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The “Nature” Psalms
A good place to look for the doctrine of general or natural revelation is the so-called Nature Psalms. But we might pause here to correct the title “Nature” Psalms, because although they have been classically referred to as that, it is not a very accurate name; it straightaway gives the impression that the psalmists are looking at nature and are deriving their views of God from their analysis of it. But these Psalms (e.g. 8, 33, 104, 145), are actually Creation Psalms. They are hymns to the God who has created all things. Therefore, they look at the effects of God’s working, and so they ought to be examined from a believing point of view. We see God in these things just as the psalmist did, and our reaction to them should be that we are overwhelmed by the power, by the majesty, by the greatness of God, and that we worship Him for it. These Psalms point to God.
O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. (Psalm 8:1)
Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven. He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his saints, for the people of Israel who are near to him. Praise the LORD! (Psalm 148:13-14)
Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. (Psalm 104:1-2)
One of the main lessons then of these Creation Psalms is that God is far greater than what he has made.
The first and foundational truth in the Creation Psalms is that Yahweh has taken the initiative to communicate with us in every way possible. He has given himself a constant witness in the creation around us and every time we open our eyes or ears we are reminded of the great Creator of all things. (Michael Travis, Encountering God in the Psalms, 122)
At least the writer of Psalm 19 thinks so, and so does Paul in the New Testament. God has not remained silent.
So when we look at Psalm 19, perhaps the most clearly pronounced of the creation hymns, we see that it expounds the clarity of General Revelation to all men:
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament show his handiwork (Psalm 19:1)
So the wonder of the heavens, the demonstration that is put on for us in the skies, both the morning sky, the afternoon sunshine, and the night sky, these things declare our glorious God; they show us that God is God majestic. We see the great blue of the sky, or the gathering storm clouds, we see the wonderful contrasts in the natural world, and we wonder at the wisdom of what we might call the ‘God’s eye for beauty’. We look at the stars and we just cannot fathom the power, the might, and the greatness of a God who would make all of those stars, burning so far away, millions upon millions of them, in millions of galaxies, and only mention them in passing in Genesis 1:16.
Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. (Psalm 19:2)
In verse 2 we are told that there is a communication going on from day to day, from the creation to the creature—man: “night to night reveals knowledge,” they impart knowledge to us, provided we open our eyes and our hearts.
There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. (Psalm 19:3)
The testimony is universal, a General Revelation.
Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat. (Psalm 19:4-6)
The whole day, from sun up to sun down (v.6), is an ongoing witness to the revelation of the glory of God; it speaks to us of the reality of our Creator. We recognize it intuitively when we look at it, when we listen to it, when we experience it. There is a resonance between ourselves and the created environment.
Notwithstanding, this resonance, in the minds and hearts of the unsaved, will take them off into the realms of the unreal: pantheism, new ageism, spiritism, animism, even scientism. But when this revelation of God is properly connected with the new life in the Spirit and the testimony of God’s interpretation of General Revelation in the Holy Scriptures, that Revelation becomes a far stronger and more intelligible wonder than it ever could be before. It becomes personal and communicative.
Responding to an observation by another Dutch scholar, Berkouwer wrote:
Van Gelderen points out that the Arameans consider Jehovah as an ordinary mountain god, ‘a personified quantity of natural power’. In contrast to this the Lord becomes manifest, for whom there is no separate relationship with respect to the mountains, because he is the Creator of heaven and earth. The prophet who announces the victory of Israel, ‘here opposes the gods of nature.’ He is ‘the God of the entire realm of nature’. But this is in an entirely different conception from the one of the Arameans. The difference is not simply quantitative (the mountains, or all things) but qualitative. He is the Creator, to whom also the mountains belong, but in the light of his universal power as Creator, all things are revealed in their absolute creatureliness. Everything which is able to impress us deeply, partakes of this creatureliness. All variations of nature do not cancel the common denominator: creature. (G.C. Berkouwer, General Revelation, 123; emphasis mine.)
There is one Creator to whom all the creatures, ourselves included, point to. “Nature” reveals God, even sometimes in its twisted way of presenting itself. It therefore makes us accountable to God.
General Revelation is, of course, the context in which God speaks His verbal revelation. It is God’s disclosure of Himself. Not wholly independent, but sufficient to its purpose, it witnesses about God to His image-bearer—that is, man.
Paul Martin Henebury is a native of Manchester, England and a graduate of London Theological Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD). He has been a Church-planter, pastor and a professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics. He was also editor of the Conservative Theological Journal (suggesting its new name, Journal of Dispensational Theology, prior to leaving that post). He is now the President of Telos School of Theology.