Intro: It is said that the Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman dreamed that he was standing in a great cathedral looking at a painting of Jesus. He was desperate to hear a word from beyond his world so he whispered “Speak to me!” He heard nothing but silence. It is said that this became the motivation for his movie Silence. He joins the rank of many who think that there is no voice to be heard but our own. This is why I think this subject of the Natural and the Supernatural is so vital. David long ago said of the heavens that they declare the glory of God, and that day to day they pour out speech. But there is a catch as that Ps. goes on to say: “There is no actual speech or word, nor is its voice literally heard” (Ps. 19) For a literal word we must hear the prophets and ultimately the Word himself.
The Bible is consistent in its message that the communication problem is a hearing problem. This is the human problem, we have decided we don’t want to hear God, so we don’t.
But we are hearing a different message today about the natural world:
“I like to summarize what I regard as the pedestal-smashing messages of Darwin’s revolution in the following statement, which might be chanted a few times a day like a Hare Krishna mantra, to force penetration into the soul: Humans are not the end result of predictable evolutionary progress, but rather a fortuitous cosmic afterthought, a tiny twig on the enormously arborescent bush of life, which if replanted from seed, would almost surely not grow this twig again or perhaps any twig with any property that we would care to call consciousness.” [S. J. Gould Natural History, 7/95 p8.] He insists repeatedly that evolution has no ultimate purpose, no path to progress, and that its unpredictability is evident on all levels.
Richard Dawkins argues that “we know” that natural selection “is the explanation for existence.” He call it the “automatic process which Darwin discovered,” and describes it as “blind,” “unconscious,” having “no purpose in mind”. (1987 p5). He adds that “…Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” (p6).
”Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind.” [G.G. Simpson 1967p345].
“The organism is only DNA’s way of making more DNA.”
(Wilson Sociobiology p3, in Midgley 1994p5). Which is to say that a chicken is an egg’s way of making more eggs!
As G. K. Chesterton observed: “Evolution does not specially deny the existence of God; what it does deny is the existence of man.” [in S. Jaki, Chesterton, the Seer of Science p77].
Darwin would not have been as dogmatic as his 20th cent. champions: “My theology is a simple muddle; I cannot look at the universe as the result of blind chance, yet I can see no evidence of beneficent design, or indeed of design of any kind, in the details.” [Darwin, letter to J.D. Hooker, in N. Barlow 1958 p162].
“The ancient covenant is in pieces; man knows at last that he is alone in the universe’s unfeeling immensity, out of which he emerged only by chance. His destiny is nowhere spelled out, nor is his duty.” [J. Monod Chance and Necessity p180].
Notice how all these examples move from where we have come from to where we are going. They are walking backwards in hopes that by looking at where we’ve been they will see where we’re going. To the eyes of sense we seem to have come from Mother Nature. But whence comes our Mother?I agree that the road to the future is through the past. However, those who see the past as chance-spawned might wish to face backwards for fear of what they might see should they look forward. Those of us who look back and see the hand of God, now look forward in hopes of seeing God’s face.
In confronting and responding to beliefs like these there is something very important that we Christians need to understand: In order to recover Man we must recover Nature. [In using the word “nature” I wish you to understand that this is an accommodation to the usual way of speaking today. We should always understand that when we say nature we mean creation.] All of creation is interwoven. Pull on any part and the rest eventually follows. Man cannot, in the present system of God’s order, be understood when divorced from nature.
Of all persons who knew the supernatural intimately it was Jesus. Yet he gives us profound perspectives on the natural. He who could command the wind and waves, and heal the blind and lame, and even raise the dead, gives us a wonderful sense of what it means to delight in the natural world.
I. Jesus always taught that the creation is an orderly system. He never says this in so many words, so I say He taught as one who assumed it. The most powerful assumptions are the tacit ones; the ones that are so deeply rooted as to need neither defense nor explanation. [Have you ever had someone borrow something from you and keep it so long that they began to think it was their own? That’s what science has done with this basic theistic assumption of an orderly creation]
He said that you can always know a tree by its fruits (Mt. 7:16-20). You can count on this to apply in an orderly world. Reality is what you can count on [Dallas Willard]. The vinedresser, he says, can be confident as he prunes the vines that in the order of things he will get results in accordance with his knowledge and skill (Jn. 15:1-4). The good shepherd, who knows his sheep, can expect them in so much as they know him, to follow (Jn. 10:3-5).
This orderliness underlies our entire ability to successfully deal with nature, and to develop science and technology. A. Einstein said: “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.”
II. The creation is filled with things to learn from and not just about, so Jesus called us to “look” at creation.
In Matt. 6:26 (cf. 28) the emblepo means “look hard at;” “consider, scrutinize, examine.” The lessons are there if you will see! Think about this! Jesus stood there before his disciples as the Lord of glory, the Prince of infinite wisdom, the Creator of all. Yet he pointed at things that had always been around–birds and flowers. He said that these have been speaking all along.
“…He turned nature into a whispering gallery of spiritual truths, and filled each common day with perpetual reminders of His central teaching, thus enlisting both the understanding and the memory of his followers in his permanent service as a revealer of religious truth.” [Dict. of Christ and the Gospels Vol. II, p233].
The apostle Paul echoes this idea of seeing the invisible though the visible in Rom. 1:20; ”For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
It is in looking that we see the mystery of beauty. “I asked the heavens, the sun, the moon, and the stars: ‘We are not the God whom you seek;’ said they. To all the things that stand around the doors of my flesh I said ‘Tell me of my God…’ With a mighty voice they cried out, ‘He made us!’ My question was the gaze I turned on them; the answer was their beauty…” [Augustine Confessions X.6.9]
“It may further be observed that, in so far as the mechanical stability and the analytic intelligibility of the inorganic world are concerned, beauty is a superfluity.” ( i.e. it’s a luxury, an excess) [Tennant 1928 I p92].
Yet of all that is in nature, beauty [and order] speaks with the most power. It compels us to expect something more behind what is seen.
III. Jesus saw an intimacy between created things and God; yet he never identified creation with God himself in the manner of pantheism.
He connected his priceless doctrine of the fatherhood of God with the birds in Matt. 6:26; “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”
Of the flowers he said; “See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field…” (Mt. 6:28-30).
In his parable of the soils he crosses over easily from the laws of growth and development in the physical world to spiritual growth (mt.4:4-8, 31ff)
“[Jesus] lived in two worlds, with an intensity of interest that has seldom been approached–the world of sense and the world of spirit.” (DCC vol. II p234)
Even from the characteristics of animals he could bring forth truth; “Therefore become as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Mt. 10:16).
Neither, remarkably, was he adverse to using his creatures as illustrations of His own divine nature! “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Lk, 6:34). [The story is told of a barn fire. There was in the barn at the time a hen and her chicks. When the fire was finally brought under control the live chicks were found under the charred remains of the hen who had gathered them under her wings.]
Clearly Jesus exhibited a respect (an honoring) of creation which we need to maintain. Remember, when we loose sight of what creation is we begin to loose sight of what Mankind is. When the creation becomes a purposeless machine, mankind must follow as necessarily purposeless also.
IV. He was always clear in ascribing to humans higher value than to other creatures; and regularly used arguments from the lesser to the greater to drive home this point.
Of the birds he said; “Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Mt. 6:26; also LK. 12:24). Remember Mt. 6:30? “If that is how God clothes the grass of the field…….will he not much more clothe you…?”
“So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Mt. 10:31)
“How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” (Mt. 12:12). Note he says “a man” not mankind, nor humanity! He is affirming particular persons, not abstractions.
The English biologist J. B. S. Haldane was once asked what he had learned about the Creator from his study of biology. He replied; “He must have had an inordinate fondness for beetles.”
Surely he does, but Jesus died for human persons. Whatever redemption there is to be for the rest of creation is wed to humans (Rom. 8).
The order and beauty of creation is there for all to see. The Greeks called the universe the cosmos because of its beauty.
It is constantly proclaiming the glory of God (Ps. 19). There is no voice nor language in which their proclamation is not heard speaking always in adoration of its Creator. Day and night the creation pours forth its speech.