A Discerning Look at Nature

I’ve heard it said that nature is like a book about God. There’s some great truth to that. In that regard, I agree with Paul Wallace when he says, “it’s natural and good to seek some level of harmony between the Creator and the creation, to look for a reflection of the divine nature in the nonhuman world” (Stars Beneath Us, page 18). I also agree with T.F. Torrance when he states that the study of natural science is something God calls us to do:

within the universe there is planted man, whose task it is to identify and name, that is, to bring to expression the manifold realities of the created world around him. That is, as I see it, the basic function of the scientist as priest of creation: to bring the universe to view and understanding in its inherent harmonies and regularities and thus to allow the basic design, the meaning, of the universe to become disclosed. Now man is the creature within the universe through whom the universe discloses these amazing harmonies and regularities and symmetries in its contingent intelligibility, and so is brought to speech or word, and as that happens the universe, thus unfolded and made articulate through man, constitutes a great hymn of praise and adoration to God the Creator. Regarded in this way natural science is a religious operation, for it is part of man’s obedience to the Creator who has placed him in this universe and no other, and it provides the context in which we are summoned to worship and praise God.

Thomas F. Torrance (The Ground and Grammar of Theology: Consonance Between Theology and Science, page 111-112)

There is certainly much we can learn in nature’s words if we’re willing to read her writings and listen. But at the same time we must admit that this analogy of nature as a book about God can only go so far since our world is fallen. Yes, she is amazing and full of spectacular science, but she is not perfect and therefore she is not always necessarily a lesson of morality or of God to us. 

God didn’t make the world and call it perfect, but rather implied that it was good in design and (as the double entendre implies) morally good. We were made good, not perfect. And we are even more imperfect now, because of the sin we attained through Adam and Eve (Romans 5:12). But the view of many today is often the opposite: “I am who I am and who I am is perfect. I should never try to be anything different.”

But again, we are fallen beings who live on a fallen earth where nothing is quite as it should be. As Paul points out,

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Romans 8:19-23

And, of course, we can trace the fallen world theme back to the beginning of our Bibles. After Adam and Eve sinned, the earth was cursed and changed, becoming something she would not have been had humanity passed the test.

cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Genesis 3:17-19

This being said, just because we can scientifically prove something does not always imply divine purpose or at the very least that it was God’s original intention. For the Hebraic mind, even thorns and thistles are to be considered outside of God’s original vision for our planet.

As Christians we know that we are not to adapt to the way things look around us and take all nature as a moral lesson, for “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). We have been redeemed and we are to live differently than we used to. We are to live by Holy Spirit and not by the scientific desires of our flesh.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Romans 8:5-8

Christians are to be redeemed creatures, becoming all that they were meant to be before the world was cursed. We are then to eventually join God in the new heaven and new earth when she too is redeemed, after “the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Revelation 21:1). At that point, as C.S. Lewis says,

[Nature] will be cured in character: not tamed (Heaven forbid) nor sterilised. We shall still be able to recognise our old enemy, friend, playfellow and foster-mother, so perfected as to be not less, but more, herself. And that will be a merry meeting.

C.S. Lewis (“Miracles.” The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics, page 359)

In the end the world will be entirely redeemed and perfect for scientific moral study. But for now we cannot take every last scientific statement as evidence of intention. Discernment is necessary.

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