Bridges & Pathways to Experiencing More of God: Nature, Part IV

In my previous three posts in this series I have suggested (1) that there are meaningful evidences rather than proofs for the reality of God to be seen in the creation, (2) that the Biblical materials are permeated with claims concerning various people experiencing God’s presence and empowering mediated in various ways through the creation, and (3) that beyond the well-known examples of Genesis and Job there are other scriptural passages that directly claim God is at times self-revealing through nature/creation. It is this third claim that I’d like to continue exploring here.

Psalm 8:3-9   3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,   the moon and the stars that you have established;   4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them,   mortals that you care for them?

5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God,  and crowned them with glory and honor.    6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;  you have put all things under their feet,   7 all sheep and oxen,  and also the beasts of the field,   8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,   whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

9 O LORD, our Sovereign,   how majestic is your name in all the earth!

This meditation on the claims of Genesis 1-2 in turn became the crux of a meditation on Jesus’ relationship to Psalm 8 in Hebrews 2:5-18. Psalm 8 is a faith statement that wrestles with the obvious smallness and fragility of humanity life in the cosmos, which is in dynamic tension with the unique creative powers that have been given by God to humans, and perhaps in even greater tension with the claim that the God who created this vast universe genuinely cares about us human beings who die. Are we humans really made to share the reign of God in the universe or even on the earth? It may not appear so in some ways, but it is never the less reality, the Psalmist claims. As we have further discovered the vastness of the macro and micro universe all around us, is “nature” in tension with experiences of God or is the creation a place we humans can see God and see God’s purpose in creating humans?

Certainly this question raised by the Psalmist is still at the center of the question of whether or not human cultures and human individuals have any meaning beyond those we make up for ourselves. And, it is passages like this—and those that directly celebrate humans as not only dirt and animal, but also “in the image of God” due to the incarnation of the spirit of God in humanity—that definitely express the Judeo-Christian view of humans as the highest of any religion or theology or philosophy. What can top the claim that we are made to be “in the likeness of God” and “we haven’t seen anything yet?”

Romans 1:18-23 18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. 19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22Claiming to be wise, they became fools; 23and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.  (See also Romans 2:14-17 for an extension of this claim.)

Here Paul claims something that is highly disputed by many modern thinkers while being definitely espoused by others. Although in no way is Paul claiming that the self-revealing claims of the Judeo-Christian experience of God is available through nature, Paul does claim that an honest encounter with the creation does include some kind of experience of God’s power and nature. Paul then presents three ethically laden conclusions based on this reality: (1) We humans have to suppress some kind of God experience in order to not see God through the creation; (2) this suppression does not really free us from God, but leads us to substitute something, some system, or someone else as a “god;” and (3) right at the moment of our greatest breakthroughs and insights which should lead us to humble gratitude, often we humans who should at that moment fall on our knees in gratitude to God for our breakthroughs instead at that very moment proclaim one of the gods we have made as “God” and descend further into darkness.

Paul’s claim is a theological statement of the narrative of Jacob’s experience recorded in Genesis 28. After a dream in which Jacob saw a ziggurat type building with a stairway upon which angels were going from earth to the heavens and then back to the earth, Jacob exclaims: “Surely the LORD is in this place—and I did not know it!” It is not God’s absence, but our limited vision that causes us to miss God’s presence even when we think we are all alone in the creation.

Today, we continue to gain insights into the adaptability built into the creation (“evolution”), the amazingly intricate “image of God” like creative functioning of the human brain, the possibility of the expanding universe emanating from a “big bang” moment, the amazingly powerful impact of our cultural worldviews on our thinking and knowledge, the dynamic relationship between human behavior and ecology, the informational transference accomplished through our DNA, the likelihood of dark matter and black holes, etc.. What would happen if we humans would appreciatively thank God for the privilege of discovering (at least barely and tentatively) the wondrous secrets that God is allowing us to fathom a bit better? Might this humble thankfulness lead to a blessedness far different from the head-in-the-sand fearful conservatism that attempts to deny the validity of these incredible, though very incomplete, discoveries? Might this humble thankfulness lead to a blessedness far different than our tendency to arrogantly proclaim ourselves as now so intellectually insightful that we now know we do not need God, we only need human brilliance, scientific methodology, the laws of physics, the laws of economics, cultural exceptionalism, military and industrial technology, and brain theory on the throne as gods? Wouldn’t it be great to find out if we could experience God’s presence and empowering in all these areas to a much greater extent, if we would just be thankful people?

I’ll share more thoughts after a guest blog from Elaine M. next week. Have a blessed Thanksgiving.

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