The word revelation means to reveal a message or how God reveals His will to mankind. There are two types of revelation. These are General and Special Revelation.
General Revelation – open to everyone
General revelation also referred to as indirect revelation is when God reveals something of Himself through other things such as nature, leaders or sacred texts. A person will interpret what they have seen, heard or felt as coming from God.
God through nature
Believers would say that when they witness a beautiful sunrise, a powerful storm or the birth of a baby that what they are in fact witnessing is aspects of God through His creation. An analogy can be used to illustrate this. Just as a painting gives an insight into an artist, nature gives an insight into God.
Muslims would also say that they experience Allah through nature as recorded in the Qur’an:
“It is He who spread out the earth, placed firm mountains and rivers on it, and made two of every kind of fruit; He draws the veil of night over the day. There truly are signs in this for people who reflect” (Qur’an 13:3)
God through scripture and religious writing
For Christians and Muslims their holy texts are an important means by which all people can access knowledge about God. Common to both faiths are the three important aspects of scripture. Scripture explains what God is like eg omnibenevolent or 99 Names of Allah; how God has acted throughout history and how God wants mankind to live.
Within Christianity it varies as to whether the Bible is viewed as the exact word of God as for a Fundamentalist or the inspired word of man, which can be interpreted in the modern day for a Liberal. For a Muslim the Qur’an is the exact word of Allah given to Muhammad. There have been examples of people converting to Islam simply through hearing the Qur’an read aloud.
Despite the different views on this all believers would argue that scripture gives an important insight into God and His will for mankind. Scripture is available to all.
Apart from scripture, the writings of religious leaders can also be viewed as general revelation. Within Christianity, perhaps the most famous example would be the writings of the Pope. Throughout history, Popes have discussed, written down and passed decisions on many issues such as abortion or miracles. Roman Catholics look to the Pope for guidance.
In Islam, the collections of Hadith, which are the sayings of Muhammad, would also be viewed as general revelation eg “He is not a true believer who eats his fill whilst his brother goes hungry by his side” (Muhammad)
Special Revelation – a specific event focused on an individual
Special revelation refers to how God reveals Himself to an individual through a direct and personal experience or event. This could take the form of a dream, vision, prophecy, miracle or hearing “God’s call”. These experiences usually have a huge impact on the lives of the individual and can change lives.
Special Revelation In Christianity
There are many examples of special revelation in the Bible. One of the most famous examples is the Conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus. Saul, hated the early Christians. He believed that Jews and non-Jews who converted to Christianity were wrong and that the early religion should be destroyed. On the way Saul was struck down by a blinding light and heard a voice saying “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He was left blind initially and took das to recover however he knew he had experienced something out of the ordinary caused by God. He converted to Christianity and changed his name to Paul. From that moment on he set about spreadi ng Jesus’ message and was credited with spreading Christianity as far as Rome before his death. It may be argued that Christianity may not have survived let alone become the largest religion in the world without his work.
A more recent example of special revelation in Christianity would be the experience of Nicky Cruz. A notorious gangster who believed he experienced a miracle when his throat was healed during a church service. From that moment on he has worked tirelessly to support young people caught up in gang violence.
Special Revelation In Islam
In Islam, there is the belief is that special revelation is only given to prophets, and so examples of special revelation are quite rare. Muslims might report experiencing God in dreams or feeling God’s presence, but these would not be considered a revelation from God. The Qur’an is believed to be the final revelation of God, so no further revelations are necessary. It was first revealed to Muhammad on the Night of Power who was Allah’s final prophet.
A second example of special revelation given to Muhammad is his miraculous Night Journey from Mecca to Jerusalem.
“One night in about 621AD, Muhammad was taken from his bed by the angel Jibril and carried from Makkah to Jerusalem, where he led prayers with a group of previous prophets, including Abraham and Moses. From there he was taken up to heaven where he received a revelation from God to pray 5 times a day. Muhammad was then taken back to his bed in Makkah by the angel.”