“For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it,” reasons Paul before saying, “just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body” (Eph 5:29–30).
Paul here moves seamlessly from the nature of human bodies to the supernatural grace of Christ’s for the church. Paul then continues moving from nature to grace by defining the church as those who are “members of his body.” By members, Paul means parts of the body: a hand, a foot, an eye, and so on.
Nature explains grace. That’s why God made everything.
Study the ant and you will “be wise (Prob 6:6). Study also agriculture, zoology, and cosmology to grasp the resurrection. These concrete arts make sense of a great mystery of faith. If we do not, then might fall under the rhetorical flourish of Paul’s “foolish person” in 1 Corinthians 15:35.
In this passage, he explains: What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.” (1 Cor 15:36–37). Yet agriculture does not alone give a concrete understanding of the resurrection.
Paul also uses zoology and cosmology to make sense of our resurrection body. He writes:
38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. (1 Cor 15:38–41).
Study animals. Study the night sky. Grasp the sort of things they tell us about the one who made them! Here, Paul tells us of the varying glory of the cosmos which itself declares “ the glory of God and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps 19:1). Here, Paul uses these natural analogues to make sense of the glory of the human body: “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:44).
Nothing about this should surprise us. God created marriage (Gen 2:24) to signify Christ’s union with the church, his body. After citing Genesis 2:24, Paul writes: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”
The world’s first recorded poem in Genesis 2:23 both naturally makes sense of marriage but also explains the spiritual meaning of union with Christ, becoming members of his body: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Gen 2:23). So it is that “we are members of his body” (Eph 5:30). We know this because God invented marriage to explain by natural sign what is spiritually true.
The same pattern appears in the resurrection: “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:44). By the way, by spiritual I do not mean non-physical. The resurrection of the body means a physical body! Our assumptions here of nature and grace, nature and spiritual need something of a reset. According to Scripture, the spiritual body is no less a body than ours but operates by the Spirit and immortal and incorrupt (1 Cor 15:45ff).
Things in creation tell us all about God’s glory and his grace.
In 1561, the Belgic Confession was published and has become one of the most important statements of reformed thinking. The second article affirms God’s single revelation distinguished in both nature and Scripture. It reads:
We know God by two means:
First, by the creation, preservation, and government
of the universe,
since that universe is before our eyes
like a beautiful book
in which all creatures,
great and small,
are as letters
to make us ponder
the invisible things of God:
God’s eternal power and divinity,
as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20.
All these things are enough to convict humans
and to leave them without excuse.
Second, God makes himself known to us more clearly
by his holy and divine Word,
as much as we need in this life,
for God’s glory
and for our salvation.
Nature and Scripture represent two means to the same end: knowing God. The first (nature) has limits in that it can tell us the invisible things of God but only leave us without excuse. Scripture alone can savingly come to us since we must hear the preaching of the word and believe by faith.
And yet, especially for a Christian, “universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God.”
Plentitude of Wonder
How great and grand is the God who made all things for himself! “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom 11:36). This great universe is a plentitude of wonder, the theatre of God’s glory—to borrow a phrase from John Calvin! Ascribe to him his mighty works of creation and Providence, his invisible and eternal power!
Do not dismiss the mere observations of nature. Do use the more clear and exclusively saving revelation of God since nature tells us that God exists; it does not tell us who the personal God of Scripture is—whom we see in the face of Christ.
Together, they tell us one truth; yet they have distinguishable layers of clarity. So study the ant! Know that God set the cosmos in order (Gen 1:14). Know that he is not far from us (Acts 17:27). Yet never forsake that clear and saving revelation of God in Jesus Christ, recorded in the memoirs of the apostles and revealed through the prophets according to the mystery of the Gospel (Rom 16:25–26).
So study the cosmos, learn what you can. Perceive the reason for the things of nature. After all, we have fathers and sons, not because we simply made those ideas up, but because God made us in this way so that we can know the God who is Father and Son: “I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:14–15). Families with fathers and sons are what they are because God is eternally Father of the Son!