Monday, June 23, 2008

Seeking God while He may be found, and where He has promised to be

I had a conversation with a stranger the other day that reminded me of something I had been thinking about for awhile. Part of our conversation was on how we seek God, or where we see Him revealed. The man I spoke with felt that he didn’t need to go to church to find God, but that by being out in nature, by the mountains or oceans, that God spoke to him there. This seems to be a common sentiment, and I reflected on whether or not this was true.

First I recalled passages like Psalm 19, that say: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” From this I agreed that the beauty and majesty of nature certainly reveals God’s glory and handiwork. What sort of knowledge can we gather from observing only nature and the created world (excluding the Bible)? Nature clearly teaches us that there must be a Creator, whose glory and handiwork is seen. From this we might assume that the Creator God is very powerful, but we can’t really figure out many specifics about what that God is like. While some parts of nature may convince us of the beauty of His design, unless we turned a blind eye to examples of death and disease in nature, we would also recognize that something bad was also present in nature. Death, suffering, and disease are recognizably bad things. But without specific knowledge of why this is so, or how these things came to exist side by side with beauty and good, we would still have a limited understanding about the Creator God revealed in nature. For this reason, theologians have often referred to this kind of knowledge as “general revelation.” The heavens and earth, or all of nature, reveal “general” things about God—that He is creator, there is much that is good and beautiful in creation—perhaps even that He prizes beauty, but also that evil has intruded into creation in some way, in the form of death, suffering, predation, etc.

But what “general revelation” can’t tell us, is Who this God is, What His attitude is towards us, Why evil is in the world, or How God has resolved these problems. For this we need a second kind of revelation, what theologians call “special (think ‘specific’) revelation.” The answers to these questions come expressly through God’s Word. So while nature may be an excellent place to witness God’s handiwork, it isn’t the place where God has promised we can find Him and hear His saving Word, or answer questions about Him. While we know that God is present everywhere (omnipresence: see Psalm 139, 1 Kings 8:27), that doesn’t mean that He’s promised to reveal Himself in His saving work everywhere. Climbing Mount Sinai today wouldn’t put us any closer to or further from God’s presence than anywhere else in the world, but neither would it give us access to God’s saving promises. Nor could we expect God to answer us there.

No, to know where we can find God, we must seek God where He has promised to be. Isaiah 55 urges us to “come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!” God invites us to seek Him and receive all His benefits—but we aren’t to do so in whatever way or wherever we please. Peter recognized this when he said to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the Words of eternal life, and we have believed and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69). God has certainly promised to reveal Himself in His Word, in Baptism, and in the Lord’s Supper. Here we have certain access to God’s saving work, because here the Father has shown Himself through His Divine Son (John 14:9-11). So seek God while He may be found, and where He has promised to be.

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