Can Spending Time in Nature Make You a Better Bible Reader?
I’m outside today, looking over the plot of earth that will hold our garden in a few weeks. Officially, spring is just a few days away, but the air carries a slight chill. Still, we’ve made it through the slog and slosh of winter, and the forsythia is already in bloom. Soon the trees will bud, with those at the base of the mountains coming into color first. Then spring will gradually work its way up the crests and ridges. There’s no stopping it now. And I can’t help but remember the words of Genesis 8:22. “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”
Written after the Flood, these words testify to the faithfulness of God. But today, they feel like more than words. Standing out here in my garden, watching the winter pass and the spring come, seeing the daffodils poke their heads through the dirt that’s damp with snowmelt, I understand them in a richer way. I understand that this is what constancy looks like, this trustworthiness to make the seasons come and go. It’s as if the entire world around me is bearing witness to the truth of God’s faithfulness. As if the entire world is shouting at me, declaring the glory of God.
God's Two Books: Nature and His Word
In Psalm 19, David writes that “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the expanse proclaims the work of his hands. Day after day they pour out speech; night after night they communicate knowledge” (vs. 1). At first glance, you might think that David is merely being poetic, overcome with the beauty of nature. Or that creation’s primary purpose is to prove the Creator exists. But something richer is happening here. Something that explains how being in my garden at the start of spring deepened my understanding of the truth of Scripture. And ultimately, my trust in God.
Throughout church history, theologians have taught that God wrote “two books”—the book of Scripture and the book of nature. What they mean is that God has chosen to reveal himself through both the Bible and the natural world. The first, the Bible, is sometimes called “specific revelation” because it is God’s clear, explicit revelation of himself. The Bible reveals detailed truths given by the Holy Spirit and recorded and kept safe over the ages (Heb. 1:1).
The “book of nature,” on the other hand, are those things that God has revealed about himself in the creation he has made. This general or “natural revelation” is available to everyone who lives. And while it does not tell us the specifics of redemption, it can teach us the basic shape of redemption. It shows us how something, like a seed, can die and bring forth life far beyond itself (John 12:24). Or how a tree, once cut down, can spring to life again in a kind of resurrection (Is. 6:13).
God’s Character Revealed in Nature
More than being simply a source of inspiration, nature teaches us the outline of God’s character and how he has structured the world. This is why Job 12:7-9 says, “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?” It’s also why Romans says that none of us are without excuse before God, because “his 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” (1:20).
If you’re accustomed to knowing God primarily through the Scripture, you may find it challenging to look for him in creation. Perhaps, you’ll ask, “What can nature teach me about God that Scripture cannot?” But let me suggest a different set of questions: “What will you miss if you don’t encounter God in all the ways he chooses to reveal himself? What will you miss if you don’t embrace the paradox of revelation?”
Learning to Read God’s Books Together
Interestingly, the paradox between specific revelation and natural revelation is at the heart of Psalm 19. Soon after David writes that the heavens declare the glory of God, he turns his attention to the written word of God. Using words like “law,” “testimony,” “precept,” and “rules,” David shows us how to love both the works and the words of God. Instead of “either/or,” David sees the question as “both/and.” Both the words and the works of God testify to his glory.
Think about it: How much deeper would your understanding of John 12:14 be if you had actually seen a seed sprout and watched it grow into maturity? What would you learn of your own dependence on Christ if you paid attention to what happens when a branch is cut off from the vine? If you stopped and observed its wilted leaves and fruitlessness (John 15)? And how much more would you grasp the Father’s care for you if you obeyed the command to “consider” the flowers of the field (Matt. 6:28)? In this sense, the first step in learning to read God’s two books is simply to open your eyes and give attention to what God has already called you to give attention to.
And here’s the wonderful thing: If God is the God of both nature and the Scripture, do not be surprised when they say the same thing. Do not be surprised when they sing in harmony. Do not be surprised when you come away from both with a richer, deeper understanding of the other. Because paying attention to the book of nature does not mean replacing the book of Scripture. Instead, each reveals what God intends it to reveal. Together, we receive a fuller, more complete understanding of God himself.
Heaven in a Wild Flower
The 18th century Christian poet, William Blake, wrote about learning “To see a World in a Grain of Sand/And a Heaven in a Wild Flower.” In many ways, he’s echoing David’s call to give attention to the heavens and all that they declare about God. And just as you don’t have to be a Greek or Hebrew expert to read the Bible, you don’t have to be a scientist or even a gardener to give attention to creation. You don’t have to move to the country or adopt a rural lifestyle. You simply have to open your eyes and open your ears to let God’s world declare the truth of who he is. The invitation is simple: Listen. Pay attention. Consider.
And when you do, you’ll begin to see the words of God on display in the works of God. You’ll find the truth of Scripture more deeply planted in your heart and mind. And once planted, it will grow and bring forth fruit in abundance.
Meet the Author:
Hannah Anderson is an author and speaker whose work explores the intersection of theology, culture, and spiritual formation. Her books include Turning of Days, All That’s Good, and Humble Roots. You can find more of her work at sometimesalight.com.