“But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
or the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
or let the fish of the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know
that the hand of the LORD has done this?
In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”
The Bible points us to the natural world around us – the living things as well as the heavens and the earth to learn about God. Psalm 19:1-4 states: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
Everywhere we look, if we take but a moment to try to see in a fresh way, nature speaks of divine qualities. “What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 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” (Romans 1:19-20).
Over the centuries, thinkers and philosophers have caught glimpses of the divine in the natural world. In fact, a branch of Christian theology is called Natural Theology. Its basic tenets are that God has revealed himself both naturally and supernaturally. The European thinker and theologian, Jan Amos Comenius (1592-1670), called nature “The Living Book of God” and the Bible “The Living Word of God.” As mentioned, the Scriptures affirm that divine attributes may be known from what exists because the creation points towards its Creator. Truths about God that can be learned from nature, humanity, and the world around us include God’s existence and divine quali-ties such as love, intelligence, design, order and harmony. This knowledge is then complemented and enriched by supernaturally revealed information, such as about grace and salvation. There is a continuum between that which can be understood by the natural light of human reason and that which is received by the light of faith.
Insights from Writers and Poets
Various writers and poets have also mused about the divine in the natural order and we can gain insights and inspiration from their thoughts. Consider, for example, what Victorian poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning saw in nature:
Earth is crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, nineteenth-century priest and poet insisted that “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”
Reformation theologian John Calvin wrote: “[God’s] nature is incomprehensible, far beyond all human thought, but his glory is etched on his creation so brightly, clearly, and gloriously that no one however obtuse and illiterate can plead ignorance as an excuse…. Wherever you look, there is no part of the world however small that does not show at least some glimmer of beauty; it is impossible to gaze at the vast expanse of the universe without being overwhelmed by such tremendous beauty. So the author of the epistle to the Hebrews sensitively describes the visible world as an image of the invisible (Hebrews 11:3).”
Calvin also stated: “When a man, from beholding and contemplating the heavens, has been brought to acknowledge God, he will learn also to reflect upon and to admire his wisdom and power as displayed on the face of the earth, not only in general, but even in the minutest of plants.”
Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862), American transcendentalist who spent two years living in a small cabin near a pond in the woods remarked: “Blessed are they who never read a newspaper, they shall see nature, and through her, God.”
English poet William Blake (1757 -1827) perceived eternity in every cell: “And every space smaller than a globule of man’s blood opens into Eternity of which this vegetable Earth is but a shadow.”
Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) wrote in his famous novel, The Brothers Karamazov: “Every blade of grass, every insect, ant, and golden bee, all so marvelously know their path; though they have not intelligence, they bear witness to the mystery of God and continually accomplish it them-selves.” Through one of his characters, Dostoyevsky also exhorts: “Love all of God’s creation, the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light! Love the animals. Love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will soon perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.”
A more contemporary spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen (1932-1996), shares the following: “When God took on flesh in Jesus Christ, the uncreated and the created, the eternal and the temporal, the divine and the human became united. This unity meant that all that is mortal now points to the immortal, all that is finite now points to the infinite. In and through Jesus all creation has become like a splendid veil, through which the face of God is revealed to us. This is called the sacramental quality of the created order. All that is is sacred because all that is speaks of God’s redeeming love. Seas and winds, mountains and trees, sun, moon, and stars, and all the animals and people have become sacred windows offering us glimpses of God.”
Physicist Albert Einstein, although not a Christian believer, perceived God in the wonders of the universe. When asked by an interviewer if he was an atheist, he replied: “I’m not an atheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws.”
This section features three aspects of this subject: