To continue our series on common questions about general revelation, we now turn to one of the most common objections, especially from reformed protestants. Since reason is fallen, they question, how can we trust general revelation? The human heart is an idol factory (from Calvin), and so too is the human mind. Autonomous human reason cannot help but distort the truth God has revealed. Is not this what Paul tells us in Romans 1?
Efforts to lower man and exalt God may sound pious, but they do not always abide in the Truth. We can see the error in this line of thinking by considering two things: first, what it means for a reason to be “fallen,” and second, how this objection would also apply to the Scriptures as well. If understood correctly, general revelation can actually help us maintain a high view of God and a low view of man, without empty platitudes.
When we say reason is “fallen,” we mistake the tool itself for its use. Would we collapse the same distinction with say a hammer? Because hammers can be used for nefarious purposes (e.g., to bludgeon or build brothels), would we say the hammer itself is fallen? The same could be said about reason. Reason in itself is the laws of thought, and these laws hold for all time. If they did not hold, the Christian Faith would be impossible. Mankind could be an idol factory and not an idol factory at the same time and in the same respect; Sinners could be saved and not saved at the same time and in the same respect; God could be God and not God at the same time and in the same respect, and The Bible could be true and not true at the same time and in the same respect–which would be, quite literally, nonsense.
However, without a doubt, men are prone to many errors in their thinking. Scripture does say we have a “darkened mind”, but this is not because the faculty we possess is fallen. Rather, it is because we are fallen that we fail to use the faculty properly. This is a critical difference. Fallen creatures will misuse hammers for nefarious ends, just like fallen creatures will misuse reason for sinful purposes, but it is because the laws of thought hold perpetually that we can test men’s claims for meaning and truth. Reason shines in the darkness and bears witness against us.
Another problem with the “reason is fallen” logic is that its proponents arbitrarily draw a line of delineation. They will claim that general revelation is obscure and untrustworthy because our minds are fallen, but in the same breath, they will express absolute trust in our ability to understand Holy Scripture, which is the written Word of God. This line is arbitrary, to say the least. We have no good reason for saying the human mind is so untrustworthy that it could not possibly understand God’s revelation in Creation, while also saying that it is capable of understanding God’s revelation in The Bible–notice how they are both forms of revelation, and revelation is meaningless without our faculty of reason. No revelation would be intelligible without the laws of thought. Without them, what do the words “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” even mean? The answer is not much at all. Appeals to the Holy Spirit will only delay the logical problem. If it is the Spirit that is sufficient to work in our (sinful) hearts and minds to enable us to understand the Scriptures, the same Spirit would certainly be sufficient enough to help us understand God’s general works of creation and providence. To say otherwise, again, defies veracity.
So far, we have discussed the importance of general revelation, some of its contents, and some common objections. Next time, we will continue to consider common objections. How can general revelation be compatible with faith?