Weekend Broadcast

Natural Theology (Part 2)

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

    Recognizing the Earth Is the Lord's

  2. devotional

    Does God Necessarily Exist?

  3. devotional

    The Word of God in Nature

Recognizing the Earth Is the Lord's

It was Bonaventure who offered the thought: “In order that we may be able to extol and glorify God, and in order that we may advance to the knowledge of God, we must transfer to the divine that which pertains to the creature . . . nearly all creatures possess certain noble characteristics which furnish a source for our understanding of God, e.g., the lion possesses fortitude; the lamb, meekness; the rock, solidity; the serpent, prudencehence it is necessary that many names be transferred to God.” 

John Calvin agreed with these sentiments. “There is not an atom of the universe in which you cannot see some brilliant sparks at least of His glory.” 

The earth, nature that surrounds us, the world—everything is full of God. Nature is a glorious theater, a spectacular sound-and-light show of the beauty of God. But nature is not God. To worship the whole or any part of nature is idolatry. To confuse God and nature is to fall into pantheism, an intolerable monism that obscures the distinction between creatures and Creator.

 But the universe is God’s handiwork. It sparkles with the revelation of its Maker. It is not an independent entity existing alongside and apart from God. There is no dualism divorcing God from the world. The earth is the Lord’s. 

 

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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