How May We Know God?
By Dr. W.R. Downing
Ans: We may know God only as he has been pleased to reveal himself to us.
Job 11:7. Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?
Psa. 19:1–3. 1The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. 2Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. 3There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.
Acts 17:27–28. 27That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: 28For in him we live, and move, and have our being...
See also: Gen. 1:1; Jn. 1:9, 18; Rom. 1:18–25; 2:14–16; Col. 2: 9; 1 Tim. 3:16; Heb.1:1–3.
God is our Creator; we are his creatures. The Scriptures are careful to maintain this Creator–creature distinction and relation. Therefore we can only know him as he is pleased to reveal himself to us. He is infinite; we are finite. He is absolute [self–existent and without any external limitations]; we are relative [dependent upon God and outward circumstances for our existence and meaning]. We are not only limited by our creatureliness, but also by the intellectual consequences [noetic effects] of sin (Rom. 1:18–25; 1 Cor. 2:14).
God has revealed himself to us in various ways. These ways are progressive in nature and history: first, God has revealed himself to us through the light of nature. Man is the image–bearer of God, and possesses an instinct for the Divine. The noetic effects of sin have dulled and distorted this. Man by nature is incurably religious, but lacks both the ability and motivation to seek God aright (Acts 17:22–31). He is “epistemologically bankrupt,” i.e., sinfully futile in his incapacitated reasoning and suppresses what truth he does know, as his inner being is “darkened” (Rom. 1:18–25; Eph. 4:17–19). Second, God has revealed himself in and through his creation to the extent that fallen man is inexcusable, although he suppresses this witness (Rom. 1:18–20). Third, God has revealed himself through his providential dealings in history, but man interprets such superstitiously from his own presuppositions in terms of chance, fate or luck, not giving glory to God (Rom. 1:21–25; 2 Pet. 3:3–6). Fourth, God has revealed himself through his Word. This revelation has been inscripturated and preserved (Jn. 17:17; 1 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20–21). It remains for all time as a witness to God’s nature, character, purpose and veracity. In the Scriptures alone is the message of salvation and reconciliation. Finally, God has revealed himself in and through the Lord Jesus Christ, his eternal Son and the only Redeemer (Jn. 1:14, 18; Phil. 2:5–11; 1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 1:1–4).
It is through the Scriptures that we may know God, ourselves, understand the world about us, and have a definite and authoritative revelation concerning salvation from sin, righteous living, human history and our own destiny. Do you know him? Do you know him and yourself as revealed in his Word? Do you know him savingly in the Lord Jesus?
What are the two types of Divine revelation that God has given to us that we may know him?
Ans: God has given to us both general revelation and special revelation.
Matt. 4:4. But he [Jesus] answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
Gen. 2:16–17. 16And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: 17But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
See also: Gen. 1:28–29; Psa. 19:1–14; Rom. 1:18–20; Heb. 1:1–3.
General revelation includes the light of nature, creation and the works of providence. Special revelation is spoken directly from God for us to understand. Man was neither meant to live apart from nor has ever been without a direct and understandable Word from God. Even unfallen Adam in the Garden of Eden had a direct Word from God to govern his life and actions (Gen. 2:15–17). No one can simply and fully understand the truth of God from nature (Rom. 1:18–20) or from his own thinking or feelings. Natural revelation is insufficient of itself, although it is sufficient to leave man inexcusable as to the reality and power of God. Philosophy begins with man and his search for the ultimate; Scripture is a direct revelation from God. Conscience alone is not a safe or infallible guide, as man is a sinful, fallen being (Acts 26:9; Rom. 1:18–32). The conscience must be subject to the Word and Spirit of God (Rom. 9:1).
Man was created “to think God’s thoughts after him,” i.e., to give the same meaning to everything which God had given to it. This was necessary because man was a creature and was placed in a world which had already been created and defined by God. Man was created and continues as a creature of faith because the source of truth and knowledge remains external to himself. Even those who do not acknowledge God or his Word are creatures of faith; this is unavoidable. Man by nature must believe. He must believe in someone or something. At the very root of his being, every person is a creature of faith, and presupposes or assumes such when he seeks to interpret any fact or to reason about any issue. Behind rationalism, empiricism [the modern scientific method] or intuition, man still posits his approach by faith in something or someone. He remains by nature a presuppositionalist.
The Word that God has given to man is intelligent, comprehensible and perpetual. God gave his Word to be understood and obeyed. His Word stands forever—it never diminishes in its authority. Although God gave his Word thousands of years ago, it is as full and authoritative as though he has just spoken it. Note the words, “It is written,” when the New Testament refers to the Old Testament Scriptures. The inscripturated Word of God stands forever with full authority. Do you know God through both natural and special revelation?