A few weeks ago, I was talking with someone about God. One of the things we discussed was the eternity of God. Of course it is impossible for us to get our minds around this, but nevertheless we tried. I attempted to direct our discussion by using Scripture. My friend, playing the part of the agnostic, reluctantly granted that there might be a God. If so, he wondered what he was doing in eternity past – before he created the universe.
I could only respond that I didn’t know since God had not revealed that in his Word, although I did point out that Scripture says God has loved his people since before the creation of the world. Undaunted, my friend suggested that God must have been doing something and that he was curious about what it was. I responded with something like, “God has revealed to us what we need to know, but not everything that we’d like to know.” Unable to satisfy his curiosity, our conversation moved on. My friend smugly thought he was one up on me.
Several days later, I continued to embark on a project that I intended to start over 25 years ago. Although I have been greatly influenced by the writings of John Calvin, especially his commentaries and his foundational Institutes of the Christian Religion, I confess that I had not read this monumental work from cover to cover. I always seemed to be too busy…
So, earlier this year I took up the challenge to systematically read the Institutes in one year. I found a suggested schedule and have been sticking to it. So it was as I was reading in Book 1, which among other things, discusses the nature of God and the reluctance of people to acknowledge him, I came across this remark.
When a certain shameless fellow mockingly asked a pious old man what God had done before the creation of the world, the latter aptly countered that he had been building hell for the curious.
This statement seemed strangely familiar. Wow! It was the same argument my friend had cited a few days earlier. What was especially amazing to me was that Calvin, writing in about 1550 was quoting Augustine, who wrote about 500 A.D.
These experiences prompt a question. How do we know about God? I suggest that we come to learn about God in the same way as we learn about one another. We gain information about each other through our observations of each other’s words and action, which reveal certain characteristics, traits, and qualities. Unless we reveal ourselves to one another by our words and action, we do not know each other.
We learn about God in the same way. We can only know him as he discloses or reveals himself to us through his actions and his Word, which records many of his actions and tells us of the living Word – Jesus Christ. Although there are numerous places in Scripture, which tell us about God’s self-revelation, an excellent summary is found in a beautiful Old Testament song, Psalm 19. As you read it, observed that verses 1 – 6 speak of God’s self-disclosure in nature. While verses 7 – 14 proclaim the beauty of God’s self-revelation in Scripture.
Psalm 19:title–14 (ESV)
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.
1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.
4 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,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
6 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.
7 The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
12 Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Did you notice the words used to describe God’s written revelation? They are: law of the Lord, testimony of the Lord, precepts of the Lord, the commandment of the Lord, the fear of the Lord, the rules of the Lord. Each of these terms seem to convey the idea of authority and certainty.
Now go back and consider the functions of God’s self-disclosure: revise the soul, makes wise the simple, rejoices the heart, enlightens the eyes, warns, discerns errors.
One final consideration, observe characteristics attributed to God’s Word: perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, true, altogether righteous, more desirable than gold, sweeter than honey.
Taken together, God has given us overwhelming evidence of the usefulness, trustworthiness, and perfection of his self-disclosure contained in the sacred writings of the Bible. God’s word is not only a beautiful work of literature, it is, more importantly, his authoritative and accurate self-disclosure. In the Bible, God tells us what we are to know regarding himself and of what he requires of us, his creatures.
The Bible does not tell us everything we would like to know, but we can be assured that in the Bible, God has told us what we need to know regarding him and our relationship to him. The Bible is our only rule of faith and practice. The Bible us what we need to know about our relationship to God, and it tells us how to live in God’s world.