Thursday, February 13, 2014

Nature seeks the supernatural

     In his book, The Everlasting Man, G.K. Chesterton makes an interesting comment, almost as an aside: "Nature is always looking for the supernatural." And so it is; therefore, a concise statement such as this is easy to brush over. But, like so much of Chesterton, upon closer examination, this little phrase gives us much to think about and, when comprehended, is able to rock the very foundations of conventional thought about nature and its connection to God. (For most think that nature stands alone, unknowing, and even Christians think that nature stand aside, unneeded.)
     My first thought was admittedly a bit mundane -- "that's how God feeds the animals." Psalm 104 teaches us that God is the almighty caregiver to all of nature; he provides water for plants, plants and water for birds, fish and animals. "These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things." (v. 27,28) Nature is not conscious of God's person, as we are, but it operates under his presence, ever sustained by his rule. Because it was not blinded by sin, nature unrelentingly gazes upon its Creator; yet the veil of our sin often blurs that view.
         Still, the beauty of nature reflects the glory of God through its steady gaze upon him. It points to the Creator and calls to us to look upwards as well. "I lift up my eyes to the hills -- where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth," affirms the Psalmist. The prophet Isaiah tells us that trees do not merely sway in the wind; they "clap their hands." Mountains and hills do not just rise majestically above the landscape; they "burst into song." Nature praises God unknowingly, for all that it is, and all that gives to us is wrapped up in the Creator's work within it. If you take him away, all of nature disappears; it cannot stand alone. Nature reflects God's purposes on a cosmic stage, as the dialogues in the book of Job reveal to us: Elihu says, "[God] brings the clouds to punish men, or to water his earth and show his love. Listen to this, Job; stop and consider God's wonders." (Job 37:13,14) Nature has not only a supernatural view, but a supernatural revelation as well.
        And mankind, God's own, created for fellowship with him, yet fallen into alienation and disobedience, also seeks (sometimes purposefully, often unknowingly) for God. Blaise Pascal wrote, "There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled be any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus." This hole in our hearts was formed by the destructive forces of sin that distance us from God and fill us with an undefinable despair. We try to fill this void with other things; either created things that we have twisted to fit our dark purposes, or fallen ideas that rise from the dregs of our troubled selves. Even when we see a connection to God in nature, we try to strip that away because we do not want to face God. Like Adam and Eve, we are still hiding in a beautiful, but shabby garden.
      Jesus alone is big enough and holy enough to fill the hole in our hearts. As he, by faith and with grace, enters in, he pushes aside the emptiness within our lifeless souls, and fill us with a glorious re-creation of life. Our nature now has not only sought but been found by the Supernatural. Jesus said, "But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." The gospel account adds that he said this to prophecy his death upon the Cross. A cross is a violation of nature; a tree that once rejoiced in the wind brutally twisted into a tool of destruction; a "cursed" thing as Paul said. But reaching high in hope and stretching wide with love, the Cross expands to fill all that we had lost. "But God forbid that I should glory," Paul declares, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." (Gal. 6:14, KJV) We only regain our vision of God and see his vision for us through the Cross, and in seeing this, we look away from the natural world to see the supernatural.
     But this is not the end of the story. As believers, we know that a great resolution is coming, the redemption of all things, in which "the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality." (1Cor. 15:53) Nature, faded and torn, looks wistfully for that day. An unwritten longing hangs over creation, a desire to be delivered from death and decay, to be formed at last as new in a new heaven and earth. And we, who also now look towards heaven by the gift of grace, may articulate what nature cannot say, "Even so come, Lord Jesus." Make us whole again, give us rest in you as our eyes look to you -- "I wait for the Lord, my soul waits...more than watchmen wait for the morning." (Ps. 130:5,6)