Can We Connect to God Through Nature?

A friend of mine recently contacted me asking for help with the following the question:

Hey Kirk! I’m in the beginning phase of researching if nature can connect people to God. Do you have any thoughts or good references?

This is a pretty common sentiment today — i.e., that we can connect to God through nature — especially as “spirituality” (but not religion) grows increasingly popular.

My response is to my friend is below. I thought I would share it here as well in case it can be of help to anyone else.


Hey [friend]!

The short summary version of the historic orthodox Christian view on this is this:

God is incomprehensible, and is only knowable to us because he himself has chosen to make himself known (what is called “divine revelation,” i.e., him revealing himself). Revelation in other words is an act of God’s grace. He does this self-revealing through special or supernatural revelation (like scripture) and general or natural revelation (like nature).

God is made known through his creation, yet distinct from his creation (so not pantheism or panentheism — most claims that we can “connect” with God though nature hold to these ideas). Creation itself is not God. It merely gives witness to God. And so we don’t “connect to God through nature” in the sense of nature itself being an experience of God himself. It only mediates knowledge of God.

Furthermore, scripture teaches that general revelation (like nature) proves insufficient for us to come to know God as he truly is and enable us to respond properly (worship). Why? Not because God hasn’t sufficiently made himself known through nature. He has, even enough to make us culpable for our disobedience to him. It proves insufficient because our sin blinds us, and we refuse to believe nature’s testimony to God. We are willfully blind, and hence responsible, not excused. Our hearts bend us to turn to idols, and instead we take the truth in nature and distort it.

Natural revelation, in short, is enough knowledge about God to make us condemnable and responsible for our rebellion—we know there’s a God who deserves our worshipful obedience, but we don’t give it to him as we ought—but not enough knowledge to save us (there’s no gospel message in nature) and “(re)connect us to God” as we properly should.

So the answer is yes and no.

If I were to direct you to some subjects of study on this, I’d suggest finding some good systematic theology books and looking up the sections on “general revelation.” The other subjects I’d look up are maybe God’s immanence (God’s transcendence refers to the fact that God is so far above us; his immanence refers to the fact that he is still yet near to us), and his providence — that he oversees all of history and creation, such as nature, and can be known through this oversight.

Key biblical passages are Psalm 19 and Romans 1.

Jonathan Edwards on Scripture’s Self-Authentication

In part III, section V. of Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections, Edward’s helpfully explains the Holy Spirit’s inward testimony to scripture’s divine origin. In short, Edwards argues that the gospel itself is directly “self-evidencing.” Namely, that the Spirit enables individuals to apprehend and taste the excellencies of God in the Gospel, which, when perceived, are direct evidence of its divine origin and thereby grants sure conviction of its truthfulness.

He goes on to say that (what we might call) more “evidentialist”-type arguments are helpful inasmuch as they are serviceable to “awaken unbelievers” or “confirm the faith of true saints.” Yet “there is no spiritual conviction of the judgment, but what arises from an apprehension of the spiritual beauty and glory of divine things.”

Below is a compilation of select quotations from this section of his book as they address this subject:


It is evident that there is a spiritual conviction of the truth, or a belief peculiar to those who are spiritual, who are regenerated, and who have the Spirit of God, in his holy communications, dwelling in them as a vital principle. … [This] spiritual conviction of the truth of the great things of the gospel is such a conviction as arises from having a spiritual apprehension. … [And this spiritual apprehension] consists in a sense and taste of the divine, supreme, and holy excellency and beauty of those things. So that then is the mind spiritually convinced of the divinity and truth of the great things of the gospel, when that conviction arises … from such a sense or view of their divine excellency and glory as is there exhibited. …

A view of this divine glory directly convinces the mind of the divinity of these things, as this glory is in itself a direct, clear, and all-conquering evidence of it. … He that truly sees the divine, transcendent, supreme glory of those things which are divine, does as it were know their divinity intuitively. … The manifestations of the moral and spiritual glory of the Divine Being (which is the proper beauty of the divinity) bring their own evidence, and tend to assure the heart. … Continue reading

Evangeline

As I did for Jubilee, I wanted to write a brief explanation of the meaning of Evangeline’s name.

As with Jubilee, her name comes from the Bible (although — not intentional — neither name is used as a name in the Bible). Her middle name (like Jubilee’s middle name, Helen) is after one of her great-grandmothers. Alice (more commonly known as “Busia”) is Ann’s maternal grandmother.

Evangeline Alice is due March 24th, 2019.


Abstract: The name Evangeline comes from the Biblical word “gospel,” meaning “good news” or “good message.” The Christian gospel – the message at the very heart of Christianity, and the essence of our faith – is that God has accomplished our salvation and is restoring his reign (“the kingdom of God”) in and through Jesus Christ. At the center of this message – the gospel – is Christ’s death and resurrection. On the cross, Christ bore the full weight of sin for all those who trust in him for deliverance. And in his resurrection, Christ defeated death, achieving new life for his people. This is certainly good news! It is by faith in this message that one experiences salvation.


The name Evangeline derives from the Latin word evangel, which has its origin in the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον (euangelion), frequently translated into English as “gospel” or “good news.” As a verb (εὐαγγελίζω – euangelizo), the word form means “to herald, proclaim, or preach the gospel,” from which we derive our word “evangelism” or “to evangelize” (lit. “gospeling” or “to gospel”).

From what we can tell, the word has its origins in the realm of military victories. So we read of messengers (“evangelists”) being sent from battle to return and report (“evangelize”) the good news (“gospel”) of an army’s victory. Or, for instance, in the first-century b.c. Priene Inscription from Asia Minor, the empower Augustus is described as a “savior” for ending wars and on account of the peace he brought to the region. Consequently, his birth is lauded with great expectation and hope, heralded as “gospel” (“good news”) for the world.

In the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint or LXX), Isaiah notably uses this word to describe the coming restoration that God has in store for his people. So, in Isaiah chapter 40, after twenty-seven nonstop chapters outlining God’s judgment of the nations (Isa 13-39), relief finally breaks through with God’s announcement, “Prepare the way of the LORD!” (Isa 40:3). God is coming, and he’s bringing salvation with him! Now go out and proclaim it (lit. “evangelize”; Isa 40:9).

When we come to the pages of the New Testament, we find that the New Testament authors appropriate this word to describe the mission of Jesus and what he’s come to do. So, for example, in the opening words of Mark’s gospel we read, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mk 1:1). And immediately following, Mark casts John the Baptist as the eschatological (end time) figure who, citing the words of Isaiah, is preparing the way for this LORD (Mk 1:2-3; cf. Isa 40:1-5).

In other words, Mark intends for us to understand the mission of Jesus as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies – the content of which is the “good news” (gospel) of which Isaiah spoke. Mark intends these Isaianic promises to set the “categories of expectation,” if you will, for who we understand Jesus to be and what he’s come to do. Jesus has come to reinstate God’s kingdom, to accomplish the good news (gospel) about the arrival of God’s kingdom through Jesus (Mk 1:14-15; see the expression “good news of the kingdom” – Mt 4:23; 9:35; Lk 4:43; 8:1; 9:2; Acts 8:12; 20:24-25). So too, in Luke 4, Jesus presents himself as the Servant of the LORD from Isaiah 61 who, anointed with God’s Spirit, has come to “bring good news (gospel)” to those in need (Lk 4:18; cf. Isa 61:1).

The “gospel,” in short, is the favorable report (“good message”) of the rescue and restoration wrought by Christ in accordance with his redemptive mission. It is God’s message, a message with its origin in God himself (“the gospel of God,” see Rom 1:1; 15:16; 2 Cor 11:7; 1 Thes 2:2, 8-9; cf. Gal 1:11-12), concerning Christ (“the gospel of Christ,” see Mk 1:1; Acts 8:35; Rom 1:1-4; 10:17; 15:20; 16:25; 1 Cor 9:12; 2 Cor 4:4-5; 9:13; 10:14; Gal 1:7; Eph 3:8; Phil 1:12-18; 1:27; 1 Thes 3:2; 2 Thes 1:8; 2 Tim 1:8; 2:8), anticipated in the Old Testament (Rom 1:2; 16:25-26; 1 Cor 15:3-4), and characterized by grace (Acts 20:24; Col 1:5-6). It is called “the word of truth” (Eph 1:13; Col 1:5) and a “message of peace” (Acts 10:36; Eph 6:15), and is the ground of our hope (Col 1:23). At its heart, it is a message of salvation (Eph 1:13)– that is, (1) its message details the accomplishment of our salvation in the life and ministry of Christ; and (2) it is a conduit of salvation – i.e., when believed it results in the salvation of its hearers. As Paul says in Romans 1:16, it is the “power of God resulting in the salvation of everyone who believes” (cf. 1 Cor 1:18; 15:1-2; 2 Thes 2:13-14).

As such, the early Christian tradition understandably came to call the church’s written records of Jesus’ life and ministry as “gospels” (i.e., “the gospel according to,” or as told by, “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John”). In other words, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are four complementary “tellings” of the one gospel (see e.g., Mk 1:1). They tell us the story of Jesus, which is the story of the gospel. They are the gospel in narrative form.

And as each of these gospel accounts centers on the last week of Christ’s life, and with it, his death and resurrection, it comes as no surprise then that, when we come to the New Testament’s epistles, the gospel message is summarized in the cross and resurrection. Christ’s sin-substituting death and death-defeating resurrection are at the heart – the center – of the gospel. In fact, we might describe them as the very essence of the gospel (Acts 17:18; 1 Cor 1:17). Paul summarizes the gospel for us in 1 Corinthians 15:

Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the gospel, which I preached to you, which you also received, in which you also stand, and by which you are also being saved…. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…. (1 Cor 15:1-4)

Overview of the Big Story of the Bible

The following was created for use at the Milwaukee Rescue Mission as a resource for the men in the New Journey recovery program. Download a PDF version here.


Creation (Genesis 1-2) – God creates the world. In this we see what God intended for his creation: God’s people (Adam and Eve), in God’s place (the Garden of Eden), under his loving rule, experiencing his presence.

The fall (Genesis 3-6:8) – Adam and Eve sin, and humanity enters into a state of rebellion. They experience God’s curse of judgment and death. God’s original intent for creation is lost.

The flood | Noahic Covenant (Genesis 6:9-11:26) – God judges the world with a flood, but saves Noah and his family. God makes a covenant[1] with Noah and creation that, despite humanity’s rebellion, he will not ultimately destroy his creation. This anticipates that God must have a rescue mission planned for his creation.

The patriarchs | Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 11:27-50:26) – Here we start to see the details of God’s rescue mission.

God chooses Abraham and makes a covenant with him. In this covenant, God promises to remake his creation: a new people (Abraham’s offspring, a new humanity), in a new place (the Promised Land, a new “Garden of Eden”), under his loving rule, experiencing his presence.

These promises are passed down to Abraham’s son, Isaac, and then Isaac’s son, Jacob (or Israel).

The Exodus (Exodus 1-18) – Abraham’s descendants find themselves in Egypt after God uses Jacob’s son, Joseph, to save the world from a famine.However, after some time, a new Pharaoh takes the throne and starts oppressing and enslaving Abraham’s people. God’s promises to Abraham feel far from true. But God acts on his promises to Abraham by raising up Moses, delivering his people from Egypt, and judging their enemies.

However, after some time, a new Pharaoh takes the throne and starts oppressing and enslaving Abraham’s people. God’s promises to Abraham feel far from true. But God acts on his promises to Abraham by raising up Moses, delivering his people from Egypt, and judging their enemies.

Here we see that God’s rescue mission to remake his creation involves deliverance from things that oppose it.

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