Return to Index Page



By Richard Gunther


One of the many privileges of being an adult is the godlike respect with which the very young regard almost every statement which adults make. Three and four year olds are always inclined to accept whatever they are told, regardless of whether what they are told is credible or honest - tooth fairies, Santa Claus, Easter bunnies, and hundreds of other fantasies - are all accepted as part of the ‘real’ world.

But gradually (and ideally) as children grow more knowledgeable, they are able to weigh what they know against what they have been told, and the truth begins to replace the fiction. Sometimes this ‘setting right’ of truth takes a lifetime, but I suppose that most fiction is delegated to the ‘fun-to-believe-but-not-real’ box by the time children reach their teenage years. This is when many of them become cynical and critical, because they have discovered so much which was false they now find it hard to believe that anything at all is true.

One of the statements which I heard when I was very young, was that in America anyone can become the President. Now given that a President may serve a number of years, we must logically have only a small section of the population capable of living long enough to even run for candidacy. Add to this the fact that only a limited number of people may fill important seats as contenders, and that there are only a limited number of these seats available below the President. Now add in the fact that only certain people have all the qualities suitable for that top position, and the chances of anyone become President are probably about a million to one! I’m sure a mathematician could put a number to this, but the argument still stands - the statement is false.

Other fictions abound. One I recall was the story by Jules Verne, ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth', in which a tunnel is discovered which runs to the centre of the planet, where, so the book says, a lake exists. As a fantasy, this story is interesting, but the real world is quite a different place. The temperature rises the nearer the centre we go until only molten rock awaits any daring explorer.

Another fiction was the idea that a baby could float away if a small helium-filled balloon was tied to it, that Tarzan lived in Africa, that most of the world was similar to the local neighbourhood, that a volcano could erupt anywhere at any time, that tidal waves were common, that if one believed ‘hard enough’ one could fly . . . and so on.

But a recurrent idea, which still comes from adults, is that "Nature teaches us about God." Now I think I know the sense in which this statement (or variations of it) is made. It is meant to convey the following idea : Nature, since it was created by God, must have an inherent ‘Godlike’ quality, which we may find if we examine it. To support this we read : "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse" Romans 1:20.

This must be the correct view of Nature. What God has created, the Animal, Vegetable and Mineral Kingdoms, all testify to His reality. We may know that there is a Designer because we have found a design.

Does this mean then, that if we look at Nature, we will learn more about God? This is a difficult question, because the answer may be yes or no.

‘Yes’, if we see Nature as the visible aspect of an invisible God, ‘yes’, if we see Nature as something which is ‘not us’ and by which we may find ourselves to be different from it. After all, it is impossible to know you are separate from something if you are one with it. God created the universe and the world and Nature because He wanted Man to be aware of his own unique difference within that creation.

But ‘no’ if we think we can work out what God is like just by examining Nature.

Over the years, I have come across numerous examples, usually in Christian publications, which expound the ‘marvels of Nature’ and show how "God’s Handiwork’ is displayed. This is all very well, by quite often the mistake has been made of drawing some sort of comparison between Man and God, or Christians and animals.

For example, the bee has often been used as a fine demonstration of Christians. Bees are industrious and hard-working. They work from dawn till dark. They hunt for nectar and they bring it back to the hive so all may benefit. But bees also live totally by instinct. They also kill all the drones or push them out for the winter.

Or take the lion. It is a majestic beast, powerful and aggressive. Christians ought to be like lions. But lions are also incredibly lazy. They watch the lionesses do all the hunting, they take the ‘kill’ and eat what they want before allowing the lionesses have a share, and they kill any male cubs.

Or the beaver. It builds a home in the water and uses the natural resources to makes itself secure. But it also destroys rivers and floods valleys. Where does the illustration finish and the fantasy begin? Are we suggesting that Christians ought to make the most of what they have, but then ignore the fact that the consequences are worse than the original situation?

Or the squirrel. It stores food in many hiding places before winter comes so it will have food when food is scarce. This is a good principle - seeing ahead, anticipating needs - but it may also be seen as ‘hoarding’ or as lack of faith in God for the future. Squirrels also store food in their cheeks and climb trees. Would Christians be better off if they lived in trees?

The trouble is, the more one tries to apply the ‘lessons of Nature’ to Christianity, the more fanciful the applications become, and ultimately a tremendous contradictory mess results.

The Bible does allude to some aspects of Nature, it is true, but these examples are not an open door to the hundreds or thousands of Man-made ‘lessons’. Each Bible example is explained by the Bible and the application is restricted. Nowhere does God invite Man to imagine any more, mainly I think, because to do so would result in the misapplication of Nature.

One small but significant offshoot of all this is the statement that ‘God made Nature for Man’. What does this mean? As far as enjoyment goes, this would be true. God made all the animals and brought them to Adam. Adam named all the animals, but he found no "helpmeet" among them, so animals at least were not designed for companionship - not on the same level as another human anyway. Animals are kept as pets, but they never relate in the same way a human can.

Some may say, for example, "Just look at the cow. Its meat can be cooked, its skin made into clothes, its hooves into gelatine, and its entrails into fertiliser. Surely God designed it for these purposes?" Well, no, God says nowhere in His Word that animals were designed for such things. These are Man’s inventions. God originally designed Nature for Man’s enjoyment - not to be killed or eaten or worn. It is only because of the coming of sin that animals are treated this way. This small space of time between Creation and the Return of Christ is temporary and unusual.

The Bible names many animals, and any good Bible Dictionary will list them. In the Bible there are named 38 mammals, 34 birds, 11 reptiles, one amphibian, 16 insects, no fish (although "fish" are mentioned many times), also generically named are scorpions and spiders. There are 4 molluscs and one worm, coral and sponge. Also included are the chamois, mole and unicorn, from mistranslations, and dragon and satyr from mythology.

Only a very small percentage of these animals are used by God to teach us something. For example the ant (Prov.6:6) and the moth (Matt.6:19). In each case God has been careful to restrict the application. Man, however, quite often runs away with the idea and produces some unlikely conclusions.

The moth, for example, is used by Jesus, as a symbol of the way the world is constantly changing. Fortunes come and go. Accidents, crimes, sudden illnesses and unexpected events are part and parcel of everyday life:

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust corrupt them, and where thieves break through and steal:

But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust (can) corrupt, and where thieves do not . . . steal" Matthew 6:19,20

The only reason Jesus used the moth in this illustration was because it has a habit of laying eggs on clothes or other material things which humans value, and soon the grubs hatch and eat holes into those things, making them of less or no value. To take it any further would distort the meaning, and perhaps even ruin the illustration.

i.e. one could extol the virtues of the moth, since it is ‘clever’ enough to find things to lay eggs on. One could admire its adaptability, it resourcefulness, its survival instincts. One could turn the moth into the protagonist and completely miss the point of what Jesus said. One could say that treasures on earth should be ‘moth proof’, that moths should be eradicated, that treasures should be protected better if they are suitable for moths to attack - all this, and the point of the lesson would be missed.

The following is a list of the living things which God has mentioned in His Word. Most references are not specifically used to illustrate something, but the fact that they are there is, of course, significant, since every word in the Bible is there for a good reason.

Adder, Ant, Antelope, Ape, Arrowsnake, Asp, Ass, Badger, Bald locust, Bat, Bear, Beast, Bee, Beetle, Beeve (cattle, ox), Behemoth, Bird (fowl), Boar, Bull, (bullock), Calf, Camel, Cankerworm, Cat, Caterpillar, Cattle, Chameleon, Chamois (possibly the mountain goat), Chicken, Cock, Cockatrice (serpent), Colt, Coney (rock badger, rabbit), Coral, Cormorant, Cow, Crane, Cricket, Crocodile, Cuckow (sea gull), Doe (female wild goat), Dog, Doleful creatures (i.e. Jackals, wolves), Dove (wild pigeon), Dragon (crocodile, sea monster, mythical monster), Dromedary, Eagle, Elephant, Ewe, Falcon, Fallow deer, Ferret, Fish, Flea, Fly, Foal (horse, ass), Fowl, Fox, Frog, Gazelle, Gecko, Gier eagle, Glede, Gnat, Goat, Grasshopper, Great owl, Greyhound, Hare, Hart, Hawk, Heifer, Hen, Heron, Hind, Hippopotamus, Hoopoe, Hornet, Horse, Horseleech, Hound, Hyena, Jackal, Kite, Lamb, Lapwing, Leopard, Leviathan, Lice, Lion, Little owl, Lizard, Locust, Mouse, Moth, Mole, Mule, Night hawk, Onycha (from shells), Osprey, Ossifrage (vulture), Ostrich, Owl, Palmerworm, Partridge, Peacock, Pigeon, Porpoise, Pygarg (probably antelope), Quail, Ram, Raven, Roe, Roebuck, Sand fly, Sand lizard, Satyr (he-goat), Scorpion, Seal, Seamew (gull, tern or petrel), Sea monster, Serpent (snake), Sheep, Snail, Sow (swine), Sparrow, Speckled bird, Spider, Sponge, Stallion, Stork, Swallow, Swan, Swine, Tortoise, Turtledove, Unicorn (wild ox), Viper, Vulture, Wasp, Weasel, Whale, Wild beasts, Wolf, Worm.

Familiarity can be a nuisance. Unfamiliarity can be a blessing. Let me explain - when we were first brought into this world, we found the most common and ‘ordinary’ things to be extraordinary and amazing. We have only to watch the expression of wonder on a child’s face as it ‘discovers’ a floating dandelion seed, or pops a soap bubble, or tastes honey, or hears the wind in a tree, or stands on the edge of the ocean, or gathers a handful of snow, or watches an electrical storm. What adults are quite familiar with, may be the most amazing discovery of the day for a child.

The same can be said for the Creation, which surrounds us all with its infinite variety and extraordinary design. But Man’s own nature seems to be similar to the way his nervous system responds to a repeated stimulus - gradually the reaction to the stimulus fades until almost no reaction follows. What may begin as the most exciting computer game of the year becomes just one more title on the pile. What begins as the most exhilarating roller-coaster ride, may become a routine three minutes of wind in the face. What begins as an awesome star-strewn night sky, becomes a familiar sight, and hardly worth a glance.

Creation is a product of God, and as such it reveals His wisdom. There is no doubt about that, but what exactly is Creation? This is probably one of those unanswerable questions, but there are some small insights available to us.

First of all, Creation is God’s domain. He designed it, using structures, systems, chemicals, molecules, atoms, subatomic particles, and other things yet to be defined.

He built the whole of Creation around several principles, such as 1. There is a finite amount of energy, which is interchangeable with matter, 2. Initially the Creation was perfect, but when Adam sinned, a new principle began to operate. At present, all complex organised systems are moving towards greater randomness (i.e. running down, disintegrating).

The shape of Creation, as far as we can see with our ‘created’ senses, is three dimensional. Everything has length, breadth and depth. The process of Creation is defined into three divisions of Time, past, present and future. The states of matter in Creation are solid, liquid or gas. There are seven visible colours - to the naked eye. There are five senses by which we may observe Creation. All the above may appear in different ways, and even ‘overlap’ but there are no other obvious shapes, processes or states other than those listed. (There are some theoretical variations, but they are not part of this essay)

Creation is so familiar to us by the time we are adults, we often fail to notice it. Perhaps this is why people visit zoos, or theme parks - to regain that initial wonder which they had as children when they first saw a porcupine, or whale? But how often do we stop and ask the question "What is a porcupine?" (or whale, or any other creature)

All of Creation displays several things about God to us. Any part of Creation, regardless of its size, displays unity, harmony, interdependence, variety, beauty, exactness, accuracy, power, order and mystery. Someone said "The closer you examine a Man-made object, the more flaws you find, yet the closer you examine a God-made object, the more perfection you find."

And yet, despite all this, Creation often seems to be cruel and harsh and unfeeling. For example the tornado which rips a home to bits, or the earthquake which destroys a town. In both cases it seems that Nature is behaving more like Satan than God, and many people have lost faith in God because of 'tragedies' like this.

If Creation is a product of a loving, wise and compassionate God, why do tornadoes destroy lives? If God loves us, why does He allow a tidal wave, or an avalanche, or a disease to sweep through a population, killing Christians and non-Christians?

One reason why people ask this question is because they have already assumed something. There was a movie a few years ago called ‘The Cruel Sea’. The title expressed the idea that the "sea" can be "cruel". If that is the case, then perhaps the "sea" can also be "kind, silly, lazy and thoughtful"? People often project human values on to objects, because it helps them explain the behaviour of the object. We hear of the "fickle wind", the "foul weather", the "bitter snows", and the "playful breezes". Another step or two from this view and we have animism, which says that all objects are inhabited by spirits.

The reality is that Creation is neutral. It is Man’s ‘other’, against which he may measure himself. It is the medium in which he lives, but he and the medium are not the same thing (though some misguided romantics like to talk about being ‘one with Nature’ - a total impossibility). Nature is neither cruel nor kind. It just is. The sea rolls on regardless of whether there is a boat on it, and the earthquakes come and go regardless of who builds on the fault lines. Sickness spreads because bacteria and viruses need hosts, not because they are out to make Man miserable. The fact that people speak of Creation in derogatory terms is because they have failed to understand what Creation is there for. It is a sign of Man’s immaturity that he shakes his fist at Creation.

The title of this essay is "Nature" because Nature is one of the most honest, and accessible forms of truth available to Man. Nature can be studied, whereas other aspects of God are far more difficult to find. God is, after all, invisible, and He moves in dimensions (or perhaps the absence of dimensions) which we have no way of understanding. Nature is measurable, and from Nature we have built up something we call Science. All the Science in the world put together displays the wisdom of God, and from that Science we can postulate that there probably is a Being, a supreme intelligent living Being, behind all of Nature.

It is a bit like a shadow play, where the actors stand behind a sheet illuminated by a light. On the sheet the silhouettes enact the drama, but all the while the audience knows that there is a greater substance to the shadows. God is that greater substance. Nature is but the shadow of His reality. Nature is a lower order of reality, and Man is in but not of that shadow.

Back to Index Page