The most basic question about divine revelation is "why?" Why would God choose to reveal himself to humanity?
Every person has an in-built sense of the divine, a sense that at the heart of all that exists, there is mystery. In every culture, religion spontaneously arises because of this wonderment in the face of being.
Especially in so-called primitive societies, people look at the natural world and see it filled with spirit. They sense a harmony and order that calls forth a yearning from their hearts that seeks communion with a mysterious higher Spirit.
Christians, however, believe much more than that. They believed that the mysterious, ineffable Spirit at the centre of all being reached out and revealed himself to us. He established a relationship with us and called us to encounter him.
In his deeds as well as through his words, Christ revealed God to humanity.In his deeds as well as through his words, Christ revealed God to humanity.
God made promises to the patriarchs and spoke through the prophets. He acted in a mighty way to establish a people that he could call his own. At first, those people believed that this Yahweh God was a national deity, a god for Israel as other nations had their own gods.
As time passed and they saw the great works of Yahweh and heard the words of the prophets, they realized God was not just for one people, but for all nations.
Why? Why did God reveal himself so intimately to humanity?
Dei Verbum, Vatican II's Constitution on Divine Revelation, says simply that God chose to reveal himself because it pleased him:
"It pleased God, in his goodness and wisdom, to reveal himself and to make known the mystery of his will, which was that people can draw near to the Father, through Christ, the Word made flesh, in the Holy Spirit, and thus become sharers in the divine nature" (DV 2).
Revelation is a gift. We cannot learn much about God through a scientific investigation. Nor can we encounter God and share in his Trinitarian life unless God initiates the encounter. Our relationship with God is a gift, one which we can choose to accept or to reject. But the initiative comes from God.
In his deeds and words, Christ reveals God
An excerpt from Dei Verbum, #2:
In his goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of his will by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature.
Through this revelation, therefore, the invisible God out of the abundance of his love speaks to men as friends and lives among them, so that he may invite and take them into fellowship with himself.
This plan of revelation is realized by deeds and words having an inner unity: the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them.
By this revelation then, the deepest truth about God and the salvation of man shines out for our sake in Christ, who is both the mediator and the fullness of all revelation.
Then God did the unthinkable – he himself became human, walked among us as a brother and then suffered, died and rose so we might have eternal life. God revealed himself so directly and so intimately to us that not only do we know about him, we can even share in his life.
God reveals himself, moreover, not only through his words, but also through his actions. This is a crucial development in Church teaching. Previously, revelation had always been presented in terms of words, primarily those recorded in Scripture. But Dei Verbum says revelation also occurs through God's deeds.
Revelation, therefore, is not only statements about God or from God, but also a relationship between God and humanity that is initiated through God's actions.
Words and deeds are deeply connected. God's actions in history confirm and underline doctrines and teachings. The words "proclaim the works, and bring to light the mystery they contain" (DV 2). The fullness of revelation and the absolute intimacy of the divine-human encounter are embodied in Jesus Christ, who shared our life and shares his life with us in the Eucharist.
God's revelation calls forth a response from those to whom he reveals himself. Our response is what St. Paul called the obedience of faith. Encountering the Almighty God, one can only bow one's face to the ground in reverence and awe.
The obedience of faith refers to our gift of ourselves back to God in total self-surrender. It involves a complete assent of one's intellect and will to God. Even more, it is a gift of one's entire self.
However, even this human gift back to God cannot take place without God's grace. It is the Holy Spirit who moves within us – with our consent – to convert our hearts to God. The Spirit enables us to believe God's truth and to enter fully into relationship with him. He perfects our faith and perfects our motives so that we may act in harmony with God's purposes.
Both Vatican II's Decree on Ecumenism and Pope Paul VI's encyclical Ecclesiam Suam emphasized the notion of dialogue. In this part of Dei Verbum, we see how central this notion is.
Dialogue not only characterizes our relationships with other people, but also our relationship with God. God has called humanity into dialogue, a loving dialogue in which he dispenses truths, but more basically calls us into a loving union with him. God is a God of dialogue, and humanity can also enter into dialogue with the source of all being. God has offered us an awesome opportunity.