A Word Is Worth a Thousand Pictures [Excerpts]
As a kid I often got toys that needed to be assembled. The instructions on the box were big pictures with very few words. I remember well the Ready Ranger backpack, the G.I. Joe Jeep, and a cutting-edge water rocket. Boom . . . I had these treasures put together in minutes. Life was good.
Sometimes I try to approach God the same way. But there are no shortcuts to knowing Him. Pictures are helpful, but instructions are vital.
God reveals Himself in two ways. Theologians call these general revelation and special revelation. General revelation does not come as nouns and verbs; it comes to us through the splendor of creation. Whether we are looking through a microscope or a telescope, the message is clear—God is real! “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalm:19:1). This is happening every moment of every day, and no place on earth or in the cosmos escapes this message (Psalm:19:2–4).
What do these helpful pictures communicate? The Creator’s Existence (Psalm:19:1)—He is here and everywhere. He leaves His providential fingerprints on everything. Every day. The Creator’s Glory (Psalm:19:1; Romans:1:20)—He is not like us and we are not equal to Him. His attributes, eternal power, and divine nature are exalted above all creation and eternity. The Creator’s Authority (Romans:2:14–16)—This Creator will judge human beings against His standard, not theirs.
As helpful as the pictures are, they are insufficient to answer the urgent questions they raise in our hearts—questions like “How can I be rightly related to this Creator?” “Can I be free from my guilty conscience?” General revelation is very informative, but it does not give us the complete story. We need to read the instructions.
Just as God reveals His glory through creation, He also reveals His will through language. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews:1:1–2).
In other words, the Old Testament (the words of “the fathers, the prophets”) and the New Testament (“His Son” speaking by His Spirit and through the authors) give us the vital specifics (special revelation) that the pictures (general revelation) can’t provide. They give us specifics about the history of creation, Fall, rescue, and restoration. According to 2 Timothy:3:15–16, the Bible tells us: how to be saved (wisdom that leads to salvation); what to believe (doctrine); what is wrong (reproof); what must change (correction); and how to live (training in righteousness).
Every book of the Bible gives us crucial information the “pictures” of general revelation do not provide. Take Genesis as an example. It shares the details of creation (Genesis 1); the placing of mankind at the pinnacle of creation and the institution of marriage (Genesis 2); the Fall into sin and the promise of a Savior (Genesis 3); the cause and global extent of the Flood (Genesis 7–9); the beginnings of nations and languages (Genesis 11), and much more. The truths of Genesis lay the foundation for the rest of special revelation. We cannot truly understand our world and why things are as they are without the specifics that the Bible provides.
No vital detail is left out of the instructions. Period. When it comes to any necessary spiritual instruction, the Bible, God’s special revelation, is all we get and all we need. As Peter puts it, “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (2 Peter:1:3).
So we can’t just marvel at the helpful pictures of nature; we need to press further into the vital information. Every day, believers should work their way through the timely truths of Scripture. No shortcuts.