God's Power Over Nature

There is a need among Christians to conform their view of the world to the Word of God. This has become clear to me as I have been preaching through Genesis. In particular I have seen how many Christians have a less than biblical view of nature. The problem is that too many Christians see nature as a closed system outside the control of God. They make provision for God to intervene periodically but in general they see nature as running on its own. Sadly, this view has more in common with atheistic naturalism than it does with biblical faith.

There is nothing that escapes the power of God. He commands and the rains fall. He calls and the winds obey Him. The Bible always attributes the workings of nature as the work of God. Not once does the Bible attribute even something as common as rain to any power other than God Himself. A biblical world-view does not have separate categories for what God does and what “naturally” occurs in the world. Indeed, the Bible tells us that it is God who holds all things together (Colossians ). He holds subatomic particles together. He causes rain and drought.

Now, we may distinguish between God’s ordinary works and His special works. But make no mistake. The world runs by the power of God. It is the power of God that keeps us from disintegrating. It is the power of God that brings about both blessing and calamity. All too often we like to think that God does the nice things but the unpleasant things are somehow beyond Him. But is this the testimony of God?

See now that I myself am He!
There is no god besides me.
I put to death and I bring to life,
I have wounded and I will heal,
and no one can deliver out of my hand. (Deut. 32:39)

The Lord does whatever pleases Him,
in the heavens and on the earth,
in the seas and all their depths.
He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth;
He sends lightning with the rain
and brings out the wind from His storehouses. (Psa. 135:6-7)

He sends His command to the earth;
His word runs swiftly.
He spreads the snow like wool
and scatters the frost like ashes.
He hurls down His hail like pebbles.
Who can withstand His icy blast?
He sends His word and melts them;
He stirs up breezes and the waters flow. (Psa. 147:15-18)

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. (Prov. 16:33)

Who has done this [stirring up an eastern warrior to conquer nations]
and carried it through,
calling forth the generations from the beginning?
I, the Lord – with the first of them
and with the last – I am He. (Isa. 41:4)

I, even I, am the Lord,
and apart from me there is no savior.
I have revealed and saved and proclaimed –
I, and not some foreign god among you.
‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘that I am God.
Yes, and from ancient days I am He.
No one can deliver out of my hand.
When I act, who can reverse it?’ (Isa. 43:11-13)

I form the light and create darkness,
I bring prosperity and create disaster;
I, the Lord, do all these things. (Isa. 45:7)

I say: My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please. (Isa. 46:10)

All the peoples of the earth
are regarded as nothing.
He does as He pleases
with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
or say to Him: ‘What have you done?’ (Dan. 4:35)

Theologian John Frame writes in his “The Doctrine of God”:
“Jesus emphasizes that this divine control extends to the smallest details. He teaches us that our heavenly Father not only makes the sun rise and sends rain (Matt. 5:45), but also feeds the birds (6:26), clothes the lilies (6:28-30), accounts for the falling of sparrows, and numbers the hairs on our head (10:29-30; Luke 12:4-7). And he demonstrates his unity with the Father by calming the sea at his own command (Matt. 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-39; Luke 8:22-25).

“So the biblical view of the natural world is intensely personalistic. Natural events come from God, the personal Lord. He also employs angels and human beings to do His work in the world. But the idea that there is some impersonal mechanism called “nature” or “natural law” that governs the universe is absent from the Bible. So in the notion of an ultimate “randomness,” as postulated by some exponents of quantum mechanics…It is plain that in the view of the biblical writers any impersonal objects or forces [gravity, electricity] are only secondary causes of the course of nature. Behind them, as behind the rain and the hail, behind even the apparent randomness of events, stand the personal God, who controls all things by His powerful word” (pp. 52-53).

Along with His omnipotence (complete power) the Bible affirms God’s omnicompetence (complete competence). God not only has all power, He exercises His power with flawless competence. If nature runs apart from God’s control then what power does control it? Is there another power in the universe that determines the winds and rains? If so, where does that power originate? Does that power have the ability to overrule God’s plans? When there is a pleasant rain then we thank God for His provision. But when a hurricane strikes we chalk it up to “natural forces.” There is a willingness to believe that God wielded the storms to wipe people out long ago. But, we imagine, He certainly does not do such things today especially to people we know or have something in common with.

Scottish theologian Donald Macleod writes, “God can do whatever He wills, so that He Himself is the measure of all possibilities. He is not limited by any extraneous, independent or competing force, or by the data or structures of any situation…Scripture does not view nature as a closed system operating independently of God. All its operations are God’s operations…All the second causes owe their potency to Him and the whole system is effective only because of the indwelling of His power…We live not in a static universe, but in a world of awe-inspiring movement, collision and explosion. But every such change is rooted in the will of God and is an expression of His power” (from Behold Your God).

These are deep issues and it is not wrong to wrestle. We should never have an insensitive or fatalistic attitude. We should never say in the face of tragedy, “Well, it was God’s will so let’s not be grieved.” The fact is, we will rarely and perhaps never understand why God blesses one people with pleasant weather and sends a tsunami to another people. Our response ought always to be the same: reverence for God and compassion for man. In his very helpful book “Is God Really in Control” Jerry Bridges writes: “It is not wrong to wrestle with these issues, as long as we do it in a reverent and submissive attitude toward God. Indeed, to fail to wrestle with the issue of large-scale tragedy may indicate a lack of compassion toward others on our part. However, we must be careful not to, in our minds, take God off His throne of absolute sovereignty or put Him in the dock and bring Him to the bar of judgment” (p. 59)