The Natural and Supernatural
The ancients typically would not have thought in terms of our modern categories that we call natural and supernatural. Everything was from God and nothing happened apart from him. Even pagans would have attributed pretty much everything to their deities. They did not think that because something happened in nature, that meant God was not involved.
By separating natural / supernatural categories the way we do, we may unintentionally allow for parts of reality that are not dependent upon God. Francis Schaeffer argued in Escape from Reason that this dichotomy essentially results in nature swallowing up the supernatural. If we can explain something apart from God, then God isn’t necessary. Even some who believe in God may tend to think that God was necessary at the beginning, but once he got the ball rolling and triggered the operation of nature, he is no longer needed to keep nature working. It will just work on its own now. This is called deism, and it is far from the truth about the living and powerful God of Scripture (re-read Isaiah 40).
Nature operates on the foundation that God is and that He upholds all things by the word of his power (Heb 1:3; Col 1:15-17). Without God, there is no continual operation of nature; there is nothing that can happen at all. God is certainly not “nature.” He is above it, beyond it, and greater than what we can possibly observe. Yet as Creator, God is deeply involved in the workings of nature. When we observe something natural, that should still be seen as evidence that God is at work. The heavens still declare His glory (Psa 19:1-6). As Paul and Barnabas put it, God “did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17).
To buy into the natural / supernatural distinctions in modern terms opens the door for serious misunderstandings about who God is and what he does. When we make a hard divide in our minds between the secular and the spiritual, it is almost certain that the secular will ultimately win out. This has been happening in our culture for many years, and the evidence should be plain enough. For example:
In science, God is not typically allowed into the discussion. Faith is considered to be at odds with reason and evidence. This is justified by many because science is only about explaining the natural. While that is true that science deals with nature, Christians cannot afford to think that because something is “natural,” that means God is not necessary. Without God, there is no nature.
In education generally, religion has little footing anymore. There are exceptions, but typically a teacher would not be allowed to try to influence students religiously. God bless those teachers who still hold out their faith in the midst of an increasingly difficult situation!
In government, laws are often made with no allowance for religious or biblical influence. The no “establishment of religion” clause is made to mean that religion needs to stay out of the government rather than that the government needs to stay out of religion.
In culture generally, those who believe in God are often considered to be of lower status intellectually and influentially. The broad culture is secular. Nature has swallowed up grace.
Christians cannot afford to buy into these hard dichotomies. This is why we try to call attention to the underlying problems that we face — worldview issues that drive the thinking that we must somehow separate the secular from spiritual so much that the spiritual loses its preeminent place in our thoughts. When Christians follow the lead of the culture, there are devastating consequences for our faith.
This is what doctrines like deism do. This is what modernism and postmodernism do. This is what scientism does. God’s role in our lives is downplayed. We often worry about modern-day Pharisaism, but the effects of modern-day Sadduceeism are just as destructive. We end up knowing neither Scripture nor the power of God (see Matt 22:23-33).
For Christians, Christ is life (Phil 1:21; Col 3:4). There are no decisions made apart from Him. There is no education apart from Him. There is no earthly citizenry apart from Him. There is no recreation without Him. Never is there a time when we divorce the Lord from our thinking. Rather, all we do, we do to His glory and in His name (Col 3:16; 1 Cor 10:31; 2 Cor 10:5). Nature is a display of God’s glory and power.
Have we allowed nature to swallow up grace in our own lives? Learn to see God at work even in the things that we observe as natural. He is not far from us (Acts 17:27).