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Home  >  Features  >  SRT: Jesus and the Natural World

Features

SRT: Jesus and the Natural World

SRT: Jesus and the Natural World

Monday August 17

In the continuing series celebrating 50 years of the SRT, Andrew Torrance explains why the Church is called to proclaim that the natural world is not its own independent reality.


If you were to ask a church-going scientist how often Jesus comes up in their research, it would be surprising if the answer were greater than never.

Indeed, were such a scientist to start listing examples, there would probably be good reasons to question whether they were a serious scientist.

Why? Simply put, Jesus is not on the empirical radar that guides the modern natural sciences.

An unfortunate consequence of this is that, in a society that prioritises a scientific account of nature, we can be led to believe that Jesus makes no difference to how we think about the natural world.

So what reason is there to think otherwise? While I do not think the Church should try to find ways for Jesus to make a practical difference to the sciences, I do think Jesus should play a pivotal role in shaping how we think about the world that scientists study.

What do I have in mind here?

Before offering a positive answer, let me raise a concern. In discussions of science and faith, it can be tempting to talk about God as though God is not involved in the world – to avoid the risk of our religious beliefs interfering with a scientific worldview.

This is a mistake. Such a God is not the God of Jesus Christ but the god of deism: a god who creates the world and then leaves it to itself. If we allow science to push us towards deism, then the object of our faith ends up being little more than a mystical ‘god of wonder’. Such a god is far removed from the triune God who actively involves himself in and with creation – creating, sustaining, revealing, and redeeming.

Therefore, if the Church is to talk about science and faith, its thoughts cannot simply be about remote beginnings and the distant acts of a divine originator. Rather, the Church must pay attention to how God continues to interact with creation. It must be attentive to who God reveals Godself to be in the person of Immanuel – God with us. It is in Jesus Christ that we see the creator most fully revealed in creation. But not only that. In him, we are given to know how God relates to the world, and what that world is created to be for creatures.

In and through Jesus Christ, this world becomes caught up in the life of God. Jesus participates in this world and, by his participation, secures the world’s redemption from all that afflicts it. The Church believes that Christ, the incarnate Word, is the agent in whom the Spirit of God is supremely present among us, is the rationale and the goal of all things – space-time as we experience and explore it; nature and all its enigmas; matter itself.

And, to cite the Apostle Paul, Jesus Christ is the one in, through, and for whom “all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col 1:16). As David Fergusson put it, ‘the world was made so that Christ might be born.’

In Jesus Christ, God does not simply leave the natural order to its own devices – those regular and well-ordered devices that the scientist takes such care to study. So the Church is called to proclaim that the natural world is not its own independent reality. While knowing Jesus may not make any practical difference to natural scientists, it makes all the difference to their perception of the cosmic field in which they operate. As such, Jesus is not only relevant but central to the scientist’s understanding of the natural world.