Revelation refers to something or someone being hidden and then uncovered or made known. Among religious traditions, revelation usually refers to supernatural truth that cannot be grasped through perception and reason alone-such as when certain faith traditions speak of God's justice and care for the faithful being revealed in the Bible's exodus story. Revelation has been a central concept in discussions of religious and spiritual development-especially when faith is considered as a response to revelation. Throughout history, revelation has referred to a passive experience, that is, to something that happens to an individual rather than to something an individual initiates and actively pursues. Revelation is, then, closely tied to the concept of grace, which refers to God's actions, not to the actions of individuals.
The notion that knowledge can be passively received by an individual or implanted into an individual by another runs counter to current philosophical and scientific understandings of what is involved when individuals come to know reality. By and large, modern philosophy and modern science view the process of knowing as dependent on how individuals actively image and interpret reality and how they coordinate their own limited perspectives on reality with those of others. For the most part, then, modern philosophy and science have opposed the classical concept of revelation on the grounds that it runs counter to what we know about how individuals gain knowledge and come to understand reality.
The concept of revelation has also been attacked on the grounds that claims about what is revealed often have contradicted one another, promoted self-serving ends, and led to disaster. For example, throughout history there have been claims by false prophets about truths revealed to them; claims that these prophets have used to cause great harm.
Despite these attacks on the concept of revelation, a good many find themselves caught in a dilemma. On one hand, the insights provided by modern philosophy and modern science cannot be ignored. Nor too can history's lessons concerning the misuse of the concept of revelation. On the other hand, without some concept of revelation, faith can falter for not having anything to build on-no firm foundation on which to grow. As a way out of this dilemma, several modern thinkers-theologians mostly-have adopted a different concept of revelation from the traditional, authoritarian concept. Traditionally, God, the church, a sacred text, or someone in authority does the revealing or dictates what has been revealed. As mentioned, the traditional concept of revelation leaves the individual in a passive-responsive role only. This has been true regardless of whether the presumed revelation has been a proposition for establishing dogma, a historical event revealing something about God's nature, or an individual's mystical experience of God.
The newer concept of revelation rejects these older, authoritarian meanings and replaces them by linking revelation to the concepts of development and consciousness. The newer concept views spiritual development as a dynamic interplay between individuals and life, an interplay that can push or lead to higher stages of spiritual consciousness. With this newer concept then, revelation becomes not revelation of something new but of something that has been there from the beginning. Revelation in this newer sense is, then, close in meaning to the psychological term insight. In other words, when we gain insights into what is most important or meaningful, we may experience those insights as revelations. The advantage of this newer concept of revelation is that it aligns the concept of revelation with modern philosophical and scientific thinking. The disadvantage is that it creates a split with how religion and spirituality have been experienced historically.
It remains to be seen whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. It may be that the newer concept of revelation renders the term revelation superfluous. The terms development, insight, and consciousness may suffice. But if this is the case, then one might well ask on what basis can individuals have faith?
More likely some notion of revelation will continue to be used in order to establish the grounds for having faith. In the future, the concept of revelation is apt to help individuals hold onto the power of older notions for engendering commitment and conviction while also helping individuals to remain intellectually honest. The concept of revelation is, then, likely to remain a useful, even necessary concept for defining and supporting religious and spiritual development.