The Word Among Us

July/August 2018 Issue

Personal Words from a Personal God

Exploring the difference between information and revelation.

Personal Words from a Personal God: Exploring the difference between information and revelation.

Did you know that when you eat a bowl of ice cream, you are eating something called an emulsion?

According to the American Chemical Society, an emulsion is “a combination of two liquids that don’t normally mix together. Instead, one of the liquids is dispersed throughout the other. In ice cream, liquid particles of [milk] fat—called fat globules—are spread throughout a mixture of water, sugar, and ice, along with air bubbles.”

That doesn’t sound very appetizing, does it? Especially that part about the “fat globules.” Who would want to eat fat globules? Of course, we know that there is much more to ice cream than this clinical, unappetizing description. Why else would children of every generation know the lyrics to an old 1927 song: “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream”?

Clearly, there is a difference between knowing about ice cream and experiencing it firsthand. The first description gives us key information to help us understand what ice cream is. The second description conveys something altogether different. It tells us what it feels like to eat ice cream. It tells us how ice cream affects people . . . to the point of making them “scream” with delight.

It’s this difference—between information and experience—that we want to explore this month as we look at the topic of revelation from God. We want to look at the amazing fact that God loves to reveal himself, and we want to see how God’s revelation is similar to, but also very different from, information about God and his Church. And finally, we want to ask how we can become more open to this experience of revelation.

“May You Be Filled . . .” The word “revelation” comes from the Greek word apokalupsis, which means to unveil or uncover something that was once hidden. Scripture uses this word to describe the way God shows himself to his people. It also uses this word to describe the way God works to comfort and encourage us. This uncovering by God includes a very personal aspect. When God reveals himself to us, he touches our hearts as well as our minds.

St. Paul was convinced that God wants to fill his people with his thoughts and his ways. Paul knew that his own call to proclaim the gospel involved more than just passing along information about Jesus. It also included helping people come to experience the Holy Spirit themselves.

For example, Paul shared with the Colossians his prayer “that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding to live in a manner worthy of the Lord, so as to be fully pleasing, in every good work bearing fruit and growing in the knowledge of God” (1:9-10).

As far as Paul was concerned, our potential to live a holy life and to bear fruit for the Lord is intimately linked to the degree to which we ask God to reveal to us the “mystery” that has been “hidden from ages and from generations past” but has now been “manifested” to everyone who seeks the Lord (Colossians 1:26).

A Work of the Heart. These words from Paul tell us that there are two ways to “live in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Colossians 1:10). The first way, which is good but has its limits, is to pursue holiness on the basis of our own wisdom and efforts. The second way is to ask God to show himself to us so that his revelation can guide us and empower the way we live.

In the first way, we take what we know about God and try to apply it to our decision-making process. We try not to break the commandments. We set our minds on living an upright and good life. And we try to find the best answer to whatever challenge might be confronting us.

In the second way, we access what we know about God, but we also ask to be “filled” with God’s revelation. We ask for “spiritual wisdom and understanding,” which will help us become “fully pleasing” to the Lord in all we do (Colossians 1:9, 10). This spiritual understanding, which we can call revelation, is the way God takes what we know about him and brings it to life for us. It’s his way of opening our hearts so that we can sense the love and mercy, the power and grace, behind his commandments and his teachings. Paul considered this to be God’s way of giving us “words taught by the Spirit,” words and ideas we could never come up with on our own (1 Corinthians 2:13).

Clearly, revelation from God is not just an extra element added on to our faith. It’s something God wants to give us because he knows it’s the best way for us to have a meaningful relationship with our Creator.

Making It Personal. For thousands of years before Jesus came, God revealed himself to prophets like Isaiah and Elijah. Likewise, Old Testament heroes like Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and David show us how key people in Israel’s history enjoyed revelation from God. Abraham became the father of a new nation. Moses delivered the Israelites from Egypt. Joshua conquered the Promised Land. David united the Israelites. Each of these people—and many more—received special revelation from God and then shared that revelation with their people. In this way, they all led up to Jesus, who reveals God in a whole new way.

Looking back over the Scriptures, we can see that what God revealed in part to our spiritual ancestors he has revealed fully in Jesus. In fact, we believe that in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, God’s revelation is now complete. Everything God has to say to us is contained and summed up in Jesus.

If that is the case, why should we keep seeking revelation from God? Isn’t it all provided for us in the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church? Yes, of course. All that is needed for our Christian lives has been revealed in the “‘deposit’ of the faith” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 84). But there is another aspect to revelation that is just as important. The revelation that God wants to give to us today is not new information or new doctrine. It’s a matter of God taking what he has already revealed in history and making it known to us—personally.

This is why Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit: “He will take from what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:15).

The Spirit of Revelation. In his Letter to the Ephesians, Paul summarized God’s glorious plan of salvation. He spoke about how God has given us “every spiritual blessing in the heavens” (1:3). He spoke about Jesus making us alive by rescuing us from the grip of sin and death and raising us up to be with him in heaven (2:1-10). He spoke about the Church as “the fullness” of Jesus’ presence on earth (1:22-23).

That’s a lot of information, and you would think that Paul would consider it enough for the Ephesians to have it all spelled out for them. But it wasn’t. After conveying all of these beautiful truths, Paul went on to pray that the eyes of their hearts would be opened. He prayed that they would receive a “spirit of wisdom and revelation” so that they could grasp God’s glorious plan for themselves (1:17-18). Paul understood that we can grasp God’s plan on our own, but only to a limited degree. If we want this plan to change our lives, we need his Holy Spirit, the “spirit of wisdom and revelation.”

Bringing the Truth to Life. What do Peter, Andrew, the thief on the cross, the woman at the well, and the man born blind have in common? Their eyes were opened, and they saw Jesus in a whole new light. This is precisely what God wants to do for us. He wants to reveal his mysteries to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. He wants to show us how much Jesus loves us—even better, he wants us to experience and feel that love.

That’s why the Holy Spirit urges us to open our hearts and reach out in faith. He promises that if we do, his truths and his love will come alive in us; they will actually change our hearts, heal our memories, and teach us a new way to live.

Can we really hear God’s voice? Yes! God has revealed himself and his wisdom—a wisdom that was destined by God “for our glory” before time began (1 Corinthians 2:7). Now he invites us to let that revelation penetrate our hearts and minds so that we can live a life worthy of such a high and glorious calling. He invites us not to just know about the “ice cream” of his revelation, but to take it in and let it fill us with happiness and peace.