Blogging the Institutes–1.5.5– “Nature is God” and Other Silliness

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

“Nature is God” and Other Silliness

Now, what I’m writing about in this section isn’t going to even dive into that mess of a belief which says that multiple souls inhabit one body. Rather, I want to discuss the belief of those who follow Aristotle a little too closely and argue against the immortality of the soul. They actually rob God of His rights. They argue that the facilities of the soul are chained to the body in such a way that the soul cannot have its own separate existence. But there are no good reasons to believe that the functions of the soul are confined to bodily functions.

For example, is it your body which measures the skies, counts the stars, figures out how far away they are, and how fast they move? These investigations into space do not happen by our physical human body, but by the faculties of the soul which are separate from the body. This single example should spur in your mind many other examples where your soul functions apart from your body.

The ability to connect the future with the past, to retain memories, and the amazing creative ability people have, is evidence of God’s agency within humanity. We could go on about the soul’s activity even while the body sleeps such as its processing arguments and dreaming. What can we say about all of this except that humanity bears the stamp of immortality which can never be erased. Isn’t absurd, then, for a person to be made in God’s image but not acknowledge Him as the Creator? Will we even go further and say that there is no cosmic Judge, even though we distinguish between justice and injustice through the power of discerning justice which comes innately from within us? Even when we are sleeping, we are still able to process thoughts to some extent, and yet we have the audacity to claim that no supreme Intelligence exists? Do we really want to create so many artistic masterpieces and other useful technologies so that God’s name would be defrauded? Our experiences tell us plainly that many of the talents we possess are gifts. And if they are gifts, there must be a Giver of the gifts.

When people say that some hidden God, or some kind of supernatural “inspiration,” is what animates the world, they are not only silly but profaning God. Such people would probably love the following passage from Virgil:

“Know, first, that heaven, and earth’s compacted frame,
And flowing waters, and the starry flame,
And both the radiant lights, one common soul
Inspires and feeds—and animates the whole.
This active mind, infused through all the space,
Unites and mingles with the mighty mass:
Hence, men and beasts the breath of life obtain,
And birds of air, and monsters of the main.
Th’ ethereal vigour is in all the same,
And every soul is filled with equal flame.”

What Virgil is saying here is that the world, which is supposed to be the reflection of God’s glory, is actually its own Creator. Virgil says something very similar in another passage. In fact, many Greeks and Romans adopted his view:

“Hence to the bee some sages have assigned
A portion of the God, and heavenly mind;
For God goes forth, and spreads throughout the whole,
Heaven, earth, and sea, the universal soul;
Each, at its birth, from him all beings share,
Both man and brute, the breath of vital air;
To him return, and, loosed from earthly chain,
Fly whence they sprung, and rest in God again;
Spurn at the grave, and, fearless of decay,
Dwell in high heaven, art star th’ ethereal way.”

What Virgil is trying to do is develop the belief in an almost non-existent deity so that the knowledge of the true God can be stamped out. If the world created itself, then what need of God is there? Now, I admit that some people who have the true knowledge of God can accurately use the phrase, “Nature is God.” What they mean is that nature has been established by God. But otherwise, most people use the phrase inaccurately to mean that the natural world is all that exists. Such thinking does great harm because it equates the great, always-existing God with His works that have come into existence. It degrades God of His majesty by making Him out to be no different than the things He has made.

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