Why the Need for Divine Revelation?

Why do many people struggle with the existence of God? Perhaps because they don’t know the nature of the object they are investigating. After all, the nature of the object determines how you come to know which approach to take to see whether it exists or not. As Eric Johnson says:

“Suppose you want to answer some specific question. How will you proceed? That depends on what you want to know and how it can be known. For instance, “Where is Kenya?” can be answered by consulting an encyclopedia, looking at a globe, or asking someone who knows. Answering “Did I leave the bedroom light on?” usually requires going to the room to see or asking someone else to go. Consulting an encyclopedia or , looking at a globe, or asking someone who knows. Answering “Did I leave the bedroom light on?” usually requires going to the room to see or asking someone else to go. Consulting an encyclopedia or looking at a globe won’t help. “What is 12 x 12?” can be answered from memory (if you learned your multiplication tables) or by looking at a multiplication table, working out the answer on paper, using a calculator, counting out twelve rows of twelve sticks and then counting through them all, or (again) by asking someone who knows. It cannot be answered by looking at a globe. We ask “What are you thinking?” only of persons—and only the person who is being asked can answer it. We may guess, but we won’t know for certain unless we are told. Consulting encyclopedias, looking at globes, going to another room, or trying to work out the answer on paper aren’t good ways to answer this question. Our primary question is, What is God like? That is what we want to know. Let us assume for the moment that it is possible to know some significant things about God. Yet still we must ask, How can we know them? Our answer to this question depends on the kind of being we think God is. – God Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents God, pgs 44-45.

But how can know the kind of being God is? Perhaps he needs to show us?

Remember, the skeptical issue in our culture mostly enters into the religious dialogue in the following way: “In the case of God, who isn’t some physical object but a divine being, what kind of evidence should we expect to find? Christianity, Judaism, Islam, are all theistic faiths in contrast to pantheism (all is God), polytheism (many gods), and atheism (without God).The study of world religions involves a commitment to understand the issue of divine revelation. Most religious claims say that there is a God who took the initiative to reveal himself to an individual or a group of people who later recorded it in a group of writings or sacred texts. There are three aspects of a revelation:

1. A Being capable of giving a revelation: God
2. A being capable of receiving a revelation: Man
3. A medium that is used for the revelation: (The created order, a messenger, the Bible, Jesus, etc.)

An Introduction to Christian Philosophical Theology: Faith Seeking Understanding by [Stephen T. Davis, Eric T. Yang]

In their recent book, An Introduction to Christian Philosophical Theology: Faith Seeking Understanding, the authors say the following:

” A divine revelation is an unveiling or disclosing of something that was previously hidden or unknown. Most theologians distinguish between two main ways in which God has chosen to reveal himself: general revelation and special revelation. General revelation consists of those things about God, the world, humanity, morality, and religion that human beings can learn on their own—that is, without any supernatural (“special”) assistance from God. These truths can be discovered in principle by human reason and careful reflection. The Bible appears to teach that some important truths can be learned in this way (cf. Ps. 19:1; Acts 17:22–29; Rom. 1:18–23). Theologians have suggested that we can see evidence for them, for example, in considering the beauty and grandeur of creation, in reasoning cogently about God, or maybe even in examining our own consciences. But natural revelation, even at its best, is incomplete, hazy, and easily confused. Thomas Aquinas, a medieval theologian and philosopher, worried that even for truths about God that can be discovered by human reason alone, there are some serious concerns and limitations (Summa Theologiae I.1.1). For example, he claimed that if general revelation was all we had, only a few intellectuals would be able to discover these truths about God, and doing so would take a very long time and likely include many falsehoods, given human fallibility. So, natural revelation is in need of supplementation, especially since it does not tell us all that we need to know or guarantee that we will arrive at the truth. “”

Another reason that general revelation is insufficient is that there are huge barriers or gaps between human beings and God. Indeed, there are at least three such gaps:

(1) Ontological gap: God is a self-existing, eternal, and all-powerful creator, whereas we human beings are dependent, temporal, and feeble creatures.

2) Epistemological gap: we are limited in our capacity to know and understand, especially to know and understand a being who is transcendent and radically different from us.

(3) Moral gap: God is a holy and morally perfect being, and we are depraved and self-centered creatures, and our sin separates us from God and darkens our minds to truth.

Because of these gaps, human beings naturally know little of God and his requirements, or at least not enough to comprehend God’s redemptive purposes. But thankfully God did not leave us to ourselves. We also have special revelation, which consists of those things about God, the world, humanity, morality, and religion that are relevant to our salvation and that we can learn only as the result of some supernatural or special act of divine assistance. Typically special revelation consists of things revealed by God to some person or group of persons through dreams, visions, epiphanies, prophecies, or miracles, though Christians believe that the ultimate way that God has specially revealed himself is through the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christians believe that reading the Scriptures can also, through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, speak to us and reveal God to us.”- Kindle Locations, 480-495 of 3832.

Conflicting Revelatory Claims?

“Since all these revelations, many of them  hopelessly inconsistent, cannot by definition  be simultaneously true, it must follow that  some of them are false and illusory. It could  also follow that only one of them is  authentic, but in the first place this seems  dubious and in the second place it appears  to necessitate religious war in order to decide whose revelation is the true one.”-  Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great:  How Religion Poisons Everything (New  York: Hachette Book Group,2009)

How do we respond to this objection? Three questions we need to ask are the following:

1. What is the claim of each religion? 2. How does it claim to know it? 3. What is the evidence for it?

When we do this, we will see that while there are some similarities in faiths such as truth, a God, a right and wrong, spiritual purpose in life, and communion with God, they all also have some glaring differences such as the nature of God, the afterlife, the nature of man, sin, salvation, and creation. As a Christian, I don’t think God wants the world to be confused. If God wants the world to know Him, it seems to me that he would give a clear revelation to humanity.

To assert that the God of the Bible would give a clear revelation in the person of Jesus (33 A.D.) and then give another revelation 600-650 years later (Islam), which contradicts the one in 33 A.D is odd. Furthermore, what about the two other so-called revelations in the 1800’s (Mormonism and the Watchtower Society) that both contradict the Christian and Muslim claim. If anything, that would make the God of the Bible a very contradictory Being. We see in Scripture that the God of Israel is a rational being, principles of good reason do flow from his very nature. For example, “It is impossible for God to lie” (Heb 6:18), and God cannot deny Himself (2 Tim 2:13).

In my view, we should follow the guidelines as seen in the book Introduction to Philosophy: A Christian Perspective, by Norman L. Geisler and and Paul D. Feinberg. They say the following about the relationship between revelation and reason:

(1) “Reason is over revelation” is correct in that reason is epistemologically prior to revelation. The alleged revelation must be tested by reason. (2) “Revelation is over reason” is right in the ontological sense. God created reason and it must be His servant, not His master. (3) “Revelation only” is correct in the sense that ultimately and ontologically all truth comes from God. (4) “Reason only” has some truth, since reason must judge epistemologically whether the alleged revelation is from God. (5) “Revelation and reason” is correct because it properly assigns a role to each and shows their interrelationship. One should reason about and for revelation, otherwise he has an unreasonable faith. Likewise, reason has no guide without a revelation and flounders in error.