Nature [no; strike that] Creation
I just love nature! I recently enjoyed five days of extended hiking—65 glorious miles of soaking in the beauty of hills and fields and ocean-bay views. I chose to meditate on Psalm 16 as I hiked, trying to commit the entire Psalm to memory. What a wonderful time, nothing to do but revel in God, his word, and nature. Or should I say creation?
My hiking trip followed two key events—my God and Science course and the Dabar Conference. My preparation and participation in these two events gave me a lot of food for thought on my hike, particularly over how our view of God’s work in creation affects our view of his character! I share some of my reflections here.
My Dabar Conference Reflections
The Dabar Conference is one of the initiatives of The Creation Project. This year’s conference focused on theological anthropology, raising many questions on the significance of the “image of God” in us humans. I was delighted to participate in this year’s conference, offering a response to Dr. Jeff Hardin’s paper “Science and Christian Anthropology: Friends or Foes?” Dr. Hardin is chair of the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and also serves as chair of BioLogos’s board of directors. I met Dr. Hardin in the first year of The Creation Project and really appreciate his spirit of humility and his thoughtful commitment to scientific and biblical integrity.
Dr. Hardin’s views and proposed models for bringing Christian faith and science together are in step with modern scientific paradigms of hominid evolution. He gave much thought to offering five different possible models for harmonizing human evolution and evangelical understandings of Adam and Eve and the Genesis creation account. As a progressive creationist responding to evolutionary creationists, I respectfully pushed back against the human evolutionary paradigm from within science and the data. I also affirmed that wrestling together with the challenges human evolution presents and what it means to be made in the image of God is vital for all Christians.
I raised my evidence-based, scientific reservations to the evolutionary paradigm, and added that the significance of those deficits pale in comparison to the greater challenges that must be engaged if (a supposition, not a claim) human evolution is truly part of our shared history. The greatest of these challenges strike at the heart of God’s character, creation’s purpose, and humanity’s significance within creation. That is, if we fail to see that God is actively engaged in his creation since the beginning of creation, then our understanding of what God is like will take on a very different form, trending toward characteristics of deism. If we fail to see God’s self-disclosure (revelation) of his character and purpose in the created order, then we miss the depth and passion of his heart for reconciling and redeeming us. And if we fail to see that we are made in God’s image, unique among all creatures and made in such a way as to be capable of receiving God’s revelation (in nature, Scripture, and Jesus’s incarnation), then we miss the deepest truth there is to discover.
In my response to Dr. Hardin’s paper, I redirected our thinking along these lines. I also emphasized this aspect familiar to RTB followers: All of creation is for the sake of God revealing himself to creatures made in his image so that we might be reconciled to God. Even though I got more pushback on my progressive (nonevolutionary) creationist perspective than I expected, I enjoyed our session and the interactions with other conferees.
During further conversations with Dr. Hardin after our session, I slowly realized that we think of God’s revelation in nature in considerably different ways. We both espouse God’s dual revelation in Scripture and nature, but the way we think about how God reveals himself in nature is very different. I see God’s revelation in nature as explicit in every new scientific discovery. I think Dr. Hardin sees it as more implicit in the order and law-like governance of all of creation. I agree it is seen in the order and law-like governance—in God’s sustaining and providential processes of secondary causes—but it’s more than just that.
Scripture and Creation: Two of Three Central Means of God’s Revelation
God’s revelation in and through his creation has been understood long before modern times. Historical, wisdom, and poetic writings of the proverbs and psalms spoke to it centuries before the incarnation. Paul (ca. AD 5–62 or 64) articulated God’s clear revelation in nature well before Saint Bonaventure (ca. AD 1217–74) and the Belgic Confession (ca. AD 1566). Contemporary evangelicals still embrace the scriptural basis for such beliefs today. Let’s consider three of these passages: Psalm 19:1–4, Romans 1:18–23, and Proverbs 25:2.1
The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
and their words to all the world.
The Psalm passage certainly refers to God’s revelation and handiwork in the initial creation of the heavens, but it also, as we understand not just from cosmogony but cosmology, displays God’s design and sustaining providence for ongoing creation through secondary cause and effect events (e.g. the birth and death of stars, formation of planets, etc.).
But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.
The Romans passage, although directly speaking of those who do not know or honor God as God (so this would not apply to our evolutionary creationist brothers and sisters in Christ) has in it a warning, I think, to all of us, believers and non-believers alike. Paul warns us that if we deny God’s revelation in and through nature, if we fail to recognize his handiwork and to worship and thank him for it all, then we suppress the truth and begin to distort a proper view of God’s character.
It is God’s privilege to conceal things
and the king’s privilege to discover them.
The Proverbs passage encourages us that it is our privilege (or glory) to discover in all of nature and life the things God has concealed there for his glory.
These three passages in particular reflect God’s purposeful intention of making himself known to us in and through his creation. Furthermore, they make it clear that this revelation is everywhere we look. God wants to be known and reconciled to those made in God’s image. It is the very heart of the Christian story. All of creation was made for us, not to abuse and manipulate it for material gain, but to give us opportunities to thrive, grow, create, worship, and come to a fuller knowledge of God’s abundant and extravagant heart, as well as to stand in awe of his majesty and power.
A Historical and Evangelical Perspective of Dual Revelation
Preparations for the God and Science course I taught this past spring, and for my Dabar Conference response this summer, led to my discovery of Carisa A. Ash’s book, A Critical Examination of the Doctrine of Revelation in Evangelical Theology. This book continues to motivate me to deepen my thinking about how we as evangelicals often affirm God’s dual revelation in nature and Scripture, but that our view and approach to his revelation in nature is so anemic that we need to strongly consider if we truly believe what we say we affirm.
An anemic view of God’s revelation in and through nature distorts the biblical portrait of God. It hamstrings God’s power. God’s involvement diminishes to that of a “Providential Sustainer,” and his sustaining activity becomes easily obscured behind descriptions of reliable mechanisms of nature. Such a view provides limitless fodder for claims from the likes of Bertrand Russell that God has not provided enough evidence for belief in him. God’s creative process becomes undetectable except for the ordering and fine-tuning of the universe, and nature’s witness to the Creator is muffled. A God who withholds evidence of his involvement, and only gives indication of his desire to be known in the revelation of Scripture, shrinks in power, foresight, creativity, glory, and worthiness. God shrinks to an epicurean or deist version of a supreme being, irrelevant and unrecognizable as a lover who jealously desires a relationship with us for our good and his delight.
As I hiked, my reflections on God’s self-disclosure in creation and what it means to be made in God’s image kept running through my mind. Extended hours of hiking were filled with contemplating the beauty of creation and what it means to be at the heart of God’s story and creation as image-bearers and recipients of revelation. I was struck several times at just how sacred we are. And that thought deepened as I thought about how God became one of us. Jesus was made man; God became human in order to seek and save us.
I began to see beauty in the faces of strangers and to contemplate the sacredness of even the most unassuming and marginalized people I saw. I cringed when I heard others speaking in unkind ways to their fellow companions. My heart grew and broke at the same time.
When we recognize God’s revelation in creation, we are compelled to worship and thank him for it. We are stirred to share his heart in loving others and caring for creation as good stewards. The biblical (Christian) story is the greatest story ever told. But it is not just a story of our salvation. It is a story of all of creation. It is a story of image-bearers who are recipients of revelation and embedded in the story. Though we are not the heroes of this story, we are the reason the Hero tells and enters the story.