In the sixteenth century, Nicolaus Copernicus theorized that the earth was not the center of the universe. He was quickly condemned as a heretic by both the Catholic and Protestant churches and ridiculed by scientists of the day. It was not until many years later, after the discoveries of men like Galileo Galilei and Johannes Kepler provided enough evidence to prove Copernicus’s theory correct, that both theologians and scientists were forced to admit their incorrect views of God’s revelation.
Issues like this, along with Enlightenment thinking, began to move theology and science further apart. Today, we suffer from a type of intellectual schizophrenia that insists that the spiritual world and the physical world are utterly incompatible.
This is not the way God intended it to be.
Seeking Wisdom in God’s General and Special Revelation
There are two spheres of revelation: the Bible (special revelation) and nature (general revelation). All that God reveals—whether through general revelation in his creation or through special revelation in scripture—is necessarily true.
What God reveals in nature can never contradict what he reveals in scripture, and what he reveals in scripture can never contradict what he reveals in nature. He is the author of both forms of revelation and gives each to us so that we might be equipped for every good work. For this knowledge to become a path to wisdom, we must learn how to understand both forms of revelation together.
The problem of understanding lies not in God’s revelation but in man’s fallible interpretation of that revelation.
Where Good People Can Disagree
We must learn from past mistakes Christians have made in the interpretation of general and special revelation and be reminded that we are capable of making the same kinds of mistakes. And just because fallible human beings can misinterpret general and special revelation does not mean that God’s revelation itself is fallible. It means that we are fallible.
Look at the present argument within the church regarding the age of the earth. When we go to the first chapters of Genesis, it is crystal clear that “God created the earth.” As Christians, we all can agree that we must reject any theory about creation that contradicts this clear truth revealed in God’s special revelation. But when we ask the question, “How old is the earth?” the answer is not as clear.
While the narrative in Genesis says that God created the earth in seven days, the Hebrew word for day, yom, in scripture sometimes means a twenty-four-hour period. However, it sometimes is also used to represent a long period of time. Both sides present good arguments based on theories from general revelation, but to date, there is not enough evidence to prove either argument from general revelation. At the end of the day, we have to conclude that this is one of those areas where good people can disagree.
Humility in Faith, Work, and Economics
What does this mean for approaching faith, work, and economics from a biblical perspective?
Economics is certainly an arena where good people will disagree about a great number of things. It is, after all, a field of study dependent on general revelation, through the economists’ observations of human nature.
Also, as you probably know from your own experience, problems arise in the workplace that are very difficult to deal with due to our limited knowledge. Our fallibility means that we come up against issues for which we don’t always have the right answer.
Discussions like this should make us aware of three things as we go about our work and as we think through contentious economic issues:
- We all suffer from the knowledge problem. We see through a glass dimly (1 Cor. 13:12). We should approach these issues with great humility lest we find ourselves with people like those who believed that the sun revolved around the earth.
- We need to pray daily for the illumination of God’s Holy Spirit to help us understand his word and his world, applying true knowledge to our lives in our search for wisdom. This does not happen overnight. It is a process.
- We need to see that God has given us both forms of revelation to be used together in our call to glorify him, serve the common good, and further his kingdom.
As I have gotten older, one of the verses about wisdom that I have come to fully appreciate is Job 12:12, “With the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding.” As we grow in the knowledge and understanding of God’s general and special revelation, we hope to increase in wisdom, which will guide us as we make decisions and serve others in our work.
Editor’s note: Learn more about applying wisdom to faith, work, and economics in Be Fruitful and Multiply: Why Economics Is Necessary for Making God-Pleasing Decisions.