“Ever since the creation of the world God’s eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” Writing to the Romans, Paul suggests that all people have an opportunity to learn about God through our experience of the world. Visible beauty speaks of invisible mystery. Some call this common grace, and others refer to general revelation.
We learn about God in other ways that complement the ‘special’ revelation given to Israel and in Christ. This ‘general’ revelation from God through nature provides true knowledge even if it is not saving knowledge. Saving knowledge comes to us solely through special revelation. Therefore, to say that all can learn from God through his Creation does not imply that all will be saved. Only that all may experience delight and wonder from him.
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork.” Psalm 19 celebrates how the beautiful ordering of the world reflects our Creator and speaks of his purposes. We find this ancient insight at the heart of a modern prayer:
“Almighty and everlasting God, you made the universe with all its marvelous order, its atoms, worlds, and galaxies, and the infinite complexity of living creatures: Grant that, as we probe the mysteries of your creation, we may come to know you more truly, and more surely fulfill our role in your eternal purpose…”
When Paul visited Athens and spoke to civic leaders at the Areopagus, he built his message on a similar assumption. Having found an altar dedicated “to an unknown God,” Paul revealed to his listeners the identity of the deity whose existence they had implicitly acknowledged. According to Paul, the Creator had fashioned the world in such a way that all people “would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him.” Though the Athenians did not yet know the God of Creation by name, they had already encountered him.
Regardless of their inclination or efforts to discern deity, Paul tells the Athenians that God “is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’.” Remarkably, within this statement, Paul quotes one of their poets to make a theological observation, and in the process identifies himself with his listeners.
The God in whom we all live reveals his divinity in the beauty and patterns of creation.
See Romans 1:19-20, Psalm 19, and Acts 17:16-34, which is the first reading appointed for the 6th Sunday of Easter, Year A. The Prayer is found in The Book of Common Prayer, page 827. (Note: Beginning the week of May 25, I may post less frequently during the summer.)
The nautilus photograph is from Wikimedia Commons. For more on the logarithmic spiral discerned in the nautilus shell, and reflection on how the spiral may be diagramed in relation to the golden ratio proportion, see the web page <http://www.goldennumber.net/nautilus-spiral-golden-ratio/> by Gary Meisner.