Theme: General Revelation Known Everywhere
In this week’s lessons we see what the doctrine of general revelation teaches us about the one true God.
Scripture: Psalm 19:1-6
Yesterday we concluded by saying that there were many scientists who objected to the scientific theory of the “big bang” because it pointed to a particular moment in time when the universe came into existence, which scientists would not be able to penetrate.
Arthur Eddington, a British astronomer, wrote in 1931, “The notion of a beginning is repugnant to me.” The German chemist Walter Nernst wrote, “To deny the infinite duration of time would be to betray the very foundations of science.” Phillip Morrison of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said of the “big bang” theory, “I would like to reject it.” Even Albert Einstein, whose theory of relativity predicted an expanding universe (though he did not recognize it), said, “The circumstance irritates me. To admit such possibilities seems senseless.” However, after examining Hubble’s work he declared himself convinced.
Robert Jastrow, the founder and director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has been amused at these and other reactions of his fellow scientists and has written a book about it called God and the Astronomers. The book concludes, “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”3
3. It is universal. The third characteristic of the general revelation described in Psalm 19 is that it is universal or known everywhere. The psalm says of the skies and heavens, “There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.4 Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (vv. 3, 4).
This is the basis for the universal ascription of guilt to humanity by Paul in Romans 1. For although everyone in every land and of every human language has “heard” this general revelation—no one is exempt from it—none have of themselves followed upon it in order to seek the true God out and worship him. What they do instead is to suppress the knowledge of the true God and make idols of a lesser god more to their liking. It is because of this general revelation (and not a special revelation which, of course, numerous peoples and cultures do not have) that God is just in punishing the heathen as well as those who, having the special revelation, also sin against this greater light.
In his brief comments on this psalm, John R. W. Stott calls the sun “a particular example” of the universal witness to God by the heavens.5 But it is more than this. As David describes the sun in verses 4b-6, from his perspective it is “the crowning achievement of God’s creation.”6
What is the third characteristic of general revelation that we see from this psalm?
What is the importance of this idea for Paul in Romans 1?
Reflection: In what ways do we observe unbelievers suppressing the truth about God known through creation?
For Further Study: Creation displays the glory of God, and as part of this creation we are to live in praise to him for who he is and what he has done in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Download and listen for free to Donald Barnhouse’s message, “God’s Poems.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)
3Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers (New York: Norton, 1978), p 16. The statements of Eddington, Nernst, Morrison and Einstein are on pages 112, 113 and 128.4The second half of this couplet literally says, “their voice is not heard,” which has produced a difference among commentators as to how the verse as a whole should be taken. The New International Version inserts the word “where” at the beginning, thereby making the verse mean that the witness of the heavens is heard everywhere (so also Luther, Calvin, Leupold). Purists retain the strict meaning: “They have no speech, there are no words;/no sound is heard from them” (NIV note, Perowne, Craigie). But if they do this, they have to add or imply the word “yet,” linking the first half of the verse with the second: “yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” In the first case, there are two parallel couplets, lines A and B being parallel and lines C and D being parallel. In the second case there is a contrasting parallel between the first two lines on the one hand and the second two lines on the other. In either version the meaning is the same: the witness of the heavens is universal and pervasive.5John Stott, Favorite Psalms, Selected and Expounded (Chicago: Moody, 1988), p. 21.6Peter C. Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 19, Psalms 1-50 (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), p. 18.