General Revelation: Look, Listen, and Learn

General RevelationI have seen the failure of the Church to respond well to abusive leadership in the home and office. At times I have wondered if one of our difficulties is an ignorance of God’s communication to his people.

In the history of the church, theologians have given names to two different means of communication God uses to speak to his creation: “Special” and “General.”

Special Revelation

Special Revelation” is that communication that is found in black and white on the pages of the Bible. Scriptures are a “lamp to our feet and a light to our path.” [Ps. 119:105] They are inerrant in their original writing and have been faithfully handed down through the millennia. [2 Tim. 3:16]

Normally, evangelicals consider the Bible foundational to how we interpret the world around us. If we have questions about what actions God has taken, His character, or what He requires of His people, we turn to the Bible for answers.

General Revelation

“General Revelation” is not so clearly understood. We know about General Revelation from the Bible, in particular from Paul’s letter to the Romans. But it is not discussed with much clarity. In Romans, Paul says,

“His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”

Romans 1:20

Evangelicals are much more “wary” of this communication from the Lord. However, God communicates through “the things that have been made.” He has spoken well enough through His creation that all people are “without excuse” for failing to “honor him as God or give thanks to him.” They are culpable for their rejection of His Lordship over their lives because, even though they may never read a Bible, they have his General Revelation in the created things around them to point them to His character and acts.

What Does God Communicate through General Revelation?

But exactly how and what has been conveighed to man through General Revelation? Paul says “his eternal power and divine nature” have been communicated but what exactly does that mean? And, what aspects of creation communicate these attributes?

As we consider all man has learned about the world around us, down to the itty-bitty elements of the living cell, it seems apparent that God’s creative, life-giving work is there for all men to see. He has displayed the building blocks of His ordered creation as we peer into the recesses of nature. Those discoveries of His creative works seem to be coming at faster-than-light-speed in the past two hundred years.

This look at creation under the magnifying glass also shows us the brokenness of the creation and gives guidance on how to bring healing and help to those who are physically broken. As the specializations in science, including psychology, continue to “specialize” with the piling up of information regarding the human body, we know more and more how the fall has broken us in an area the Bible gives little information.

Special Revelation tells us that man brought overwhelming brokenness to a beautifully and perfectly created world through his rebellion in the garden many eons ago (Genesis 3). Every aspect of creation – spiritual and physical – has been broken by that original sin in the garden. Paul says that the whole world around us “groans” awaiting to be renewed.

It is General Revelation that shows us that we can work to redeem the physical brokenness we live with every day of our lives.

Special Revelation gives us the guidance we need to understand the spiritual brokenness of our world – how our relationship to the Creator can be fixed through Jesus’ blood and righteousness – but General Revelation gives us understanding of the physical brokenness of this world. Of course, our interpretation of General Revelation fails at times just as it does of the Word of God (Special Revelation).

Our original sin affects everything.

Understanding Physical Brokenness

But we would never say to an individual who suffers from physical handicaps that they just need to pray and read their Bible more so they can grow out of it. This is an obvious misuse of Special Revelation. We use the wisdom gained by God’s image-bearers, after observing God’s General Revelation of the physical brokenness, to diagnose and prescribe ways of working with the special needs of that person.

Though the church’s understanding of scripture has grown and developed in some ways over the centuries since its writing, man’s understanding of General Revelation has made extraordinary strides, particularly in the past two hundred years.

General Revelation has made it possible to send men to the moon. General Revelation has made it possible to better understand what is happening in the brain of someone “clinically” depressed or suffering from OCD. General Revelation has made it possible to give someone a new heart. And General Revelation helps us understand the effects of trauma on the person.

Special Revelation does not provide those things.

It is really quite extraordinary how those who have been created to be creative and to seek a redeemed world have figured so many things out. Even those who have no interest in glorifying God in their discoveries are serving God’s redemptive plan (much like Pharaoh and the Exodus).

So, as we seek to reach and minister to a world that is deeply broken by the original sin, we cannot ignore God’s General Revelation that tells us much about man. It can help us know how man responds to horrible events like emotional, spiritual, and physical abuse. We can learn more and more by observing God’s General Revelation how to help those suffering from trauma.

Revelation of Trauma

How do we bring Special and General Revelation together to minister to survivors of abusive leaders? God’s Special Revelation tells us that Jesus considers the trauma of a broken world as He ministers to His creation:

Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice. 

Isaiah 42:1-3 (ESV)

He handles broken people carefully. He does not snap the bruised stick. He seeks to heal it. He does not quench a small ember but patiently brings it back to full flame. He looks out for the downtrodden.

The affects that minimizing, discouraging, criticizing, and shaming have on people has been studied carefully by neurologists. It actually changes the brain.[2] The sin of others break us. We need to listen to God’s image-bearers who are seeking the redemption of the body. They have learned much about the body that the Bible (Special Revelation) does not tell us but the Lord has told us in General Revelation.

Healing the Through Talk

Scientists have determined that the process for healing those broken neurological pathways is a long and slow process.[2] It involves talking about the event and pain caused by it without others judging your biblical accuracy or lack of willingness to forgive and forget. Healing comes when it seems that the survivor of traumatic events has talked about it from every angle and has worn their listeners out listening to the same things over and over.

I have heard God’s people express frustration at the things an abuse survivor says about God and her seeming lack of forgiveness of the abuser. They are so caught up in the errors of her words that they forget the lessons of Job’s counselors. His well-meaning counselors wanted to clear up his thinking and in the end were required to make a sacrifice for their sin of judging Job in the midst of his incredible suffering.

Rather than listening and comforting, Job’s counselors were determined to critique his thinking.

If we wish to love survivors of abuse, we will listen and seek to empathize. In time, it will bring about the “peaceful fruit of righteousness.” [Heb. 12:11]  But we need to trust that God is at work in them and through his General Revelation as scientists seek to understand how abusers traumatize their targets.

We are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” [Ps. 139:14] And that is a revelation.

Book by Editor of P&S

Kelly Dehnert, Editor of Pearls and Swine, has written a book about his family’s life in Africa as missionaries. The book provides helpful insights to engaging other cultures.

What others say about the book:

[To Africa On a Lark] is extremely readable, with an easy to follow flow. The stories are quite engaging…The overall theme of cross-cultural adjustment, with the “razor” image, comes through clearly. I hope that many will read, enjoy, and benefit from your engaging string of accounts.

J. Nelson Jennings, PhD – Editor, Global Missiology – English


[1] The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk MD. 1st ed. New York: Penguin Books, 2014. [Get on Amazon]

[2] Suffering and the Heart of God by Diana Langberg [Get on Amazon]

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