The Challenge of Revelation

As an apologist and a philosopher, my default approach to the complexity of religious (and a-religious) ideas is to listen, to think, to reason, and then, as best I can, to draw logical conclusions. But, as I continue to realize in greater measure the older I get, this reflexive habit has its limitations. As the saying goes, our greatest strengths are also often our greatest weaknesses.

As a reader of this blog, perhaps you share this propensity. Or, as you may have observed, there are many other basic dispositions to the big questions of life. Some are completely apathetic and uninterested. Others follow the latest trends, do what ‘seems right,’ go along with their friends, or jumble up different approaches to figure out what seems to work best.

Whatever your starting point, one insight has recently impressed itself upon me: all of these starting points are our starting points. But the very nature of the subject requires a humbling adjustment: if our honest goal is to find God (if God is there to be found), we will be dependent upon some measure of revelation. God isn’t like a lost phone in the house, where if you just turn over enough cushions in the couch, or check behind the right bookshelf, he’s sure to be found. If God is truly a being worthy of our worship, his greatness will so exceed our own that we are rather likely to need some help.

There’s something powerfully deflating, and yet simultaneously exhilarating, to realize that our search for God depends upon God’s willingness to reveal himself to us. In one stroke it undercuts all human pride – we are unable and unworthy to find God – even as we marvel: if God has revealed himself to us – even to me – what love! What grace! What joy!

And yet, our dependence on God’s revelation to us does not, as some claim, take away the human responsibility to receive God’s loving self-disclosure. A moment’s reflection on the sad story of Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus to the authorities for a cheap payoff, shows us that even being hand-picked for fellowship with Jesus is insufficient to prompt faith and worship.

As Christ himself said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24, ESV). I wonder how these words must have irritated the one who was so close to God but even closer to his money. We have to ask some other, potentially harder questions: What do we want? What does our heart love? Would we want God if we found him?

There’s a profound tension between admitting our need for revelation and yet yearning to honor our God-given capacity to reason. Sometimes I wonder: which is it? But in Proverbs 8 we read,

Does not wisdom call?
Does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand;
beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud:
“To you, O men, I call, and my cry is to the children of man.
O simple ones, learn prudence;
O fools, learn sense.”

Humbling? Yes. A clear invitation to reasonably respond to the revelation of God’s wisdom? Yes. The tension between reason and revelation is existential but it is not ontological. We experience the challenge personally, but the same God who made us to reason is the God who lovingly reveals himself to us.

If you are searching for God without your mind, I hope you’ll admit that isn’t very satisfactory. But by contrast, if you are searching for God with only your mind, you’re still not fully invested. The more you think about Who it is you’re looking for, the more you’ll come to realize that a humble willingness to receive God as He is – and as you are – is a necessary and inevitable part of the search.

For the sake of the rationalist who is reading this post, but still holding back, these ideas are the logic behind the seeker’s prayer. If your search for God is genuine, and the Christian explanation of God has appeal to you, then there remains no honest alternative but to sincerely ask Jesus to reveal himself to you. Use whatever words you like, and feel as foolish as you wish, but if the God of the Bible is really real, then he can hear the cry of your heart and resolve the doubts of your mind. For if His very presence revealed to you is insufficient evidence, then nothing else would ever suffice.

How would you know if you met him? The best guide to discerning your personal revelation of God is to use the prior revelation of God: the Bible. God has already told us that when Christ comes to dwell with us, that we will experience the fullness of life, an experience of grace and truth unlike any other, as our eyes are opened to the glory of God (John 1:9-18).

What you’re looking for isn’t a hard to detect quantum particle, but a personal God, full of love for you. So the means of finding him will necessarily involve far more than your reason; it will involve the entirety of who you are in the presence of a God who comes to you in grace, in truth, and in forgiving love. Invite him in today.

Original photo by Lucas Marcomini on Unsplash