As a class officer in college, I had the responsibility of putting together a chapel program for the student body. Everything was carefully planned and ready to go. But just hours before the presentation, our entire program fell apart. With less than 12 hours to go, I had to put together a completely new program.
My wife just happened to be doing her student teaching at the time. She also happened to have a Disney nature film she had planned to show her elementary school students that week. Quickly I wrote an introduction designed to show how very much nature47 has to reveal about God, and we watched the movie! True, the chapel program was not all it could have been, but now that we have come to our lesson on Nature’s Part in God’s Perfect Plan, I see the nature film was not all that bad. Nature does indeed tell us much about God and about man. No apologies need to be made for drawing man’s attention to nature.
Some of our great hymns turn our minds toward nature and incline our hearts to praise and worship God. Notice these selected stanzas:
How Great Thou Art (Second Stanza)
When through the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze;
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee; How great Thou art!
How great Thou art! Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee;
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!
Great Is Thy Faithfulness (Second Stanza)
Summer and winter, and spring-time and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
Fairest Lord Jesus (Second and Third Stanzas)
Fair are the meadows, Fairer still the woodlands,
Robed in the blooming garb of spring:
Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer,
Who makes the woeful heart to sing.
Fair is the sunshine, Fairer still the moonlight,
Robed in the blooming garb of spring:
Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer
Than all the angels heav’n can boast.
When the Christian’s mind turns to nature, his heart turns toward God in worship and praise. But when the unbelieving mind turns to nature, it turns from God. On Earth Day, April 22, Tom Selleck hosted a one hour television special on saving our environment. Many Hollywood celebrities participated, focusing on different environmental problems and posing practical solutions we can do to help.
No mention was made of God. Nothing was said of man’s sin. Pollution means disposable diapers, styrofoam cups, and exhaust fumes. Man’s efforts to save the earth appeared to be man’s only hope. The unconverted mind simply does not think of God when it looks at nature. Indeed, the unbelieving mind sees nature as a god.
Our series seeks to explore the plan of God as it affects man and as it relates to all of God’s creation. This lesson considers nature as a part of God’s eternal plan for creation, focusing on nature’s role in relation to God and His plan for nature. May our study turn our hearts to the Creator and Sustainer of creation. I invite your careful attention to these texts from God’s Word on the subject of nature.
The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it. For He has founded it upon the seas, And established it upon the rivers (Psalm 24:1-2).
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, And by the breath of His mouth all their host. He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap; He lays up the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast (Psalm 33:6-9).
The heavens are Thine, the earth also is Thine; The world and all it contains, Thou hast founded them (Psalm 89:11).
For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-- all things have been created by Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16).
One of the Bible’s very prominent themes is that of God as Creator. As Creator, God possesses the heavens and the earth,49 and He has the right to do with them as He pleases. In the Old Testament prophets, especially Isaiah, God often reminds those to whom He is speaking that He is their Creator.50 Many statements and promises are based on the truth that God is the Creator of the heavens and the earth.
Thou dost visit the earth, and cause it to overflow; Thou dost greatly enrich it; The stream of God is full of water; Thou dost prepare their grain, for thus Thou dost prepare the earth. Thou dost water its furrows abundantly; Thou dost settle its ridges; Thou dost soften it with showers; Thou dost bless its growth. Thou hast crowned the year with Thy bounty, And Thy paths drip with fatness. The pastures of the wilderness drip, And the hills gird themselves with rejoicing. The meadows are clothed with flocks, And the valleys are covered with grain; They shout for joy, yes, they sing (Psalm 65:9-13).
Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; Sing praises to our God on the lyre, Who covers the heavens with clouds, Who provides rain for the earth, Who makes grass to grow on the mountains. He gives to the beast its food, And to the young ravens which cry. . . Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion! For He has strengthened the bars of your gates; He has blessed your sons within you. He makes peace in your borders; He satisfies you with the finest of the wheat. He sends forth His command to the earth; His word runs very swiftly. He gives snow like wool; He scatters the frost like ashes. He casts forth His ice as fragments; Who can stand before His cold? He sends forth His word and melts them; He causes His wind to blow and the waters to flow (Psalm 147:7-9, 12-18).
When He utters His voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, And He causes the clouds to ascend from the end of the earth; He makes lightning for the rain, And brings out the wind from His storehouses (Jeremiah 10:13).
Nature is not independent of its Creator. Every day, creation must look to Him for His provisions: The young lions roar after their prey, And seek their food from God. When the sun rises they withdraw, and lie down in their dens. Man goes forth to his work And to his labor until evening. O Lord, how many are Thy works! In wisdom Thou hast made them all; The earth is full of Thy possessions. There is the sea, great and broad, In which are swarms without number, Animals both small and great. There the ships move along, And Leviathan, which Thou hast formed to sport in it. They all wait for Thee, To give them their food in due season. Thou dost give to them, they gather it up; Thou dost open Thy hand, they are satisfied with good. Thou dost hide Thy face, they are dismayed; Thou dost take away their spirit, they expire, And return to their dust. Thou dost send forth Thy Spirit, they are created; And Thou dost renew the face of the ground (Psalm 104:21-30).
The Bible always represents nature as under God’s control. The forces of nature are at His disposal, carrying out His purposes. While Job’s friend, Elihu, may have been wrong in his application of truth, he understood God to be in complete control of nature, His servant:
Listen closely to the thunder of His voice, And the rumbling that goes out from His mouth. Under the whole heaven He lets it loose, And His lightning to the ends of the earth. After it, a voice roars; He thunders with His majestic voice; And He does not restrain the lightnings when His voice is heard. God thunders with His voice wondrously, Doing great things which we cannot comprehend. For to the snow He says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ And to the downpour and the rain, ‘Be strong.’ He seals the hand of every man, That all men may know His work. Then the beast goes into its lair, And remains in its den. Out of the south comes the storm, And out of the north the cold. From the breath of God ice is made, And the expanse of the waters is frozen. Also with moisture He loads the thick cloud; He disperses the cloud of His lightning. And it changes direction, turning around by His guidance, That it may do whatever He commands it On the face of the inhabited earth. Whether for correction, or for His world, Or for lovingkindness, He causes it to happen (Job 37:2-13).51
We can learn much about God by considering the works of His hands. Creation highlights a number of God’s attributes--His character traits. Notice His attributes in the following:
(1) Creation witnesses to God’s invisible attributes of eternal power and divine nature.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse (Romans 1:18-20).
When Israel went forth from Egypt, The house of Jacob from a people of strange language, Judah became His sanctuary, Israel, His dominion. The sea looked and fled; The Jordan turned back. The mountains skipped like rams, The hills, like lambs. What ails you, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back? O mountains, that you skip like rams? O hills, like lambs? Tremble, O earth, before the Lord, Before the God of Jacob, Who turned the rock into a pool of water, The flint into a fountain of water (Psalm 114:1-8).
(2) Creation witnesses to God’s grace.
But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:44-45).
(3) Creation witnesses to God’s faithfulness in caring for His creatures.
And why are you anxious about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these. But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith? Do not be anxious then, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?’ For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things (Matthew 6:28-32).
(4) Nature reveals God’s infinite knowledge.
Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows (Matthew 10:29-31).
(5) Nature reveals God’s infinite wisdom. In Proverbs, wisdom speaks, as one present and involved at the creation of the world.
The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way, Before His works of old. From everlasting I was established, From the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, When there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, Before the hills I was brought forth; While He had not yet made the earth and the fields, Nor the first dust of the world. When He established the heavens, I was there, When He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep, When He made firm the skies above, When the springs of the deep became fixed, When He set for the sea its boundary, So that the water should not transgress His command, When He marked out the foundations of the earth; Then I was beside Him, as a master workman; And I was daily His delight, Rejoicing always before Him, Rejoicing in the world, His earth, And having my delight in the sons of men (Proverbs 8:22-31).
When Job questioned God’s dealings with him in all of his adversity, he questioned the wisdom of God. God rebuked Job, reminding him of His wisdom as seen in creation:
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, “Who is this that darkens counsel By words without knowledge? Now gird up your loins like a man, And I will ask you, and you instruct Me! Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, Who set its measurements, since you know? Or who stretched the line on it? On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone, When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:1-7; see all of chapters 38 and 39).
(6) Nature reveals God’s holiness. When God delivered His law to the people of Israel from Mt. Sinai, the forces of nature were present to bear witness to the holiness of the One speaking:
So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder. And the Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain; and the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up (Exodus 19:16-20; see 20:18).
(7) Nature reveals God’s glory. In Psalm 19, David praises God for the two forms of revelation known to him--nature (verses 1-6) and biblical revelation, the Law (verses 7-14). David writes that nature continues to reveal the glory of God to men:
The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. there is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their utterances to the end of the world. In them He has placed a tent for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; It rejoices as a strong man to run his course. Its rising is from one end of the heavens, And its circuit to the other end of them; And there is nothing hidden from its heat (Psalm 19:1-6).
(8) Nature reveals God’s righteousness.
The Mighty One, God, the Lord, has spoken, And summoned the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shone forth. May our God come and not keep silence; Fire devours before Him, And it is very tempestuous around Him. He summons the heavens above, And the earth, to judge His people: “Gather My godly ones to Me, Those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice.” And the heavens declare His righteousness, For God Himself is judge. Selah (Psalm 50:1-6).
The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice; Let the many islands be glad. Clouds and thick darkness surround Him; Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne. Fire goes before Him, And burns up His adversaries round about. His lightnings lit up the world; The earth saw and trembled. The mountains melted like wax at the presence of the Lord, At the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. The heavens declare His righteousness, And all the peoples have seen His glory (Psalm 97:1-6).
(9) Nature reveals a certain standard of conduct. The expression “contrary to nature” or “unnatural” can be used to describe not only fallen man’s worship but also his behavior:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error (Romans 1:18-27).
The practice of homosexuality among men is inconsistent with the practice of nature. Man’s “natural function” is to worship God. Instead, man’s sin manifests itself in self-worship. The natural function of man is to be drawn to the opposite sex. The unnatural functions of homosexuality are the manifestations of man’s sin. Nature demonstrates a standard of conduct which sinful men violate.
Repeatedly the Scriptures turn man’s attention to nature to illustrate lessons about life and conduct. Notice these passages in Proverbs which teach men about wisdom from nature:
Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise, Which, having no chief, officer or ruler, Prepares her food in the summer, And gathers her provision in the harvest. How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? “A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest” --And your poverty will come in like a vagabond, And your need like an armed man (Proverbs 6:6-11).
Four things are small on the earth, But they are exceedingly wise: The ants are not a strong folk, But they prepare their food in the summer; The badgers are not mighty folk, Yet they make their houses in the rocks; The locusts have no king, Yet all of them go out in ranks; The lizard you may grasp with the hands, Yet it is in kings’ palaces (Proverbs 30:24-28).
Nature is God’s picture book for man, much like the picture books we give to children who are not yet able to read. The pictures tell the same story the Bible tells with words. Like the Bible, fallen men cannot and will not grasp the meaning and the message God communicates to them. The teaching from nature, like that of the Bible, is turned upside-down and inside-out, to man’s condemnation.
Nature is God’s willing servant, subject to the will and the Word of God. God often employs the forces of nature to achieve His purposes. Consider the following uses God makes of nature:
(1) God employed the forces of nature in the flood:
The Lord sat as King at the flood; Yes, the Lord sits as King forever (Psalm 29:10).
(2) God employed nature both to bless His people for their faith and obedience, and to curse them for their rebellion. The cursings and blessings God promised His people were only possible through God’s control of nature:
You shall therefore keep every commandment which I am commanding you today, so that you may be strong and go in and possess the land into which you are about to cross to possess it; so that you may prolong your days on the land which the Lord swore to your fathers to give to them and to their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey. For the land, into which you are entering to possess it, is not like the land of Egypt from which you came, where you used to sow your seed and water it with your foot like a vegetable garden. But the land into which you are about to cross to possess it, a land of hills and valleys, drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which the Lord your God cares; the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning even to the end of the year. And it shall come about, if you listen obediently to my commandments which I am commanding you today, to love the Lord your God and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul, that He will give the rain for your land in its season, the early and late rain, that you may gather in your grain and your new wine and your oil. And He will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you shall eat and be satisfied. Beware, lest your hearts be deceived and you turn away and serve other gods and worship them. Or the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and He will shut up the heavens so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its fruit; and you will perish quickly from the good land which the Lord is giving you (Deuteronomy 11:8-17).53
(3) As the Protector of His people, God employed the forces of nature to defeat the enemies of Israel. The plagues God brought upon the Egyptians were largely accomplished through the forces of nature.
The Lord is a warrior; The Lord is His name. Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He has cast into the sea; And the choicest of his officers are drowned in the Red Sea. The deeps cover them; They went down into the depths like a stone. Thy right hand, O Lord, is majestic in power, Thy right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy. And in the greatness of Thine excellence Thou dost overthrow those who rise up against Thee; Thou dost send forth Thy burning anger, and it consumes them as chaff. And at the blast of Thy nostrils the waters were piled up, The flowing waters stood up like a heap; The deeps were congealed in the heart of the sea. The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; My desire shall be gratified against them; I will draw out my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’ Thou didst blow with Thy wind, the sea covered them; They sank like lead in the mighty waters. Who is like Thee among the gods, O Lord? Who is like Thee, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders? Thou didst stretch out Thy right hand, The earth swallowed them (Exodus 15:3-12).54
Just as God employed the forces of nature to free His people from their Egyptian bondage, so He would use nature to give the Israelites victory over their enemies--in a way that would remind them that He had given the victory:
So Joshua came upon them suddenly by marching all night from Gilgal. And the Lord confounded them before Israel, and He slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and pursued them by the way of the ascent of Beth-horon, and struck them as far as Azekah and Makkedah. And it came about as they fled from before Israel, while they were at the descent of Beth-horon, that the Lord threw large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died; there were more who died from the hailstones than those whom the sons of Israel killed with the sword (Joshua 10:9-11).
David understood that deliverance comes from the Lord. In giving praise for God’s intervention, he highlights God’s control over nature. His rescue was as though God had brought all of nature into play:
In my distress I called upon the Lord, Yes, I cried to my God; And from His temple He heard my voice, And my cry for help came into His ears. Then the earth shook and quaked, The foundations of heaven were trembling And were shaken, because He was angry. Smoke went up out of His nostrils, And fire from His mouth devoured; Coals were kindled by it. He bowed the heavens also, and came down With thick darkness under His feet. And He rode on a cherub and flew; And He appeared on the wings of the wind. And He made darkness canopies around Him, A mass of waters, thick clouds of the sky. From the brightness before Him Coals of fire were kindled. The Lord thundered from heaven, And the Most High uttered His voice. And He sent out arrows, and scattered them, Lightning, and routed them. Then the channels of the sea appeared, The foundations of the world were laid bare, By the rebuke of the Lord, At the blast of the breath of His nostrils. He sent from on high, He took me; He drew me out of many waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy, From those who hated me, for they were too strong for me (2 Samuel 22:7-18).56
Nature also serves God by giving praise to Him. It may sound strange to our ears, but nature does praise God:
How lovely are Thy dwelling places, O Lord of hosts! My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the Lord; My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. The bird also has found a house, And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, Even Thine altars, O Lord of hosts, My King and my God. How blessed are those who dwell in Thy house! They are ever praising Thee. Selah (Psalm 84:1-4).
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; Let the sea roar, and all it contains; Let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy Before the Lord, for He is coming; For He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, And the peoples in His faithfulness (Psalm 96:11-13).
Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; Break forth and sing for joy and sing praises. Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre; With the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn Shout joyfully before the King, the Lord. Let the sea roar and all it contains, The world and those who dwell in it. Let the rivers clap their hands; Let the mountains sing together for joy Before the Lord; for He is coming to judge the earth; He will judge the world with righteousness, And the peoples with equity (Psalm 98:4-9).57
God’s coming judgment is prominent in these praises. Just as we await the day of God’s judgment, which precedes the establishment of His kingdom, so creation praises God that this day is coming.
When God spoke through the prophets to tell Israel what He was going to accomplish, He often called upon nature as His witness. The God who speaks words of promise is the Creator of heaven and earth--and the Sustainer and Controller of creation. What God has done and continues to do through creation is our assurance of what He can do and will do. God’s Word brought the world into existence; God’s Word will also bring about His promises:
I, even I, am He who comforts you. Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, And of the son of man who is made like grass; That you have forgotten the Lord your Maker, Who stretched out the heavens, And laid the foundations of the earth; That you fear continually all day long because of the fury of the oppressor, As he makes ready to destroy? But where is the fury of the oppressor? The exile will soon be set free, and will not die in the dungeon, nor will his bread be lacking. For I am the Lord your God, who stirs up the sea and its waves roar (the Lord of hosts is His name). “And I have put My words in your mouth, and have covered you with the shadow of My hand, to establish the heavens, to found the earth, and to say to Zion, ‘You are My people’ (Isaiah 51:12-16).
For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth, And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. For you will go out with joy, And be led forth with peace; The mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you, And all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thorn bush the cypress will come up; And instead of the nettle the myrtle will come up; And it will be a memorial to the Lord, For an everlasting sign which will not be cut off (Isaiah 55:8-13).
Under His sovereign hand, nature ultimately does God’s bidding. But nature also has been placed under man’s dominion.
Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind”; and it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food “;and it was so. And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day (Genesis 1:24-31).58
The heavens are the heavens of the Lord; but the earth He has given to the sons of men (Psalm 115:16).
Being under man’s dominion, nature also has suffered the consequences of man’s sin. Nature’s present state is one of suffering and groaning, awaiting in hope its day of redemption:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it (Romans 8:18-25).
Nature was subjected to its present state due to the fall of man. Its future deliverance will come when the redemption of man is completed, a future day known in this text as the “revelation of the sons of God.” On that day sin, death, and Satan will be removed and redeemed men will reign with Christ over all creation.
Let us briefly survey the role of nature in the outworking of God’s plan for creation.
(1) Nature before the fall. Nature’s state before the fall was one of peace and harmony. Men did not eat animals nor, it seems, did the animals eat each other. There was no shedding of blood.
Immediately after the fall, things changed, and nature began to suffer. Blood was shed to provide a covering for Adam and Eve and a sacrifice pleasing to God (see Genesis 3:21; 4:4). After the judgment of the flood, God put a fear of man in the animals59 and permitted man to eat the meat of all the animals, so long as the blood was removed:
And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. And the fear of you and the terror of you shall be on every beast of the earth and on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea, into your hand they are given. Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood (Genesis 1:29-30).
When the Law of Moses was given to the Israelite nation, men were still allowed to eat meat. But now it was only certain “clean” meat and only when killed and eaten as God commanded. The prophets spoke of a future day when God’s redemption of man and nature was complete and man and nature would leave in harmony:
And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, And the leopard will lie down with the kid, And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little boy will lead them. Also the cow and the bear will graze; Their young will lie down together; And the lion will eat straw like the ox. And the nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den. They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord As the waters cover the sea. Then it will come about in that day That the nations will resort to the root of Jesse, Who will stand as a signal for the peoples; And His resting place will be glorious (Isaiah 11:6-10).
(2) Nature at the time of our Lord’s appearance on earth. Not surprisingly, nature responds to our Lord’s earthly appearance:
Nature reveals the place and the time of Messiah’s birth:
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.” . . . And having heard the king, they went their way; and lo, the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them, until it came and stood over where the Child was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And they came into the house and saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell down and worshiped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11).
Jesus demonstrated His power over nature when he turned the water into wine (John 2:1-11) and when He walked on the waters of the Sea of Galilee and stilled the storm (Matthew 14:24-33).60 Our Lord’s power over nature was evidenced at His triumphal entry, when He rode an unbroken colt of a donkey into the crowded streets of Jerusalem. When on the occasion of our Lord’s triumphal entry the Pharisees wanted Jesus to silence the praise of the crowds, Jesus refused. His words are most enlightening:
And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” And He answered and said, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19:39-40).
Had not one single person praised Messiah at His appearance, nature would have. Nature could not keep silence. Even the rocks would cry out. And nature did speak out. While our Lord was on the cross, darkness came during daylight hours, and men took note (Luke 23:44-47). When our Lord was raised from the dead, nature again played its part. In their own way, the rocks cried out:
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, and the earth shook; and the rocks were split, and the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:50-54).
(3) Nature during the Great Tribulation. Fallen men have always wanted God to leave them alone in their sin. But in His lovingkindness and longsuffering, God perseveres with men. A day is coming when men will get what they want and what they deserve. The traumatic, troublesome time of the Great Tribulation looms before man. Nature again will be very much involved during the tribulation events.
Behold, the day of the Lord is coming, Cruel, with fury and burning anger, To make the land a desolation; And He will exterminate its sinners from it. For the stars of heaven and their constellations Will not flash forth their light; The sun will be dark when it rises, And the moon will not shed its light. Thus I will punish the world for its evil, And the wicked for their iniquity; I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud, And abase the haughtiness of the ruthless. I will make mortal man scarcer than pure gold, And mankind than the gold of Ophir. Therefore I shall make the heavens tremble, And the earth will be shaken from its place At the fury of the Lord of hosts In the day of His burning anger (Isaiah 13:9-13).
And I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth, Blood, fire, and columns of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be delivered; For on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem There will be those who escape, As the Lord has said, Even among the survivors whom the Lord calls (Joel 2:30-32).61
The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob, Indeed, I will never forget any of their deeds. Because of this will not the land quake And everyone who dwells in it mourn? Indeed, all of it will rise up like the Nile, And it will be tossed about, And subside like the Nile of Egypt. And it will come about in that day,” declares the Lord God, “That I shall make the sun go down at noon And make the earth dark in broad daylight (Amos 8:7-9).
But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken, and then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other (Matthew 24:29-31).
And I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. And the sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come; and who is able to stand?” (Revelation 6:12-17).
And the fourth angel sounded, and a third of the sun and a third of the moon and a third of the stars were smitten, so that a third of them might be darkened and the day might not shine for a third of it, and the night in the same way (Revelation 8:12).
The Great Tribulation gives men what they have wanted and deserved. But it will not be what men expect. The very God who has invisibly held nature together will suddenly release nature from His controlling hand. Creation will become random chaos, as God now allows it to run in the very fashion the unbelieving mind had thought. No order, no control, no predictability will exist. The sun may fail to rise, even though morning has come. The stars, once predictable in their courses, will begin to fall. Creation’s randomness will be frightening and deadly. Men will cry out, wishing to die rather than live with such conditions. Yet men will be getting exactly what they thought they wanted.
During this time of great disaster, God’s wrath will be poured out upon sinful men for their unbelief and rebellion against Him. History’s most dreaded time will have come--until hell becomes the place of final, eternal torment for those who reject God’s offer of His Son.
(4) Nature after the revelation of the sons of God. Nature’s last state is even better than the first state of Genesis 1 and 2. Revelation 21 and 22 describes the fulfillment of all the prophets foretold concerning nature in the kingdom of God.
It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall graze together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain,” says the Lord (Isaiah 65:24-25).
In that day I will also make a covenant for them With the beasts of the field, The birds of the sky, And the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, And will make them lie down in safety (Hosea 2:18).
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away. And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” And He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” And one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues, came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I shall show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are those of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west. And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And the one who spoke with me had a gold measuring rod to measure the city, and its gates and its wall. And the city is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as the width; and he measured the city with the rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal. And he measured its wall, seventy-two yards, according to human measurements, which are also angelic measurements. And the material of the wall was jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation stone was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. And I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. And the nations shall walk by its light, and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it. And in the daytime (for there shall be no night there) its gates shall never be closed; and they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. And he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. And on either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His bond-servants shall serve Him; and they shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. And there shall no longer be any night; and they shall not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall illumine them; and they shall reign forever and ever. And he said to me, “These words are faithful and true”; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His bond-servants the things which must shortly take place (Revelation 21:1--22:5).
Throughout Scripture, our study has revealed nature’s part in God’s plan for creation. What conclusions and implications for our lives can be drawn from our study? Allow me to suggest the following:
(1) God has revealed Himself by means of His Word. His word is revealed “in pictures” by creation. It is revealed in “proclamations” in His written Word, the Bible. His word was finally and fully revealed “in person” at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they (Hebrews 1:1-4).
(2) Nature is the work of God; to the degree it reflects the Creator, it bears testimony to His nature and attributes. Indeed, much can be learned about God from the Scriptures. But what we read about in words, we can also see in the world around us. Not many years ago, Christians were deeply involved in the sciences. Because of their understanding of God and His creation, they were able to take part in important scientific discoveries. I fear some Christians have distanced themselves from science because of the recent divorce between the sciences and Christianity. The conflict of some scientists and Christians over the theory of evolution probably explains this. Our study should have convinced us that God is the Creator, and creation is His handiwork. There can be no contradiction between true science and correct biblical interpretation. Let us therefore not forsake the sciences as though they were contradictory to our faith. Faith opens one’s eyes to the works of God. Unbelief blinds men from the message nature proclaims.
(3) Nature should prompt our worship. Those hymns which turn our hearts to God in worship are right to do so. Paul’s words in Romans 1 infer that the revelation of God in nature should have prompted men to worship--God. Instead, men chose to worship the creation, including man. While the revelation of God in nature is not sufficient to save a man, when rejected, it is sufficient to condemn him. Rejection of God’s revelation in nature condemns the heathen.62 Those who have come to know God in Christ should also be able to recognize Him in His handiwork of creation. When we behold the work of His hands, we must praise Him.
Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, Thou art very great; Thou art clothed with splendor and majesty, Covering Thyself with light as with a cloak, Stretching out heaven like a tent curtain. He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters; He makes the clouds His chariot; He walks upon the wings of the wind; He makes the winds His messengers, Flaming fire His ministers. He established the earth upon its foundations, So that it will not totter forever and ever. Thou didst cover it with the deep as with a garment; The waters were standing above the mountains. At Thy rebuke they fled; At the sound of Thy thunder they hurried away. The mountains rose; the valleys sank down To the place which Thou didst establish for them. Thou didst set a boundary that they may not pass over; That they may not return to cover the earth. He sends forth springs in the valleys; They flow between the mountains; They give drink to every beast of the field; The wild donkeys quench their thirst. Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; They lift up their voices among the branches. He waters the mountains from His upper chambers; The earth is satisfied with the fruit of His works. He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the labor of man, So that he may bring forth food from the earth, And wine which makes man’s heart glad, So that he may make his face glisten with oil, And food which sustains man’s heart. The trees of the Lord drink their fill, The cedars of Lebanon which He planted, Where the birds build their nests, And the stork, whose home is the fir trees. The high mountains are for the wild goats; The cliffs are a refuge for the rock badgers. He made the moon for the seasons; The sun knows the place of its setting. Thou dost appoint darkness and it becomes night, In which all the beasts of the forest prowl about. The young lions roar after their prey, And seek their food from God. When the sun rises they withdraw, And lie down in their dens. Man goes forth to his work And to his labor until evening. O Lord, how many are Thy works! In wisdom Thou hast made them all; The earth is full of Thy possessions. There is the sea, great and broad, In which are swarms without number, Animals both small and great. There the ships move along, And Leviathan, which Thou hast formed to sport in it. They all wait for Thee, To give them their food in due season. Thou dost give to them, they gather it up; Thou dost open Thy hand, they are satisfied with good. Thou dost hide Thy face, they are dismayed; Thou dost take away their spirit, they expire, And return to their dust. Thou dost send forth Thy Spirit, they are created; And Thou dost renew the face of the ground. Let the glory of the Lord endure forever; Let the Lord be glad in His works; He looks at the earth, and it trembles; He touches the mountains, and they smoke. I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. Let my meditation be pleasing to Him; As for me, I shall be glad in the Lord. Let sinners be consumed from the earth, And let the wicked be no more. Bless the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord! (Psalm 104)
(4) Biblical teaching of nature’s part in God’s eternal plan exposes much error in the contemporary “save the planet” environmentalist movements. In the recent emphasis on “Earth Day,” I did not hear one word about God, the Creator. To the contrary, some in this new movement look upon nature as god and even suppose that the plants and animals have spirits. The mind of fallen man becomes more and more twisted; now some environmentalists suggest abortion to prevent harming the earth by added populations.
“Save the planet” movements do not view man’s role in God’s creation biblically. In their thinking, the earth belongs not to God but to man. They reject biblical teaching that this world must suffer and in the end be destroyed to be replaced with a new heaven and a new earth. To the unbelieving mind, this planet is all we have, and its destruction spells doom and disaster. There is frantic effort to save that which God has promised to destroy and replace.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:10-13).
Perhaps this movement’s greatest error is failing to see man’s sin as the real pollution contaminating the earth and the true source of the problem for all creation. The Bible speaks a great deal about sin’s pollution.
If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death at the evidence of witnesses, but no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness. Moreover, you shall not take ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death. And you shall not take ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge, that he may return to live in the land before the death of the priest. So you shall not pollute the land in which you are; for blood pollutes the land and no expiation can be made for the land for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it. And you shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell; for I the Lord am dwelling in the midst of the sons of Israel (Numbers 35:30-34).
They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons, And shed innocent blood, The blood of their sons and their daughters, Whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan; And the land was polluted with the blood. Thus they became unclean in their practices, And played the harlot in their deeds (Psalm 106:37-39).
Behold, the Lord lays the earth waste, devastates it, distorts its surface, and scatters its inhabitants. And the people will be like the priest, the servant like his master, the maid like her mistress, the buyer like the seller, the lender like the borrower, the creditor like the debtor. The earth will be completely laid waste and completely despoiled, for the Lord has spoken this word. The earth mourns and withers, the world fades and withers, the exalted of the people of the earth fade away. The earth is also polluted by its inhabitants, for they transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant. Therefore, a curse devours the earth, and those who live in it are held guilty. Therefore, the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men are left (Isaiah 24:1-6).
God says, “If a husband divorces his wife, and she goes from him, and belongs to another man, will he still return to her? Will not that land be completely polluted? But you are a harlot with many lovers; yet you turn to Me,” declares the Lord. Lift up your eyes to the bare heights and see; Where have you not been violated? By the roads you have sat for them like an Arab in the desert, and you have polluted a land with your harlotry and with your wickedness. Therefore the showers have been withheld, and there has been no spring rain. Yet you had a harlot’s forehead; you refused to be ashamed. Have you not just now called to Me, ‘My Father, Thou art the friend of my youth? ‘Will He be angry forever? Will He be indignant to the end?’ Behold, you have spoken and have done evil things, and you have had your way.” Then the Lord said to me in the days of Josiah the king, have you seen what faithless Israel did? She went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and she was a harlot there. And I thought, ‘After she has done all these things, she will return to Me’; but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also. And it came about because of the lightness of her harlotry, that she polluted the land and committed adultery with stones and trees. And yet in spite of all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to Me with all her heart, but rather in deception, declares the Lord (Jeremiah 3:1-10).
And I will first doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted My land; they have filled My inheritance with the carcasses of their detestable idols and with their abominations (Jeremiah 16:18).
In light of God’s definition of pollution, the Hollywood celebrities’ protest against “pollution” and ways to save our planet are interesting. Pollution was reduced to styrofoam cups, disposable diapers, and exhaust fumes. But the pollution God hates most, that which He says defiles a land, Hollywood produces the most of: violence, sexual immorality, and idolatry.
(5) Christians do find instruction from the Scriptures which deal with nature. While Christians should be alert to the errors and dangers of the contemporary environmentalist movements, we also must be alert to our responsibilities to God and His creation.
We must first respect nature as God’s creation. We should have regard for the animals God has created:
“You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing” (Deuteronomy 25:4).
Second, we must take the defilement and pollution of His creation as seriously as He does. God drove the Canaanites out of the promised land and later the Israelites, because they defiled the land:
Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. For the land has become defiled, therefore I have visited its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants. But as for you, you are to keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not do any of these abominations, neither the native, nor the alien who sojourns among you (for the men of the land who have been before you have done all these abominations, and the land has become defiled); so that the land may not spew you out, should you defile it, as it has spewed out the nation which has been before you. For whoever does any of these abominations, those persons who do so shall be cut off from among their people. Thus you are to keep My charge, that you do not practice any of the abominable customs which have been practiced before you, so as not to defile yourselves with them; I am the Lord your God (Leviticus 18:24-30).64
Man has been given charge of nature as a stewardship. As such, we will give account to God for the way we manage this responsibility. Some may think that since the earth must perish to be replaced by a new heaven and earth, what we do to this creation does not matter. We should be reminded that our bodies too must perish to be replaced by a new creation. Nevertheless, we are stewards of these earthly temples, and God takes this stewardship seriously (see 1 Corinthians 6:12-20). In whatever time remains for this creation and for our bodies, let us practice wise stewardship. Our relationship with God should be reflected in our treatment of His creation.
I believe our environment is sending us a message we should heed. The devastation and deterioration of our environment shouts to us about the sinfulness of man, the source of the earth’s woes. It also shouts that time is running out for the return of our Lord. There is only one hope. That hope is not in saving our planet, but in the salvation of men. The earth eagerly awaits the “revelation of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19). Its day of deliverance will come when the present heavens and earth are replaced by new ones. In that day, the Son of God will rule, along with the “sons of God,” those who have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Creator and Redeemer. These “new creations” (see 2 Corinthians 5:17) will rule His new creation. For that day, all creation eagerly awaits.
(1) What is the purpose which God’s plan is bringing to pass? What role does nature play in this purpose?
The purpose of God’s eternal plan for creation is to display His glory (see Ephesians 1). Nature reveals the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). Nature not only serves to reveal God to men, but it is used by God to fulfill His purposes and promises. God uses the forces of nature to bless and to punish men and to overcome the enemies of His people (see Deuteronomy 11:10-17; 28:12, 23-24; Exodus 4-15; Joshua 10:11; 24:12). Nature bore witness to our Lord Jesus Christ (see Matthew 2:1-9; 27:45, 51). In the Great Tribulation, the chaos of nature will serve as a divine judgment on sinful men (see Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15; Matthew 24:29; Revelation 6;12-13; 8:12; 16:1ff.). Nature also takes part in the praise of God (see Psalm 84:1-4; 96:11-13; 98:4-9).
(2) What part did nature play in the program God established in the garden of Eden before the fall of man?
God created the earth as the sphere over which man was to exercise authority in God’s image. Adam was placed in the garden to keep or cultivate it (see Genesis 2:5ff.), and in the world at large to rule over it (Genesis 1:26).
(3) What part did nature play in the account of the fall (what elements of nature were involved)?
The serpent, which was a part of God’s creation, was the instrument by which Satan tempted Adam and Eve and orchestrated their downfall (Genesis 3:1). The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a part of God’s creation; its fruit was the only fruit which was forbidden (Genesis 2:16-17). When Adam and Eve fell, the whole creation was corrupted by man’s sin and still awaits the day of its deliverance (Romans 8:18-25). The salvation which God promised man also includes the redemption of the rest of His creation (Colossians 1:19-20).
(4) What part does nature play in fallen man’s religion and worship (see Romans 1)?
Fallen man tends to worship the creation rather than the Creator. To do this, man rejects the revelation of God in nature and worships the works of his own hands (Romans 1:18-23). Natural man worships the creation because he wants to control his own fate. He worships fertility gods so his cattle and crops will reproduce. In contrast, God calls upon His people to trust and obey Him, and He will give the land rain and make their crops and cattle prosper (see Deuteronomy 28).
(5) How is nature presently affected by the fall of man and man’s sin?
Creation has been greatly affected by the fall. Once, all creation lived in harmony. There was no shedding of blood. The eating of meat and the sacrificial system changed this. Also, some animals in nature now feed upon others. The whole earth suffers and groans, waiting the future day of its redemption (see Romans 8;18-25).
(6) What part does nature play in God’s deliverance of His people and in His judgment on sinners?
God not only controls and sustains nature, He uses nature to accomplish His purposes. He uses it to bless and to curse His people (Deuteronomy 28). God employed nature to judge the Egyptians and to deliver His people from their bondage (see Exodus 4-15). God used the forces of nature (like hailstones and bees) to defeat Israel’s enemies (see Joshua 10:9-11; 24:12). In the Great Tribulation period, God will temporarily let nature run randomly, rather than in the order God designed for it. The results will be chaotic and traumatic, bringing God’s judgment on sinful men (see Isaiah 13:9-13; Joel 2:30-32; Amos 8:7-9; Revelation 6:12-17; 8:12).
(7) What is nature’s hope? How will nature be changed?
Nature’s present agony is the result of man’s fall and the curse of sin. Its hope is man’s redemption, and its own, through the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ, His kingdom, and the revelation of the sons of God (Romans 8:18-25).
(8) What part did nature play in our Lord’s first coming?
Nature bore witness to the time and place of the Messiah’s birth through the star (see Matthew 2:1-11). Jesus demonstrated His power over nature by turning water into wine (John 2:1-11), by walking on the Sea of Galilee and stilling its storm (Matthew 14:24-33), at His triumphal entry by riding the unbroken colt of a donkey (Matthew 21:1-11). Nature bore witness at His crucifixion and resurrection by the darkness and the earthquake (Matthew 27:50-54; Luke 22:44-47).
(9) What can we learn from nature?
Nature reveals much to us about God and His character (see Exodus 19:16-20; Job 38 & 39; Psalm 19:1-6; 50:1-6; 114:1-8; Proverbs 8:22-31; Matthew 5:44-45; 6:28-32; 10:29-31; Romans 1:18-20). Nature has much to teach us about what is moral (Romans 1:18-32) as well as what is practical and wise (Proverbs 6:6-11; 30:24-28).
(10) Can we learn anything from nature which is not found in the Bible? Why are there “two books” so to speak, the book of nature and the Bible (see Psalm 19)?
I understand God to have revealed Himself in three ways: through natural revelation (His creation; Psalm 19:1-6); through Scripture (Psalm 19:7ff.); and, through His Son (Hebrews 1:1-3). The revelation of each of these means is consistent with that of the others. Each reveals God in a slightly different way--in such a way that all man’s senses and learning capabilities are addressed. All men have received at least the revelation of God in nature. To reject this revelation is to be found worthy of divine wrath. To come to a saving knowledge of Christ requires the proclamation and reception of the gospel (see Romans 10:6-15).
(11) How does our culture view nature? How does the Bible’s view of nature differ?
Our culture’s view of culture has changed significantly. Nature used to be seen as the handiwork of God. Then it became “mother nature,” making it possible for men to rationalize away God as the Creator. Recently, nature has become a kind of “god” in its own right.
In a very frightening way, some environmentalists are eager to “save the planet” at man’s expense. Some advocate abortion, so that overpopulation will not do further harm to the earth.
Nature, in the secular mind belongs to man. There is no hope of a “new heaven and earth;” thus, whatever we can do to save the planet must be done now. There is no concept of a stewardship, that the earth is the Lord’s and we are stewards of it. There is no concept of self-sacrifice. A comment something like this was made on a recent environmental film: “The cornerstone of the new environmentalists is self-interest.”
The Bible views creation as God’s handiwork. It reveals much about God and about wise living. It has fallen under the curse of man’s sin, and thus there is suffering and groaning. Nature not only reveals much about God and His righteousness but also about man and his sin. Nature gives men good reason to praise God. Nature itself joins in the praise of God. Nature awaits its future day of deliverance when the Son of God and the sons of God are revealed. Then the new heavens and the new earth will be ruled in righteousness and peace by God Himself and by those who love Him.
(12) What dangers Christians should be aware of with the contemporary “save the plant” movements?
The environmentalist movements of our day are almost entirely secular. Some are radical. Many seem to be a part of the “new age” movement. Some in the movement even seem to be returning to ancient, heathen nature worship. While we should be good stewards of God’s creation, we ought not to become “unequally yoked” with those whose goal and means are vastly different from our own (see 2 Corinthians 6:14-18).
(13) What about those who say they can worship God better out in the woods camping or out on the lake fishing or water skiing?
Nature does prompt men to worship God (Romans 1:18-23). Nevertheless, the worship of God involves sacrifices. The “worship” which men engage in “in the woods” or “out on the lake” is inclined to be either nature worship or mere self-indulgence. Worship can be individual and private, but this in no way replaces the corporate worship of the Christian (see Hebrews 10:19-25).
(14) What is our responsibility as Christians toward our environment? How should the fact that this world is going to be destroyed affect our attitudes and actions as Christians (see 2 Peter 3)?
We are to learn from God’s creation and to be good stewards of it, even though it will perish. Knowing it will perish, we are to look for and hasten the day of the Lord. Knowing that all of the things of this world will perish, we should avoid becoming attached to material possessions, but rather “lay up treasure in heaven” (see Matthew 6;19-21).
Genesis 1-3, 4, 9; 12:1, 7-8; 13:14-18; 14:19, 22; 15:12-21; 28:10-17
Exodus 4-14 (the plagues); 15:3-12; 19:16-20; 20:18; 23:28
Leviticus 18:24-30; 25:1-7; 26 (all)
Deuteronomy 7:20; 11:8-17; 25:4; 28:12, 23-24
Joshua 10:9-11; 24:12
2 Samuel 22:7-18
Job 37:1-13; 38 & 39 (all)
Psalm 8; 18:7-15; 19; 24:1-2; 29:10; 33:6-9; 50:1-6; 65:9-13; 66:3-7; 68:7-10, 32-35; 75:3; 84:1-4; 89:11; 93:1-2; 96:11-13; 97:1-6; 98:4-9; 103:11-12; 104 (all); 106:37-39; 114:1-8; 115:16; 144 (all); 47:7-9, 12-18; 148 (all)
Proverbs 6:6-11; 8:22-31; 12:10; 30:24-28
Isaiah 11:6-10; 13:6-13; 14:8; 24:1-6, 17-23; 41:17-20; 45:8, 12, 18; 51:12-16; 55:6-13; 65:17-25
Jeremiah 3:1-10; 10:13; 16:18
Ezekiel 34:20-31; 32:7
Joel 2:10, 30-32; 3:14-16
Amos 4:7-9; 5:20; 8:7-9
Matthew 2:1-11; 5:44-45; 6:28-32; 10:29-31; 12:38-42; 13:31; 24:29-31; 27:50-54
Luke 8:22-25; 12:47-48; 19:39-40; 23:44-47
Romans 1:18-32; 8:18-25
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
2 Corinthians 5:17
2 Peter 3:10-13
Revelation 5:13; 6:12-17; 8:12; 10:6; 16:1f.; 21 and 22.
47 Throughout this lesson, nature and creation will be used interchangeably. Technically speaking, creation includes more than just nature (land, sea, plants, animals, weather). Creation includes spiritual forces which are invisible to us, while “nature” speaks of what we can see. Nevertheless, the terms “nature” and “creation” will be used interchangeably to emphasize that nature is God’s creation. The secular mind thinks of nature as distinct from God (“mother nature”) or, worse yet, as a god (“mother earth”?).
48 See also Revelation 5:13; 10:6.
49 See Genesis 14:19, 22.
50 See Isaiah 45:8, 12, 18.
51 You will recall the “forces of nature” brought about much of the calamity in Job’s life. See Job 1:16, 18-19.
52 For an excellent description of the way nature has impacted the thinking of the heathen about God, I suggest you read the fascinating book by Don Richardson entitled, Eternity In Their Hearts, Regal Books, 1984 (revised edition).
54 See chapters 4-14 of Exodus, and for a shorter, poetic version, see Psalm 144.
56 Compare Psalm 18.
58 See also Psalm 8:6-8.
59 Was this fear a kind of self-defense so the animals man would kill would tend to hide from their hunter? At the very least, this fear had something to do with a dominion over nature much different from that before the fall and the flood.
60 See also Luke 8:22-25.
62 Some protest that the heathen are condemned without ever hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Man’s rejection of the revelation of God in nature proves that man would reject any other revelation of God as well. In the final analysis, God is gracious to those who are condemned on the basis of their rejection of natural revelation, for those who know more are more accountable and will suffer greater condemnation (Luke 12:47-48; see also Matthew 12:38-42).
63 See also Jonah 4:9-11.
64 See also Genesis 15:16.