“Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?” (Job 11:7)
Theologians have always distinguished between two different sources of knowledge about God – general revelation and special revelation. Those things that have been revealed to man through nature and by virtue of being made in His image are called general revelation. Those things that must be specially revealed to man (such as God’s plan of Redemption) in order to be understood are called special revelation.
Can God be known by general revelation? The Apostle Paul answers in the affirmative:
Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. 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 (Rom 1:19-20)
Here, Paul teaches us that unbelievers have no excuse for not believing in God because he has manifested that knowledge “in them” and the creation of the world testifies to that truth. See also Psalm 19 on the same point.
In light of this, why is it that not all men have faith? Paul goes on to state:
…when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. …Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, …God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient (Rom 1:22-28)
According to Paul, then, men would rather serve sin and idols than God. Because of this, God has given mankind over to do as their reprobate minds please.
So, in spite of what has been revealed to every man, man continues blindly suppressing this knowledge because of his slavery to sin. Therefore, there is a special, personal work of God that is necessary to overcome this blindness and reveal man’s condition to him. This revelation includes everything that cannot be known through nature – man’s sinfulness and God’s grace and way of salvation. “neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him” (Matt 11:27). This special knowledge must come to man by the working of the Holy Spirit:
…the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor 2:11-14)
“neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him” (Matt 11:27).