Must I Tithe 10% of My Net or Gross Income?
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Must I Tithe 10% of My Net or Gross Income?

Meeting Our Father in Nature

The renowned theologian and storyteller C. S. Lewis titled his spiritual memoir, Surprised by Joy because much of his life up to his conversion, he lived within the dense cloud of depression. He lost his mother at a young age, which forever altered his father. He spent years under strict, abusive schoolmasters and being tormented by older boys at the boarding school.

Yet, once in a great while, nature cleared some of the clouds. As Lewis beheld a tiny garden his brother made or the rolling hills of England, he felt a flicker of sunlight. A stirring. Some winged creature fluttering about. He called it joy.

But like a winged creature, it quickly disappeared—like sunlight flickering between the clouds, it was there and gone again as soon as he noticed it. Lewis’s life became one of chasing that stirring until he finally laid his eyes on Who the stirring was meant to lead him to: his Savior.

Romans tells us that God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:20). Theologians call this general revelation: what can be known about God outside of Scripture. General revelation refers to what we learn about God through nature, and this revelation is made known to everyone. His glory glimmers beneath the dust of creation, and unbelievers can’t help but be confronted by their protest against their Creator. Then through Scripture, God reveals himself in saving knowledge in the gospel, since he can’t be known fully through nature alone. This is called special revelation, which refers to what God reveals to his people through the Word.

But once we rest in the gospel, we can lose the sense of wonder that fills the unbeliever when they behold a world that “declares the glory of God” (Ps 19:1). Rightly, we turn our attention to special revelation found in Scripture, but sometimes we walk past general revelation as if it had nothing further to give us. Meanwhile, others go in an opposite direction, beholding God in nature at the expense of knowing his Word and forsaking his means of grace.

How should believers approach general revelation? How do we rightly appreciate general revelation without abandoning God’s special revelation found in the Bible?

Scripture Points Us To Nature

Where Scripture proclaims the majesty, might, and magnificence of our Lord, the world outside our door grips us with that reality. The grandeur of nature bows our knees to the Creator and King of kings like waves that arc above our heads and shatter on the sand. Grasping the immensity of the mountains and stars shrinks our pride and self-importance.

Because the natural world reflects God’s orderly character, awesome power, and divine nature, the Bible often directs our gaze to creation. Look to the ant, oh sluggard (Prov. 6:6–11); to understand the Spirit, consider how the wind cannot be controlled by humans hands (John 3:8); see how your Savior calms seas that would otherwise swallow you whole (Matt. 8:23–27; Mark 4:35–41; Luke 8:22–25); see how your Creator tenderly cares and provides for the tiniest bird to know how much he cares for you (Matt. 6:26–27). Scripture paints a picture for us and nature helps bring it to life.

How General and Special Revelation Work Together

Herman Bavinck, a Dutch theologian from the nineteenth century, explained how general revelation makes special revelation possible. Special revelation enables us to look behind, in front, above, and below to see the work of God over all creation. Believers, rather than tossing nature aside as elementary work, should see general revelation as part of the foundation of our faith. General revelation told us we did not belong to ourselves and that this world was created and held together by someone more than Mother Nature or mere chance, and the gospel confirmed that in a saving way by revealing who that was and what he did on our behalf. We know God because he revealed himself to us by both the gospel and his world.

We can turn to general revelation again and again to behold our God and be prompted to praise him, to know him, and to trust in him. If the grandness, complexity, and wildness of this world tell us anything, it is that there is one greater who crafted it and we must not only worship him but turn to him to sustain and save us. This is a reminder not just for the nonbeliever, but the faithful believer as well.

Enjoying Creation In Light Of Scripture

Some have said that they feel more connected to God in nature, that a canopy of trees is the only cathedral they need, and that chopping wood is better for their faith than an hour in the Bible. Yet we must remember the indispensable nature of both revelations. Scripture helps us rightly interpret creation and keeps us from creating idols out of it. It reveals the character of the Creator, directing our eyes from the mighty sun or distant stars to the God who made it all. However, while nature reveals the God worthy of our worship, only Scripture tells us how to worship him.

Bavinck said that Jesus was the tie between general and special revelation: the Word that created the world is also the Word that saves us. “Grace is the content of both revelations, common in the first, special in the second, but in such a way that one is indispensable for the other.” Both are graces to us, gifts we did not deserve, that draw us to God.

Lewis came to see that the joy he felt from nature was merely the signpost that directed him to the source of joy itself: the God who reigns and calls every heart back to himself. Once he rested in his Savior, Lewis experienced joy in much more of its fullness as he experienced the wonder and beauty of nature in light of the gospel.


Footnotes

  • Herman Bavinck, The Wonderful Works of God: Instruction in the Christian Religion According to the Reformed Confession (Glenside, Pennsylvania: Westminster Seminary Press, 2019), 21–22.

  • Bavinck, 22.

  • C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2017), 291.

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Lara d'Entremont

Lara d’Entremont is a wife, mother of three little wildlings, and author. Her first book A Mother Held chronicles her earliest days of motherhood as she battled an anxiety disorder. You can learn more about her work on her website or read her writing on Substack.