Table of Contents
Part II: Nature as Part of the Kingdom
Man Within Nature
IS concerned with the history of man's attitude towards Nature.
There was a strong tendency a few years ago, especially among
fundamentalists, to turn their backs completely upon the study
of anything too closely associated with the physical world, on
the grounds that man's life was essentially a spiritual one.
As we shall try to show, man's attitude towards the natural order
passed through a series of stages of development of which the
first saw him as a very real person in a very personalized universe,
and the last of which, the modern one, has tended more and more
to equate man with a completely depersonalized natural order,
giving him no essentially unique status within it, and to all
intents and purposes annihilating the concept of the soul.
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Early in history, the universe
was full of gods; at the last, the universe has no God at all.
In rebellion against this tendency, Bible-believing Christians
went to the other extreme by dismissing the physical world as
having virtually no importance in the mind of God. The present
earth and heavens were under judgment and would pass away in
any case, whereas man was to abide forever. In fact, to some
extent Nature was hostile, being not infrequently a tool of destruction
in the hands of Satan. But this is a recent development, and
to my mind a most unfortunate one. As we shall try to show in
the next chapter, it is not the biblical view at all. There is
something to be learned by considering in a very broad outline
how man's opinions have changed -- and why -- with respect to
his relationships with Nature and the relationship of Nature
to God. For the sake of convenience in this brief historical
survey, we shall use the term World View to signify the various
forms that man's philosophy of Nature has assumed in the course
of its development to the present day.
Very briefly, the earliest structured
pagan World View was that of the Babylonians, and it was a mystical
one. This was challenged by the Greeks who inherited it but
later replaced it with a rational one. In the
course of the next thousand
years circumstances led to the development of the Medieval World
View, which for the lack of a better term, may be called a spiritual
one. Then followed the Renaissance, the break-up of Christendom,
and the gradual eclipse of the dominance of theology over the
other realms of knowledge. In due course a new World View has
appeared, which is essentially a materialistic or mechanical
one. Let us trace these stages of development a little more precisely.
Probably the best
single treatment of the early Babylonian view of man's relationship
with the rest of the Universe is that presented in a volume edited
by H. and H. A. Frankfort entitled The Intellectual Adventure
of Ancient Man. (49) This is a series of papers
written by experts in their own fields which outline the "philosophy"
of these people who created the earliest great civilizations
in the Middle East including the Sumerians, the Babylonians and
Assyrians, the Egyptians, and the Hebrews. These studies are
based on an examination of the literature of the ancient world,
a literature which is surprisingly revealing in this respect.
In a nutshell, if we exclude the
Hebrews, all these people held essentially the same view of the
universe. Nature is animate and full of spiritual presences.
The universe is a giant State composed of a hierarchy of powers
which express themselves through the forces of Nature and which
are quite personal and vastly superior to man. There are frequent
conflicts between the powers, but a kind of political balance
of forces is achieved because it was to the benefit of all concerned
to compromise at times. Man inevitably became involved in these
wranglings, but always totally at the mercy of the hierarchy.
Man is thus part of this giant State, but he is a very insignificant
member and most of the time under sufferance. Because of his
weakness, the idea of dominating Nature simply did not occur
to him and the best he could hope to do to gain some measure
of security was to use trickery or flattery, perhaps better known
to us as magic or "worship," or to enter into contract
with some spiritual power who had an "in" with the
Man's attitude towards Nature was
essentially not that of a superior creature to inferior things
(as ours is), but of an inferior creature to superior beings.
The forces of Nature were Wills, the characteristics of things
were characters. As one can influence people by persuasion, so
one sought to influence the forces of Nature. The Nile was annually
reminded of its obligations to fructify the land of Egypt, but
the idea of building a dam to ensure that this happened would
be entirely repugnant -- one might even say sacrilegious --
49. Frankfort, H. and H. A., The Intellectual
Adventure of Ancient Man, Umiversity of Chicago Press, 1948.
unless some special agreement
had been reached with the river beforehand.
In such an atmosphere
the use of magic is reasonable. But magic is not science because
it is predicated on the assumption that man's relationship with
the forces of Nature is an I-thou relationship. Science is based
upon a me-it relationship.
Because this attitude is so different
from our own, it is necessary to labour over it a little. H.
Frankfort put it this way: (50)
The Universe did not, like ours,
show a fundamental bi-partition into animate and inanimate, living
and dead, matter. Nor had it different levels of reality: anything
that could be felt, experienced, or thought had thereby established
its existence, was part of the cosmos. In the Mesopotamian Universe
everything, whether living being, thing, or abstract concept
-- every stone, every tree, every notion -- had a will and a
character of its own.
World order, the regularity and
system observable in the Universe could accordingly be conceived
of in only one fashion: an order of wills. The Universe as an
organized whole was a Society, a State.
It is very difficult
today to establish laws of human conduct because human beings
have wills of their own. Nor did these ancient people look for
laws of behaviour in the universe as we do today. They looked
for signs and omens with the same kind of apprehension that a
slave may watch for signs of approval or disapproval from a very
powerful master. Even animals at times had more power than man:
and of course earthquakes, thunder and lightning, mighty floods
and eclipses, were over-powering in their willful destruction
and terrifying aspects. One does not investigate such things
objectively: one tries either to keep out of the way or to establish
The Greeks inherited this mystical
World View, but when they began to examine Nature more closely,
they came to the conclusion that the law and order which was
apparent everywhere could not possibly result from the government
of a vast hierarchy of beings who were everlastingly arguing
and squabbling among themselves. With remarkable daring the Ionian
philosophers rejected the old pantheon as an explanation of what
went on in Nature entirely, and sought for other principles of
operation to account for the uniformities which seemed to them
to characterize all natural law. They replaced mysticism with
reason and boldly challenged the universe to submit to logical
Unfortunately, Greek society was
still essentially a slave society and manual labour was not considered
a worthy occupation for an
50. Ibid., p.149.
educated man. Philosophy
was, therefore, allowed to blossom profusely without being subjected
to the very necessary pruning of experimental verification. What
was reasonable was accepted as true even when the premises were
doubtful. Consequently, a great number of different schools of
thought sprang up and soon reached mutually contradictory conclusions.
So in the course of time men began to question, perhaps as Pilate
did, whether truth was attainable at all. The great confidence
which marked the earlier philosophers that man could storm into
heaven and take over the reins of government of the universe
thus to become its lord instead of a very insignificant citizen
was replaced by a very general skepticism which did not even
have the old mystical beliefs to compensate for the loss of a
The virility of
the Greek culture passed and what was inherited by the Romans
was only a pale reflection of the original. Within a few centuries
barbarians were hammering at the gates of Rome and it seemed
that the old paganism was completely dead and about to be buried.
The Christian church looked on with apprehension as the end of
the world seemed about to come. It was then that Augustine wrote
his great treatise, The City of God, in order to assure
the saints that while the things of the world were temporal indeed,
the things of God were eternal and that they should set their
hopes in heaven and not upon earth. There followed that long
period of cultural decay and darkness during which time the light
of God seems almost to have been eclipsed in Europe, being confined
in small isolated communities that did little more than guarantee
the preservation of the Word of God, and had little contact with
the barbarian world around them.
But slowly there emerged a united
Christendom as community was joined once more to community, and
some degree of security for life and limb, and freedom of travel
was achieved. Learning flourished again in the larger cities
and the Church assumed the dominant role in directing and maintaining
intellectual life. Great teachers appeared who sought to gather
together once more all the wisdom and learning of the past, striving
to create a synthesis of the old baptized with the new. Such
men as Thomas Aquinas succeeded to a remarkable degree in creating
a single World View with which to clothe men's minds, with what
in time appeared to be a complete understanding. Within the fabric
of this garment were the threads of every line of study or field
of inquiry then available. Theology became the queen ruling the
other sciences and, rightly or wrongly, maintaining the unity
of knowledge and the integrity of the structure of the World
But while this World View was rational
(granted its premises), it was really a "spiritual"
World View. Everything in Nature was in one
way or another under
God's jurisdiction. How ever great a man's misfortunes might
be, he could still look upon them as part of God's will and upon
himself as a creature of God's special concern. In fact, so completely
was Nature looked upon as being subject to God that it was scarcely
subject to law at all, and all kinds of miracles were not only
possible but likely to happen in the ordinary course of events.
Nothing was incredible.
Gregory the Great
tells a tale of a holy man that is typical of what men, during
the Middle Ages, thought took place daily. He speaks of his subject
as one whom he knew personally, and tells without comment of
the daily round of miracles which he experienced. On one occasion
he found himself face to face with a deadly serpent. Fearlessly
he held out his hand to the serpent and said, "If thou hast
leave to smite me, I do not say thee nay." Such was his
confidence that God was Lord also of the serpents. And note here
also that Gregory refers quite naturally to the serpent, not
as "it," but as "him." (51)
Whatever we may feel about the
superstition of those days, most of us have to admit that this
spiritual World View may well have made the social injustices
of the day much less difficult to bear. It is surprising how
much injustice and suffering a man will endure if he has the
feeling that he has some significance as an individual, at least
to God if not to man. Each man had a map, and on this map he
could, as it were, pinpoint his position and say, "This
is where I am." To this extent he was not "lost"
-- even if we may argue now that his map was a faulty one. It
surprised no one that saints like St. Francis of Assisi could
commune with Nature and preach the Gospel to animals. Such was
this spiritual World View.
But then a series of events occurred
which shattered this garment of understanding and left men toying
with the fragments. The fall of Constantinople and the scattering
of learned Greeks who took refuge in Europe, the invention of
gunpowder which brought an end to the power of feudal lords,
the development of printing which made possible the dissemination
of knowledge in a new way, and the discovery of the New World
which opened up vast new horizons -- all these brought to an
end the beautiful simplicity of the Medieval synthesis. Knowledge
increased by leaps and bounds, and specialization became inevitable.
The older ideal of a totality of studies under the guardianship
of theology, which had constituted the older universities, was
51. Gregory, quoted by John H. Randall Jr.,
The Making of the Modern Mind, Houghton Mifflin, Boston,
revised edition, 1940, p.30.
a new concept of learning
which saw little need for a World View and put greater emphasis
upon knowledge than upon wisdom.
This process of
fragmentation continued to develop to the point where institutes
of higher learning could justify their title of being universities
only by reason of the juxtaposition of colleges and the simultaneity
of lectures. They had become, in fact, multiversities.
Although many of the newer universities were founded by religious
bodies who sought to restore the unity of knowledge, the ideal
was achieved only for a short period of their history until once
more the accumulation of knowledge seemed to render the ideal
unattainable. Losing the Christian conception of the university
and concentrating more and more on the task of increasing knowledge
in specialized areas, college and universities relegated Christian
philosophy to the periphery while science, in its widest sense,
assumed the position of central importance. Such a divorce led
at first to indifference and then inevitably, it seems, to hostility
to the Christian view. And when this happened, Christians became
increasingly suspicious of studies which it seemed could be pursued
without reference to faith in God. Withdrawing from the arena
and attempting to set up their own institutions Christians tended
to lose their voice and their influence in the circles of higher
Meanwhile, it was slowly becoming
apparent in the secular world that the loss of the unity of knowledge
was detrimental. And efforts began to be made to pull the strands
together again and create a new synthesis. This did not appear
to be too difficult in the realm of physics and chemistry where
universal laws were apparent from the first, but in the life
sciences the situation was different. It was with great enthusiasm,
therefore, that the new theory of evolution was welcomed as the
universal cement which might once more put the pieces together.
It is this concept which prompted the title of Julian Huxley's
book Evolution: The Modern Synthesis (52) and which formed the subject
matter of his Huxley Memorial Lecture before the Royal Anthropological
Society in 1950. In this he said, (53)
Meanwhile, some system of belief
is necessary. Every human individual and every human society
is faced with three overshadowing questions: What am I, or what
is man? What is the world in which I find myself, or what is
the environment which man inhabits? and, What is my relationship
to that world, or what is man's destiny? Men cannot direct the
course of their life until they have taken up an attitude to
52. Huxley, Sir Julian, Evolution: The
Modern Synthesis, Harper Brothers, New York, 1942.
53. Huxley, Sir Julian, "New Bottles for New Wine: Ideology
and Scientific Knowledge," in Journal of the Royal Anthropological
Institute, vol.80, parts1 and 2, 1950, p.16.
can only do that by giving some sort
of answer to these three great questions; and their belief-systems
embody that answer. Thus one of their functions is to allow men
to settle down to the business of existence by giving them a
sense of direction or significance, a stability of attitude.
The object of
his paper was to propose that evolution should form the basis
of this new belief-system. He feared that it had not yet done
so, and said "Further, in so far as an effective new belief-system
must have a religious aspect, it will doubtless need to wait
for the appearance of a prophet who can cast it into compelling
form and shake the world with it." What Augustine did for
the Early Church in his City of God, and Thomas Aquinas
did for the Medieval Church in his Summa Theologica, this
new prophet of evolution was expected to do for modern man. But
what does this new World View do to man? The universe is now
depersonalized completely, even to the extent that no official
interest is shown in a great First Cause. And with this depersonalization
has gone all justification for looking upon the soul of man as
having any transcendental significance. Man is merely a part
of the physics and chemistry of Nature. His functions alone have
any importance and while he may achieve greatness so long as
his functions have value (for Hitler, for example, the value
of a woman consisted of her function as a bearer of children),
the moment such functions cease, the individual has no further
meaning for his society. And since there is no heaven to follow,
his value as a person has ceased altogether. This is the price
which has to be paid for a materialistic World View.
It is not too surprising that many
Christians began to question the value of studying Nature at
all if the study of it led to such a tragic philosophy of life.
Accordingly, it tended to be neglected and no longer to be regarded
as a realm in which God had an interest. Yet for all this, there
is a certain feeling which every Christian has, especially for
the living elements of Nature, that they are in some way God's
special creatures like themselves. It was this spirit which inspired
the founding of such societies as the Society for the Prevention
of Cruelty of Animals, for example.
It is interesting to note how non-Western
man and Western man have each handled the sense of alienation
from Nature. Non-Western man, feeling that he was somehow left
out, personalized Nature in order to make it more like himself,
and therefore more intelligible and more approachable. He saw
the relationship as a personal one, which is what totemism reflects.
Western man, plagued with the same feeling of alienation, has
tried to bridge the same gap by depersonalizing himself. (54)
54. Western man apparently never did develop
any kind of totemistic beliefs. see Alfred C. Andrews, "The
Bean and Indo-European Totemism," American Anthropologist,
vol.51, Apr.-June, 1949, p.274-290. Heraldry is not
considered a form of totemism, according to Lord Raglan, "Totemism
and Heraldry," in Man (Royal Anthropological
Institute), Aug., 1955, p.128.
is, of course, a disaster for the individual, as it is for society.
Man becomes a thing and is, in fact, annihilated as man -- to
use Leslie Paul's apt phrase. (55) E. L. Mascall thought that the psychological disorders
which are so common and so distressing a feature of our time
are to be traced to this cause. (56) We first of all denied the spiritual aspect of the
natural order (which non-Western man has never done), and then
in a desperate attempt to insert ourselves back into it, we have
been driven to deny the spiritual aspect of human nature. One
mistake leads to another.
Except where the
influences of Western man have been strongly felt, the rest of
the world still continues for the most part to look upon Nature
as the Babylonians did -- with a certain mystical reverence,
sometimes with envy but probably more often with apprehension.
This is particularly true of primitive people, as Levy-Bruhl
has shown. (57)
It was also true of the Hebrews,
though in a significantly different way. Paul Tournier put it
this way: "The fundamental distinction made by us between
the organic world and the inorganic world is scarcely present
in the Bible. In the Bible there is but one world." (58) Scripture is full of animation,
especially the Psalms. The floods clap their hands, the thunder
is the voice of God, the little hills skip like rams, and everything
that has breath is called upon to join with man in the worship
of the Creator. Thus the animation of Nature is there, and things
are given wills, except only that they might unite in a chorus
of praise to the Almighty. The close bonds between man and Nature
are not predicated on the argument that man is part of Nature,
but that both are part of the kingdom of God. This is the relationship
from God's point of view as revealed in Scripture.
Although the Christian and Nature
share this citizenship, it remains true that compared with other
creatures the Christian is still a very inferior being. Even
as a child of God he is subject to all kinds of unnatural passions
and impulses, to all manner of sickness, to errors of judgment,
and a multitude of weaknesses which compare him very unfavorably
with the rest of God's creatures in Nature. Is he, then, an inferior
citizen because of the Fall? Scripture says not. In one particular
respect he is set in a class by himself and lifted far above
the rest of Nature and close to the throne of God. The possession
of a single faculty assures him this superiority. What is this
55. Paul, Leslie, Annihilation of Man,
Harcourt Brace, New York, 1945, see especially pp146-161.
56. Mascall, E. L. The Importance of Being Human, Columbia
University Press, 1958, p.19.
57. Levy-Bruhl, Lucien, How Natives Think, L. A. Clare,
Allen and Unwin, London, 1926.
58. Tournier, Paul, A Doctor's Casebook in the Light of the
Bible, translated by E. Hudson, Good News Publishing, Westchester,
1llinois, 1959, p.22.
Note on Romans 8:21,
"Because the creature itself also shall be delivered
from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the
children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth
and travaileth in pain together until now."
It is sometimes
held that this passage has reference to the whole of Nature --
as though it, too, groaned, waiting for the redemption of man.
Undoubtedly Nature is afflicted somewhat by man in his unredeemed
condition, but I do not think the strict canons of interpretation
will permit us to understand this passage in such a wide sense.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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The original Greek is found exactly
here as in two other passages, namely, Mark 16:15 and Colossians
1:15, where it clearly refers to the human race as a whole. the
Gospel is to be preached throughout the world and the Lord Jesus
Christ heads up the whole race of man by reason of His being