In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made. John 1:1–3
I’ve never been much of an empirical thinker. While I was growing up, the languages of physics, chemistry, and biology didn’t come naturally to me. Like many non-scientist types I completed the requisite high school science courses with average marks and bid the topic farewell. Apart from a tangential brush with physics in an undergraduate structural engineering course, I got along without science just fine.
But then things changed.
After a dramatic spiritual awakening I decided to switch careers, study theology, and become a preacher. At first, my lack of scientific proficiency wasn’t a problem—my text, after all, was the Bible, and my tools were ancient languages, systematic theology, and church history. But, a few years into my new calling, I woke up to a very old truth (the seeds of which had been hiding in my church denomination’s theological tradition for centuries). It was the idea that God speaks through the creation:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Gen 1:1
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities— his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made. Rom. 1:20
According to the apostle Paul, God can be clearly seen through what has been made. The universe reveals God’s invisible qualities. God spoke through creation long before speaking through the Bible.
This is what Christians throughout history have believed about divine revelation—that God speaks through two books—the Bible and creation. Each is a means through which God can be known and experienced. Both Scripture and God’s creation are authoritative texts.
I can’t recall ever hearing a message when I was growing up about God’s revelation through a knee, a tree, or a giant squid. When a preacher did mention creation, the reference was illustrative. Of course, there were references to beauty and complexity in the cosmos, but I never heard anything about the physical nature of mountains, immune systems, or gravitational waves saying something about what God is like.
I would have remembered a sermon like that.
As I never heard one, I never imagined preaching one myself—until I got a letter from Vancouver’s Regent College inviting me to participate in a John Templeton Foundation grant aimed at helping pastors explore the intersection of faith and science. Their letter stated that God speaks through two books and where those two books appeared to be in conflict, one of the books was not being properly read. I immediately accepted their invitation.
While the two-book idea had already taken significant root in my faith life by that point, I had never applied it to the sphere of science. Yet, if God speaks through the creation, how could we ever understand this physical text apart from the gift of science?
Science unpacks God’s creation words.
Scientists are made in the image of an empirical God. All physical reality has its genesis in God’s imagination. God was the first physicist, chemist, and biologist. According to the Bible, Jesus was the means through which God made all things (John 1:1–3; Col. 1:15–17; Heb. 1:2). Jesus mediated both creation and salvation. The cosmos reflects Christ’s world-arranging wisdom.
Science points to, reflects, and illuminates the mind of Christ. Even as the person and work of Jesus are mysteriously veiled in the Bible’s Old Testament, the person and work of Jesus are also mysteriously veiled in the fabric of creation.
This mysterious connection makes me wonder if there is a deeper truth at play: Could it be that God has always meant for these two books to be read together, in concert with one another, co-illuminating each other—the Bible shining light on creation and creation bringing deeper understanding to the Scriptures?
Is God’s revelation this all-encompassing?
Jesus and the Natural World
Jesus referenced creation in many of His parables and teachings. He taught that the kingdom of God is like a seed, yeast, salt, birds, flowers, and the expanding nature of fermenting grapes. Jesus called Himself the light of the world, the true vine, a cornerstone, the root, and the bright and morning star. Often Jesus used nature to nudge His followers toward spiritual understanding, suggesting they consider the grass of the field, the solidity of rock, the shrewdness of snakes, the innocence of doves, the humility of a child, the technique of hens gathering their chicks, the germination of wheat kernels, the way the wind blows, the constancy of the sun, and the indiscriminate nature of rain.
On first reading, many of these nature references could be taken as mere figures of speech, but, if Jesus really is the one through whom all things were made, perhaps there is also a deeper meaning. When Jesus told His followers to “learn this lesson from the fig tree” (Matt. 24:32), was He cognizant of all the biological wisdom that went into conceiving that tree in the first place?
In the gospel of John, we read that Jesus clearly knew where He came from (John 13:3). At one point He prayed, “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:5). Later He prayed, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world” (John 17:24). Jesus clearly recalled the pre-creation glory He shared with the Father. His miracles imply an ongoing connection to His pre-incarnate power. If Jesus could recall His pre-creation glory in these ways, could He also recall all that He knew about the nature of a world that was made through Him? Was Jesus aware of the particle/wave nature of light when He said He was the light of the world?
Since Jesus knew that creation was made through Him, He would have known that “light” was made through Him, which gives His words a deeper meaning. Beyond being a good analogy, light is a good part of God’s creation, made to operate in a certain way, and reflective of God’s thinking and being. Of all created things, Jesus equated Himself with light.
No matter how specifically Jesus in His self-limiting omniscience (see Matt. 24:36) understood the scientific nature of light, His Father (whose will Jesus followed unerringly) certainly did. When Jesus called Himself the light of the world, God the Father knew all that there is to know about the science behind light.
If we want to know the mind of Christ, we need to gain a deeper understanding of the physical nature of light (and of all creation). We need to read biblical creation references with the Author’s omniscience and original intent in mind.
To do that we need science.
JOHN VAN SLOTEN is a Calgary-based writer, teacher, and pastor who is passionate about helping people engage God everywhere. Over the past ten years he has preached dozens of creation/bible-based sermons on topics like radiation therapy, DNA repair mechanisms, river hydrology, chemical catalysts, tree branches, human knees, and the Giant Squid. John is a regular columnist with the Calgary Herald and his books include The Day Metallica Came to Church and Every Job a Parable.