So far we have talked about God’s revelation in Scripture, the miraculous signs that took place during the time that Scripture was being revealed, and the lying signs and wonders that God has told us will be performed by false teachers in the last days. We now turn to consider how God makes Himself known by the creation that He has called into existence.
God makes Himself known both by what He says and by what He does. Referring now to the latter, Scripture tells us that God makes Himself known by what He has made and by what He does with what He has made. There are some things that even unbelievers know about God from the creation itself, even apart from Scripture. But those who believe the Scriptures understand and receive with joy in their heart what God teaches us by His creation and government of the universe.
What God makes known by the creation, and why
Scripture tells us that the creation declares to all human beings that there is an eternal and powerful God who created all these things. We sing of this in the Psalms:
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world (a).
The apostle Paul quoted this passage and said that all nations have heard this declaration: “But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world” ().
This declaration is not sufficient to convert man. Nor is that God’s purpose with it. Rather, God desires all human beings to hear this in order that the unbeliever might be without excuse:
For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse ().
God’s purpose with this declaration for the believer is different. God works in the believer to believe and profit from Scripture’s explanations of the illustrations found in the creation.
God’s Word and His works: Which is more clear?
God makes Himself known by both His Word and His works. But of the two, it is by God’s Word that He makes Himself known more clearly and fully. We confess this in Article 2 of the Belgic Confession:
We know Him by two means: first, by the creation, preservation and government of the universe…. Secondly, He makes Himself more clearly and fully known by His holy and divine Word….
In the creation God provides us with pictures that illustrate for us what God tells us in His Word. Having God’s Word along with these pictures is better than having the Scriptures without them. But of these two means, it is God’s Word that makes Him known to us with greater clarity.
This is similar to how we make ourselves known to others. We make ourselves known by what we say and by what we do. Which of these makes us known more clearly and fully? When I ask this question to children, they frequently say, “by our works.” But it is actually our words that show forth more clearly what is going on in the heart. As our Lord said,
A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh ().
It is certainly true that a person is shown to be a hypocrite if his actions contradict his confession (and that is what a child usually means when he answers, “by our works”). But it is still true that our words make known more clearly what is going on inside of us.
We believers do know this, even if we may not have thought of it this way. If a believer goes about his own business, is an honest and diligent worker, but keeps his mouth shut about what he believes, the persecution he will experience will be relatively little. But if he begins to speak about what he believes and starts explaining how Scripture speaks against popular false doctrines and sinful practices, then those around him will see much more clearly who he is, and the persecution from those of this world will greatly increase.
Understanding this, we are not surprised that Jesus was crucified only a few years after He began His public preaching. Then we also recognize that the ungodly today who openly speak against what God makes known in creation, especially despise what God says in His Word.
A (not the) most elegant book
Although it has sometimes been misquoted, the Belgic Confession does not speak of God’s creation as the most elegant book, but as a most elegant book: “We know Him by two means: first, by the creation, preservation and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most elegant book.” The Scripture is the one book that is exalted above all others. The creation is then likened to a most elegant book that illustrates for us what God tells us in His Word.
The relationship between illustrations and words is commonly misunderstood. Pictures by themselves are not better than words. Words and pictures together are better than words all by themselves. The sacraments, for example, are illustrations. Yet, they do not teach us better than the preaching does. Rather, it is the preaching and sacraments together that are better than the preaching by itself.
It is similar with regard to the illustrations in creation. Learning from the creation is not better than learning from the Scriptures. But having the Scriptures as well as the illustrations in creation—illustrations that the Scriptures themselves explain to us—is better than having the Scriptures without those illustrations.
The multitude of illustrations that God has given us in His creatures, as well as in the way He preserves and governs them, helps to impress upon us what God tells us in His Word. Therefore, it is important that we take note of these illustrations, meditating upon and believing the explanation of them that God Himself provides for us in the Scriptures.