Vol I No. 7
From the Quarterly

Musings on nature

by William J. Martin

It is the great burden of every good preacher to face his congregation’s temptation to be too much of this world and not enough of the other. Men will be men, and that means that their humanity is always tugging their souls towards the false gods of time and space, and away from the One God of eternity. This kind of dualism is common to the fallen condition, and so we should not be surprised. The proverbial fruit of the primordial Garden is ever with us, and that it attracts and consumes most is understandable. After all, God made it. It was good. The tree which yielded it was good for food…pleasant to the eyes…to be desired to make one wise. (Gen. 3.6)

The history of Biblical commentary has treated the proverbial fruit as a symbol for many things. It has been variously identified as the cause of sin, the source of temptation, the distinct and peculiar prerogative of God, the present reminder of God’s uniqueness, and so on. What should be clear, however, is that it reminds man that God is the maker and definer of all that is. Creation was made by God for man, and not man for creation. Creation is therefore not an end, but a means. In and through creation man can discover and perfect the image of the Maker in his soul. Man then, by carefully applying his reason to the natural order, can come to know and use the world as a book through which the Divine knowledge and love is disclosed. In so far as the creation is approached not as an end but as a means, man can discover the truth of it, and through it the nature of his own mind. The Divine secrets that nature retains and discloses, progressively but never completely, demands from man a faith that seeks understanding as both nature and his mind are illuminated or moved to some unity inwardly and spiritually.

The danger that is always present within the creation that surrounds man, is that it becomes an end in itself and not a means. Man becomes obsessed with nature, or some facet of it, and forgets that the pursuit of knowledge is a double gift. First there is the being of every created substance that is made and preserved by God’s thinking of it. Next there is the meaning or essence of it that man elicits from in light of the same Divine thinking. In Platonic terms, God illuminates both nature and man’s study of it, until in the end he joins the two in human comprehension. What is created potentially reveals the truth inherent in it. The one created to know it- man, potentially understands that truth. When nature’s secrets are uncovered by the mind of man, her inner meaning finds articulation and definition. So nature is afforded more perfect being through man’s knowledge of it. Man’s being is likewise perfected as knowledge adds to his imitation of the Maker. Nature and man derive their being and meaning from God.

When man forgets the double gift of illumination that roots and grounds both nature and himself in the Mind of God, nature and all else threaten to become a false gods. Man attempts to give the forbidden fruit a new being and meaning. He is made sick by it, because its true being and meaning resist his manipulation. Its true being and meaning belong to God, and in so far as they can be known by man, what is known is that only God can digest them both. Because man, then, tried to be God and change the being and meaning of that one element of nature that distinguished him from the Maker, he becomes sick. Man cannot digest good and its absence, God and no-God, without imperiling the image of God within.