What does nature reveal about ourselves and our Creator?
The answer to this, like a lot of things, depends on who you ask. This is not to say that everything is relative or that a person’s perspective determines what is true. It is to suggest, however, that the way people answer questions like this is influenced by all sorts of factors. For example, if you assume that the universe has existed for all eternity, nature isn’t going to tell you anything about a creator. Likewise, if human beings are merely the latest product of the undirected processes of evolution in a world that is comprised of nothing but matter, the best you can say about human beings is merely to describe their activity. Anything else would simply be your opinion.
What if the assumption that nature is all that exists is suspended? Could it tell us more than just what is before our eyes? Scripture says yes. Psalm 19:1, for example, says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” In his letter to the Romans, Paul argued that “what can be known about God is plain” to all men and women “because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:19-20).
Natural science is increasingly starting to say yes as well. According to Discovery Institute’s Stephen C. Meyer’s Return of the God Hypothesis, three major discoveries of the twentieth century all but make plain the existence of God. Cosmology has shown that the universe had a beginning. It came into existence caused by something other than itself. Additionally, it came into existence and persists in such a way that, despite overwhelming odds against it, permits and sustains life. The universe and especially our solar system is, in fact, finely tuned for life. Lastly, and most remarkably, molecular biology discovered that behind every living organism is a genetic code that is immeasurably more advanced than the code in the most sophisticated computer software.
The details of Meyer’s argument are more than impressive. He doesn’t prove God’s existence in the formal sense of the term. What he does show is that the more scientists investigate nature the more the theistic worldview makes sense. In fact, given the other options—from atheism to pantheism—it’s the one that best explains what is behind nature.
What, then, might nature tell us about ourselves? We’re told that we descended from apes, that we are the product of long and undirected evolutionary processes. That’s one hypothesis. It might explain some features of the human animal, but it fails miserably in explaining others. For example, it cannot explain where the information that directs cellular replication came from. Neither can it account for the irreducible complexity of the various organ systems of the human body.
A close look at the physical nature of human beings demonstrates that we are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14). What nature can’t tell us though is what we were ultimately made for. Yes, we might know some penultimate things such as the vocations we find ourselves in through basic biological functions like father or motherhood. These and our other vocations give us purpose, but such a purpose is in the here and now. We might sense that purpose extends past our natural lives, but nature can’t really reveal what that is.
Nature is cruel like that. It may reveal some things about us and even point beyond itself to something higher. It can’t tell us much more though, and there will always be other ways of explaining things. After all, nature doesn’t speak. We speak for it as we describe what we see. Some explanations are better than others, but they remain our explanations—except if we had some perspective from outside, above, and behind nature. Even better would be if the author of nature provided an explanation. And he has. He spoke the universe into existence. He spoke through prophets. 2,000 years ago he spoke through his son Jesus of Nazareth (Heb. 1:1-2).
Who was this man? His disciples asked the same question: “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” (Matt. 8:27). He controlled nature. He calmed the sea. He turned water into wine and healed the sick. And yet, he seemed like just a man. He cried, ate when he got hungry, rested when he was tired, and in the end died just like any other man. But even in death, something was a bit different. As he hung on the cross, darkness settled across the land. When he uttered his last words, nature responded. The “earth shook, and the rocks split” (Matt. 27:51). Three days later, after his lifeless body had been laid in a tomb and sealed shut by a stone, an earthquake caused it to roll away. And when his disciples saw him raised from the dead, they remembered how he had said he would do just this, for this was the promise concerning the Messiah in Scripture, so “they believed the Scripture” (John 2:22). Why? Because the Scripture is where God spoke in the past. Jesus called it—the books comprising the Old Testament—the very word of God (Mark 7:3). He also promised that he and the Father would send the Holy Spirit to the apostles (John 14-16). He would cause them to remember everything that Jesus’ taught them and inspire their teaching and preaching, which would eventually be written down and comprise the New Testament. It is here where God reveals himself, the character of creation and his human creatures both in his condemnation of it and the good news that he would one day, in Christ, reconcile it all unto himself.