In determining the value to be assigned to general revelation, there is great danger of being guilty either of underestimation or of overestimation. When we draw attention to the rich grace that God has bestowed in His special revelation, we can sometimes be so filled with it that the general revelation loses all meaning and value for us. But if, at another time, we become acquainted with all the true and good and beautiful things that, by virtue of God’s general revelation, are to be found in nature and in the world of man, then it may happen that the special grace that appears in the person and work of Christ may lose its lustre and glory in our soul’s eyes.
This danger of straying to the right or to the left has always existed in the Christian Church, and in the theory and no less strongly in the practice of life the general revelation has been denied and the special revelation has been denied. Today the temptation to disregard general revelation is not as strong as in earlier centuries. But the temptation to reduce special revelation as much as possible, for example to the person of Christ, or even to deny it altogether and reduce it to general revelation, is all the stronger.
We must be on our guard against both of these unilateral tendencies; and we shall be safest when, in the light of the Holy Scriptures, we examine the history of mankind and allow them to show us what people owe to general revelation. It will then appear to us that in some respects they have progressed very far by its light, but that in other respects their knowledge and ability have been limited by insurmountable limits.
When the first people in paradise violated God’s commandment, the punishment which they had earned by their sin did not immediately and fully come into effect. They do not die on the same day on which they sinned, but live; they are not sent to hell, but see themselves entrusted with a task on earth; they do not die, but receive the promise of a female seed. They enter into a situation which was known to God and determined by Him, but which could not be foreseen or calculated by human beings; a situation which bears a wholly peculiar character, in which wrath and mercy, punishment and blessing, judgment and endurance are connected with each other. It is this situation, which still persists in nature and humanity and which combines the sharpest contrasts.
We live in a wonderful world, a world that offers us the greatest contrasts. The high and the low, the large and the small, the exalted and the ridiculous, the tragic and the comic, the beautiful and the ugly, the good and the bad, truth and lies are mixed together in an incomprehensible manner. Alternately the seriousness and the vanity of life take hold of us. Sometimes we are inclined to pessimism, sometimes to optimism; the man who weeps alternates every moment with the man who laughs. The whole world is marked by humor, rightly described as a smile in a tear. Read the full article by Herman Bavinck.