In 1 Corinthians Paul is talking about how people suppress the knowledge of God in nature. He says the result is what he quotes from the Old Testament: “No eye has seen, nor ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” Is that because there is nothing to be seen? No, it is there to be seen. We just do not see it. Is that because God has not spoken? No, he has spoken, but we do not hear. Is that because the Gospel cannot be understood by the operation of the human mind? No, the Gospel is the great wisdom of God. But although we have minds, we do not put them to task. So it is perfectly true that if men and women were left by God to general revelation, no one would be saved because no eye would see, no ear would hear, no mind would conceive this wonderful, glorious message of the Gospel.
Last week when I wrote of the foolishness of this world’s wisdom, I spoke about a television series called Cosmos, where Carl Sagan looks at the wonders of creation but cannot see the One who is responsible for it. There is probably no greater contemporary example of what Paul says here in Romans 1 and what he says in 1 Corinthians 1 about the blindness of the human eye where general revelation is concerned. Paul would say that it is not merely the immensity of the universe that ought to point us to a God great enough to create it and to whom we owe allegiance. There is enough evidence even in a snowflake to lead anyone who would think clearly to recognize a divine, Supreme Being who lies behind it and to seek that God out. Yet, though we have eyes in our natural state, like Carl Sagan we cannot see.
The Lord himself taught that, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man in hell said, “Lord, send Lazarus back to my brothers so that they will believe when they see someone who has risen from the dead.” Jesus replied by way of the parable, “No, no, they won’t believe even if one rises from the dead. They have Moses and the prophets. If they will not believe the Word, they won’t believe even though they see a miracle.” This is what Paul is saying to the Corinthians.
The second thing that God does, therefore, is to reveal himself in special ways. This is why theologians speak of special revelation, the revelation that God gives within history and the cosmos. J.I. Packer says this special revelation of God has three parts. First of all, there is a revelation in history because God intervenes in history to do certain things. History is not merely the outworking of human desires and passions. It is that, but it is also the direct result of the outworking of God. God acted in history to send the Lord Jesus Christ to be our Savior, to live, to die, to rise again from the dead. He established the Christian Church in history. There is a sense in which all of that is special revelation.
“Then,” says Packer, “God also reveals himself specially by writing,” that is, by the Scriptures. At the same time God acts in history, God acts through his holy prophets and apostles. As a result, they produced what we know as the Word of God, the Bible. Through that, God explains what it is that he’s doing in history. He explains what the coming of Jesus Christ, his life, his death, and his resurrection meant, and what he is doing in establishing the church.
Then, Packer says, in the third place, the God who reveals himself in special ways in history and in writing also speaks to the individual mind and the heart in what is called “illumination,” so that as we read we begin to understand what it is that God has done. The interesting thing, however, is that apart from the work of God’s Holy Spirit in our heart, none of us understands that writing. I suppose that is what Paul has in mind when he spells it out, saying, “No eye has seen. No ear has heard. No mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”