cannot know God. It doesn’t mean that we cannot love God. We can know and love God truly within our own limitations the same way we can know and love a child or spouse truly without knowing them fully, perfectly.
And, while we cannot know God fully, according to Bavinck, we can know the highest way he has revealed himself to us. Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and rose from the dead proving his payment was good and reconciled us to God. This is the gap. God has crossed it for us. If we know this in our hearts, then we truly know God.
And this is the thread that binds it all together. If you look at what Jesus did, then the universe makes sense. God above and beyond humans and is all powerful and has morals, therefore our morals are not simply subjective, they are given to us by God. The universe isn’t random, but designed, and designed to show God’s glory. Jesus is the thread that binds it all together.
With Christ, we can see how God has generally revealed himself to man throughout the ages. We can see God’s judgement and mercy on both Christians and non-Christians.
God’s general revelation isn’t salvific, but it can point us towards salvation. And when we understand general revelation through special revelation, we have the needed context to make the world make sense, even if we can’t understand it, ourselves, or God perfectly.