Weekend Broadcast

Natural Theology (Part 1)

A Message by R.C. Sproul

In Romans 1, we read that nature proclaims the existence of God.  But in recent years, many people have come to deny the possibility that we can learn anything about God from nature.  In this lesson, Dr. R.C. Sproul helps us understand the stakes in this debate, and shows how this “natural theology” can help us defend our faith.

From the series: Defending Your Faith

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    Natural Law

  2. devotional

    Does God Necessarily Exist?

  3. devotional

    The Word of God in Nature

Natural Law

Martin Luther’s speech when the Diet of Worms called him to recant his theological views is familiar to most of us: “Unless I am convinced by Scripture or by evident reason I cannot recant. For my conscience is held captive to the Word of God.” Of course, the term cannot does not mean Luther was intellectually or vocally unable to take back his statement of the gospel of Jesus Christ. What he meant was that he would not be able to recant without any consequences. Being subject to the Lord Himself, he could not bow to a different law with impunity.

As a consequence of being the Creator, God is the supreme authority for the entire universe. Everything in creation exists by His good pleasure, so He answers to none other (Gen. 1:1; Isa. 45:5). The lesser authorities found in the government and family derive their right to govern from the Lord (Rom. 13:1–7), but their rule over us is not absolute. Only His moral law binds our consciences, and we must obey Him even when doing so means we disobey lesser rulers in certain situations.

Our society has embraced moral relativism with a vengeance, at least verbally, but that any laws exist at all is a testimony to the existence of a supreme, objective authority. Human beings write laws because we know instinctively that there is a proper moral order to the universe. We make law because God’s law exists, in some sense, on the hearts of all people. Today’s passage leads us to this conclusion. Romans 2:14 cannot be read as giving the Gentiles the right to choose what is right and wrong from a variety of competing options. All Paul means is that the ethical standards of even the non-believers prove that all people are made in the Lord’s image and therefore have His moral principles on their consciences. Even those without access to Scripture outlaw the killing of innocent human beings and have clear determinations of when killing is murder and when it is not. The law of God on their hearts tells them there are cases when killing is clearly wrong, even if they do not always interpret this law rightly.

The lex naturalis, or natural law, is what theologians have called the universal sense of right and wrong. Western jurisprudence has been decisively shaped by it, although recent years have seen public education, elected officials, and law schools increasingly turn their backs on this time-honored concept.

Does God Necessarily Exist?

We live in an age of unparalleled skepticism about the essential content of the Christian faith. There is a tremendous doubt concerning the origin of human life and of the universe. It is held that we are cosmic accidents, grown-up germs that have emerged from the slime, having no significance and no dignity.

The secular skeptic knows that if he can demonstrate that God as Creator is unknowable or unprovable, that is as far as he needs to go to destroy all the truth claims of Christianity. This is because if there is no act of creation, then the whole idea of a redemption of that creation is just an illusion. All we have is "endless, changeless being" with "no vestige of beginning, no prospect of an end."

Thus, the technical and abstract question of whether or not we can demonstrate that there is some eternal, transcendent, self-existing Creator from whom all other life and reality derives is a critical issue. In fact, what we decide about this issue touches heavily upon everything else the church proclaims about Christ and God.

The philosophical argument for God's existence is this: If something exists now, then Something exists necessarily. What we mean by "necessary existence" is that there is Something that has the power of existence within itself eternally. That Being cannot not exist. It exists by the sheer power of what it is.

To come at it another way, let's assume that there was a time when there was absolutely nothing. You don't have to be a philosopher to answer the following question: If there were a time when there was absolutely nothing, then what would there be now? Absolutely nothing. You cannot get something from nothing. So, since the world presently does exist, there has to be something that has always existed. And, that Something must have sheer existence within itself.

Could this be the universe itself? No, because if the universe as a whole were self-existent, it could not change. Change means something is contingent, dependent, derived. Therefore, the self-existent Being must be the Creator of the universe of time and change.

The Word of God in Nature

As we have seen, God’s kingdom is administered through the covenants revealed in the Word of God. This concept of the Word of God is central to the biblical revelation — it can be traced through the Old and New Testaments.

The Word of God is contained in two books — the book of nature and the book of Scripture. Our concern today is with the book of nature or natural revelation, that knowledge about the Lord given in the created order. The Bible is clear that God reveals truth about Himself in the world around us, and today’s passage is one of the most important biblical texts on the reality of natural revelation.

David focuses on the skies in Psalm 19:1–6, and within the span of these six verses he tells us much about what natural revelation reveals to mankind. Chiefly, the natural world affirms the existence of a creator God who is full of glory (v. 1). Verse one refers to the “heavens” and the “sky,” which is translated elsewhere as “firmament” or “expanse.” We hear an echo of Genesis 1 wherein we read how God designed the “heavens” (v. 1) and the “expanse” to separate the waters (v. 6).

Natural revelation is spoken in a universal language — “there is no speech” where it goes unheard (Ps. 19:2–3). Therefore, the knowledge of God available in creation is a common ground with nonbelievers to which we can appeal to defend the existence of a Creator. In fact, natural revelation is so plain that it takes conscious suppression to deny it, as is seen in David’s use of the bridegroom analogy in verses 4–5. When a bridegroom left his chamber on his wedding day in the ancient world, his entire village would see it, and only liars or people intentionally indifferent could claim ignorance. Similarly, the rising and setting of the sun testifies clearly to the Lord’s work. Charles Spurgeon writes, “The witnesses above cannot be slain or silenced; from their elevated seats they constantly preach the knowledge of God, unawed and unbiased by the judgment of men” (comments on Ps. 19 from The Treasury of David).

Finally, natural revelation tells us judgment is coming. Old Testament references to the “anger of God” in English Bibles are often idiomatic translations of the literal Hebrew phrase “his nose was hot.” That nothing is hid from the sun’s heat (v. 6) is a reminder that no sin can escape the fire of our Creator’s anger.

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