How do you know God exists?

How can the finite (us) ever get to know the infinite (God)? Answer: If God takes the initiative. This is called revelation. It means ‘unveiling’, whereby an action is taken by which something previously hidden becomes known. At the human level, how can anyone know what is going through our minds at any given moment? The answer: they can if we tell them. So it is with God.

There are two types of revelation.

General or natural revelation

This is general because it is made available to everyone, and is natural because it comes to us through nature. Here are two Bible passages which point in this direction and which are confirmed by experience.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
(Psalm 19:1-4)

What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made...
(Romans 1:19-20)

Just as artists reveal themselves in their art, so the Creator has revealed himself in the creation.

This also links in with our human nature, that we have an inbuilt sense of ‘the divine’, that there is ‘Someone out there’. Our moral natures too witness to this. Where does our sense of right and wrong come from if there is no moral law giver who stands behind them? Our consciences give us access into a moral world which reflects a moral and good ruler.

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?
(Romans 2:1-4)

But this can only take us so far. We may know deep down there is a greater being than us and that he is powerful, creative, even good. But some of the signals we pick up are mixed and confusing. For all the order in the world, there is also disorder. For all the good things, there are also the bad things. What is more we don’t act on this information properly, we often don't like it and so suppress it and make up our own religion. Again the Bible says

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
(Romans 1)

If we are to know God’s character more precisely and have insight into his purposes for the world and how we can get back in a right relationship with him, then we need "special revelation".

Special revelation

God has taken the initiative to give this. What is called the "Old Testament" is a record of God doing just that, acting in special ways and through special people speaking and gradually making his character and plans known. All of this is preparing us for, and pointing us to, the time when he would make himself known to us fully and finally in his Son Jesus. We read all about him, with an explanation, in the "New Testament".

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
(Hebrews 1)

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth... No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, he who is at the Father's side, has made him known.
(John 1:14)

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.
(Colossians 1:15)

All of this comes to us through the Bible, a record of God’s special dealings with the world and the means whereby we can personally get to know him as he works in us through his Spirit:

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.
(1 Corinthians 1:10)

Here are the differences between the two types of revelation.

General Revelation Special Revelation
1.It is ‘general’ because it is made to everybody everywhere. 1.It is ‘special’ because is was made to particular people in particular contexts.
2.It is ‘natural’ because it is made through nature.

2.It is ‘supernatural’ because it was made through miracle (The inspiration of the Bible and the incarnation of God’s Son )

3.It is ‘continuous’ because it never ceases.

3.It is ‘final’ because it has been completed in Jesus and the Bible’s witness to him.

4.It is ‘glorious’ because it reveals God’s glory in creation.

4.It is ‘gracious’ because it reveals God’s saving love in Jesus.

5.It is ‘visible’ because through it we see God’s works.

5.It is ‘audible’ because through it we hear God’s words.

6.It is ‘judging’ because those who reject it are condemned.

6.It is ‘saving’ because those who trust in it are rescued from judgment and given eternal life.

Key quotation
Jesus said: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us." Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father."

Go back to questions on Christianity