How Can We Witness God's Presence in Nature?

God made everything that was made (John 1:3), so all creation belongs to him and was shaped by him.

Contributing Writer
Updated May 07, 2024
How Can We Witness God's Presence in Nature?

God made everything (John 1:3), so all creation belongs to him and was shaped by him. But is creation infused with His Spirit? Is God inside of the trees and rocks? Is his divine nature found in animals and oceans? Why do so many people feel close to God when they are in nature?

Seeing God in Nature

“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you, and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?” (Job 12:7-9)

Everything that lives and breathes on earth has been touched by the Lord. Every animal was imagined, shaped, and animated by God. Psalm 96:11-12 indicates that his creative genius is seen and experienced in all of nature. “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy”. Not only do they exhibit his handiwork, but they appear to feel it, which is an example of personification - a type of metaphor where inanimate objects are described with human qualities.

The Value of Literary Devices

Jesus used many metaphors. For example, he described himself as a “vine” and the disciples as his “branches” (John 15:15). Clearly, Jesus was not literally an olive or grapevine. The heavens, the earth, and the fields are not emotional, nor does the sea literally roar. By way of metaphor, Jesus (and Scripture overall) is able “to say complex things in a fairly simple manner,” according to one writer at Dallas Baptist University.

While the black-and-white thinkers of this world prefer something more straightforward, metaphors about nature provide rich layers of meaning. As the previous author explained, metaphors “don't just say one thing that can be put into other words; instead, they offer a kind of overflow of additional suggestions and nuances. You haven't completely understood a metaphor by saying it can be substituted for one statement and one statement only.”

In other words, certain passages should be read as forms of poetry and song; suggesting that God is “in” the natural elements or in animals is to misread and confine Scripture. A metaphor’s purpose in any literary context is to convey more than what you see - associations arise out of comparisons, both personal and general. Context is essential.

The Value of Nature in Scripture

For example, Christ as a “vine” leads to a general exploration of olive and wine branches and the associated imagery found in Scripture because they were prevalent in the region where Jesus lived and preached. His disciples might have even seen the process of “grafting,” the imagery that Jesus used to help his disciples understand their reliance upon him and to foreshadow the bloody events to come. The main vine (Christ) is cut, but the branches are also cut away from their former lives.

Much more could be said about grafting, seed planting, harvesting, the Gardener, Gentile Christians being equal with Jewish converts in the Kingdom of God, etc. The vine is not a living thing with feelings, not an extension of God. The vine helps paint a picture, but it might also cause one to think back to other areas of the Bible that feature agricultural imagery.

For instance, as Jacob blessed his sons, he said this to Judah: “Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey's colt to the choice vine, he has washed his garments in wine, and his vesture in the blood of grapes.” (Genesis 49:11) A word study about vines would reveal many Biblical themes and reveal echoes of Christ’s salvific work from the start.

Individuals living during Jesus’ day were immersed in and reliant upon their natural world. These points of reference were familiar elements of their everyday reality. Today, images from his place and time should provoke curiosity and bring that world to life. Literary devices that seem to suggest that God is animating air, earth, water, etc., flesh out the world of our Savior with colors, smells, and sounds. They are not telling us that God is “in” the trees, plants, and mountains.

When something is confusing in Scripture, one might skip over it, but this is a good time to stop and find out why it is significant. Why did Paul write, “The whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now”? (Romans 8:22) We know that mountains and rivers do not cry; they do not feel pain. What is Paul saying? Albert Barnes said, "All is united in a condition of sorrow. The expression denotes mutual and universal grief. It is one wide and loud lamentation, in which a dying world unites; and in which it has united ‘until now.’" All creation was affected by the fall in Genesis 3; every part of nature was broken because of it. Paul tried to demonstrate the enormous consequences of sin. Nothing God made was left unscathed - though God himself is still in perfect control. “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10)

God Is Everywhere

The temptation, however, is to worship what God made (and which is now broken because of sin) instead of the One who made all created things. God IS everywhere. Certainly, one can see his workmanship wherever one looks. So, where is he? As one scholar puts it, “God is at hand in all places, and we can never hide anywhere from His presence. [...] He fills every place in creation.” Yet, the writer cautions against trying to understand God within the boundaries of our normal five senses or within a human idea about time and space. The “fullness of His being is equal at all times and places. This immensity does not refer in any sense to physical size.” To suggest that the Lord would be inside of something finite is to limit him.

Paul wrote that God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” (Romans 1:20). Nature was created, and we see it, smell it, touch it. Nature was not inhabited; God has not filled creation with his Spirit. If he had, then Scripture would tell the reader to experience God’s closeness by being close to his created works. Instead, he says, “You will have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3). Jesus came to live as a human so that people could know what God is like; that is, they could not understand what God is like by merely going into the wilderness. And we are instructed to live in Him. This is how we are close to God - by his indwelling Spirit. We come close to God by following Jesus.

Talking to Nature Lovers

How does one gently but firmly point a person away from this dangerous idea that Mother Nature loves them or that the universe has a plan for their lives? The first step to any gospel conversation is to listen to how a person has interpreted the world around them. Listen to the story. Find a connecting point. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide the conversation. Pray. Remember that this person is not a project but a person, and his or her views have been shaped by the teaching and what he or she has absorbed from culture.

The major connecting point is nature itself. Most people can agree that a sunrise on a clear morning or early spring flowers are beautiful. Aromas and sounds from nature lead different people to different associations. Even contrasting impressions about the same thing can lead to a deeper conversation about the Creator’s genius and closeness.

Before any of this, one might stop and ask, “How do I regard nature? Consider where you like to spend time in the outdoors, what you love about it, and give thanks to God for the joy of being there when you can. Ask the hard question, too: “when I go hiking, do I worship creation or the Creator?”

Enjoying God’s Works

One thing is certain: God’s works are available to enjoy and experience. Time spent outdoors, even just resting in a patio chair watching the changing clouds, provides a chance to appreciate our mighty God's workmanship quietly. “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the world's creation, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/demaerre

Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.

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