John Bradshaw - Seeing The Voice of God
The great American, George Washington Carver, once said: Reading about nature is fine. But if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn about more than what's in books because the woods speak with the voice of God. Psalm 19:1 says "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork". Today on It Is Written, let's consider what David meant when he wrote those words. There's little doubt nature speaks about the God of nature, the Creator God. The Bible opens with the words "In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth". And the nature we see, speaks to us of the God we don't see.
I've come to Costa Rica, truly one of the most beautiful countries on the face of the earth. Costa Rica has the greatest density of animal species anywhere on the planet, all compressed into an area about the size of the state of West Virginia. Every year millions of people come from all over the world to enjoy the natural beauty of this land. Costa Rica's natural beauty is truly breathtaking. Remarkable animals, spectacular beaches, volcanoes, and rain forests. Costa Rica is home to nearly 500,000 animal species, an estimated four percent of the total found worldwide. The lush expanse of Costa Rica's rain forests is hard to imagine if you haven't been here. Well over 1.200 species of butterflies are found in these forests, along with over 8.000 species of moths.
Perhaps there's no better place to speak of the God of nature and to delve deeper into the lessons the natural world offers those who seek to know Him. Nature is often referred to as God's "second book". Inasmuch as nature reveals to us so much about the character of God, it's our privilege to be able to behold much of the wonders and the workings of God in our natural environment. In fact, by studying nature you can learn much about the plan of salvation, about the blessings of patience and hard work, and about the results of sin in this world. Throughout the Bible, many stories and illustrations draw their lessons from the natural world. Jesus often referred to nature in order to make spiritual points clear to us.
The Bible presents God as both the Designer and the Ruler of the world of nature, something that sets the religion of the Bible totally apart from the other religions of the world. Most religions throughout history, particularly those at the time the Bible was written, worshipped Gods who were themselves products of nature. Sun gods, moon gods, sea gods, weather gods, fertility gods... all of these were not only part of the natural world, but were part of religious systems which sought to fit human beings into the rhythm and balance of nature. The gods of most ancient peoples worked through the cycles and the elemental forces found in the natural world. They weren't seen by their worshippers as independent of these forces. But the God of heaven often showed Himself to be in control of nature, sovereign over the elements, the One who is in ultimate control of the environment.
In the Bible we read the story of the prophet Elijah. Through the prophet Elijah God told Israel's King Ahab that there would be neither dew nor rain in the land until God said otherwise. In the New Testament you read that Elijah actually prayed to God that this would happen so that the people, recognizing that God was sovereign over everything, would be brought to repentance. "Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heavens gave rain and the earth produced its fruit".
This is one of countless times in human history when God demonstrated who, in fact, has power over the forces of nature. The worshippers of the pagan gods Baal and Ashtoreth, which were being worshipped in Israel during the time of Elijah, believed that these pagan gods controlled the changing of the seasons, the climate, the sun, and the rain. But in God's dealing with Israel during Elijah's time, He demonstrated clearly who is the one that has power over nature. By shutting up the heavens and causing the rain to not fall those three and a half years, God was, in effect, saying to those pagan gods, "So you think you control nature? You think you can make the sun shine and the rain fall? Now's your chance to prove it".
God's supremacy over nature, His absolute control over nature's forces and nature's laws, is one of the very first messages contained in the Bible. It's what the creation story is all about. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth". Nature is not God, according to Scripture. God is the one who brought nature into existence. It's interesting that in the Genesis creation story, the sun and the moon are not named. This was undoubtedly because these heavenly bodies were considered divine in the ancient world and Moses, who wrote the Book of Genesis, is saying that these created objects are not in any sense divine.
Describing the creation of these bodies, the Bible simply states: "Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night". By refusing even to name these objects in the creation account, while simply declaring them to be great lights which God made, the Bible is denying to these bodies any right to reverence or worship. This is one reason why the theory of evolution is so unacceptable both to God and to the message of the Bible. God didn't need evolution to bring His creatures into existence. He spoke them into existence. The Bible makes clear that God is the Sovereign and the Master of all of creation.
In fact, the Bible says this: "By the word of the Lord the heavens were made and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast". In other words, God didn't just oversee the process of bringing nature into being. God spoke it into being. The power that gives life to this world is not inherent in nature itself, rather, it's the gift of the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator God. As we look around our world, we're reminded pretty well everywhere we turn that this world cannot be nearly as beautiful as was the Garden of Eden. But, in spite of the scars that sin has left on our planet, all is not ruined and ugliness in the world of nature. The rising and the setting sun still warm the soul. The flowers of spring and the freshness after the rain still remind us of the rebirth and transformation promised by the Gospel.
One author described the season of spring as the "theater of resurrection". The bursting forth of life following the cold and dearth of winter is perhaps one of the loveliest metaphors of Christ's own resurrection from the dead. In the wake of Calvary's unspeakable agony and the dashing of hope inflicted by Christ's dying on so many hearts. The complexity of the natural world is probably one of the strongest proofs of God's creatorship. Think of the intricacies of just a single human cell. Biology textbooks only a few years ago, were able to produce material two inches thick just on the subject on the cell. Now they can produce books that thick on the individual parts of the cell. It can be hard to see how anyone can view the complexities of nature and not be persuaded that God put all this together.
Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God declares of His creation, "For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens, who was God, who formed the earth and made it, who has established it, who did not create it in vain, who formed it to be inhabited: 'I am the Lord, and there is no other.'" According to God's word, nature doesn't exist to glorify itself, rather, it exists to glorify its Maker. We read this message over and over again in the Psalms. "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world".
In another passage we read, "Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters, they see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. For He commands and raises the stormy wind, which lifts up the waves of the sea. They mount up to the heavens, they go down again to the depths: their soul melts because of trouble". "Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble, He brings them out of their distresses. He calms the storm, so that its waves are still". This Psalm was literally fulfilled in the earthly ministry of Jesus. One night, Jesus and His disciples were on the Lake of Galilee and a tremendous storm rose.
The Gospel of Mark takes it from there. "And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, 'Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?' Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, 'Peace, be still!' And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, 'Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!'"
Again and again Jesus demonstrated that nature is under His control. So many times Jesus healed diseases and vanquished afflictions for which there was no natural or medical remedy then or now. Paralyzed limbs were restored to health and vigor. Blind eyes were made to see again. Even the dead were brought back to life. And perhaps greatest of all, Jesus' own resurrection demonstrates that God is above nature. The decay, the eventual oblivion that has become part of our life because of what sin has done, are not the final word. God has the final say. When He chooses to do so, God is able to interrupt the rhythm, and the balance, and the inevitability of nature and its laws. The wind and the sea still obey God's voice, even today. The God of Scripture is still the God of nature.
I especially enjoy the stories of faith concerning that Christian giant, George Mueller. One story has it, George Mueller was traveling across the Atlantic Ocean to a speaking appointment in Quebec, Canada, when the ship was socked in by fog and the captain announced that he had to slow the ship down for the safety of everybody involved. Mueller explained to the captain that this would not do. Surely, he would now miss his speaking appointment, so could he please go to the ship's chart room to pray that God would lift the fog. Accompanied by the captain, Mueller went to that room and he prayed that God would take the fog away. The captain began to pray too but during the captain's prayer, Mueller interrupted him. He said, why don't we go up now and see if God has answered our prayer because I think He has. When the two men went up to the bridge, the fog was completely gone. God is still the God of nature and the captain became a Christian soon after.
In Costa Rica there are 894 species of birds, more than in the United States and Canada combined. The beauty of the scarlet McCaw or the Quetzal, is perhaps unrivaled anywhere on earth. Birds in Costa Rica range in size from tiny humming birds barely two inches across, to huge birds with a wingspan of up to nine feet. It isn't hard to imagine that God cares for creatures who display such beauty. But on one occasion, the Lord took notice of the little sparrows and stated: Not one of them is forgotten before God. If it had been one of these spectacular birds like the ones here in Costa Rica that Jesus was talking about His audience might have understood better, but Jesus was reminding His hearers that even such apparently insignificant creatures as the little sparrows command the attention of our loving God. He then went on to say, "Do not fear therefore: you are of more value, than many sparrows".
Here in Costa Rica, stewardship for the land is taken very seriously. Costa Rica's "pura vida" image has been carefully cultivated and is known and appreciated around the world. But stewardship for the land is actually a very biblical idea. You go to the Bible, you read in Genesis 2:15, that in the beginning, "God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it," and at the other end of the Bible, in Revelation 11:18, it tells us that when Jesus returns and the final judgment of humanity is complete, God will "destroy those who destroy the earth".
Some years ago a prominent government official in the United States, a Christian, said that he believed that it really didn't matter how we treated the environment because, after all, Jesus was coming back soon. Well, I don't know. Nature itself has suffered under the weight of the sins of humanity. Not only do God's people look forward to the return of Jesus, but nature itself looks forward to the time the sin problem is going to be brought to a conclusion. Consider these words written by the Apostle Paul.
"For the earnest expectation of the Creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subject to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope: because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. And not only they, but we also who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body".
Even nature wants Jesus to come again soon. This sin-ravaged world will experience its final death agonies when Jesus returns to this earth. This is what Peter wrote: "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat: both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up".
The Book of Revelation also describes this moment: "And there were noises and thunderings and lightnings: and there was a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth. Then every island fled away, and the mountains were not found". But that isn't the end of the story. After you read about the millennium of Revelation 20 you then read about what God is going to do to this sin-damaged earth, how He is going to re-make His Creation. Restoring the glory and the beauty of a lost Eden.
Revelation contains this fantastic promise: "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away: and there was no more sea. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying; 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. And God Himself will be with them, and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes: There shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. And there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.' Then He who sat on the throne said, 'Behold, I make all things new.'"
And then this chapter goes on to tell us about the glorious city that God is preparing for His people. "And the city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. And the Lamb is its light. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there)". At last, God and nature will be fully reconciled. All of creation will be restored to Eden beauty. God's people will live in full harmony with nature and with the God of nature for all eternity.
George Washington Carver once said: "I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only listen". If we'll only listen. Are you listening today? I want to encourage you to see evidences of a loving God in the created world around you. When you look at nature, look beyond the nature that you see and let nature remind you that God is good and God is love. I'd like to pray with you now. Would you pray with me? Let's take a moment to do that.
Our Father in heaven, thank You that You are the God of nature. Thank You that You made this fabulous world and the beauty we see in it. I thank You that one day soon You will recreate this earth, that the blight of sin and the curse will never be seen again and that we will live with You eternally in a land that is only pristine and beauty. Lord, as You have made this earth and will remake it, I pray that You will remake us and bless us with the presence of Jesus and the beauty of His character. We thank You today and we pray in Jesus' name, Amen.