In the study of theology, we talk much about “nature”. We speak of the two natures of Jesus, or of the fallen nature of men, or of the new nature we receive through the Spirit. It’s an important term, but one that people often don’t have a great understanding of. So, this is just a simple post to explain some things regarding “nature”.
Cows eat grass. They don’t eat meat. Seems simple enough right? Why is it that they don’t eat meat? Is it because they are physically incapable of doing so? No, of course not. As a matter of fact, it’s very possible that as a cow is grazing in a field, and it happens to grab up a mouth-full of grass, that it would accidentally swallow some small creature or insect that has meat on it. Does this mean that a cow is a carnivore? No…because the cow didn’t eat meat willingly, but accidentally. What it wills to do is to eat grass. The reason? It is a herbivore by “nature”.
A cow’s nature is what determines a cow’s diet. A cow, by nature, cannot eat meat. But this is different than saying that a cow, because of physical inability, cannot eat meat.
And this idea, though more nuanced in theology, is what we mean when we speak of “nature”. A person’s nature determines what a person can and cannot do. So, for example, a person who is not a christian cannot please God. Why? Because without faith in God, it is impossible to please him. And, to put faith in God is to trust in him and be satisfied in him. So can an unbeliever do that? Well, of course they “could”, couldn’t they? They have the physical ability to love, and the capacity to trust, and yet they can’t love or trust God can they? No, because by nature, they don’t love God. To tell someone to love and serve God who by nature hates God is like asking your worst enemy to loan you a million dollars. “I’m sorry, Jim, but I can’t do that.” Of course he could (if he had the money, but of course all my worst enemies have that kind of money), but at the same time…he can’t. It is literally impossible for him to do so.
It’s like when someone offers to by me Chinese food, I just cannot say no to that!
And the reason this is important is because many people will begin to question the justice of God in not regenerating men’s hearts sometimes. People will say “if it’s impossible for me to repent without God granting repentance, then how is it just of God to condemn me for not repenting?” But the reason is that you ARE able to repent according to physical ability. You just can’t repent because you don’t want to. Your nature refuses to.
See, it would be unjust of God to say that in order to be saved, you have to jump over this 1000 foot wall with no assistance. That would be unjust, because we have no ability to do that. But, for God to say “love me more than you love yourself or your things or the pleasures of this world” is not something that’s impossible to physically do, it’s just impossible because everything in us screams out at how badly we want to refuse God. We don’t want to give him what he rightly deserves – our life, and because of this…because we are able but unwilling, he is right to judge us.
This is such an important thing to understand when you think about God’s justice and human nature. Thankfully though, for those who’ve trusted in Christ, God promises that he’s given us a new nature, one that DOES love God and DOES desire to put him first. No, we don’t always do it perfectly, but we DO desire God and seek to love him above all else.
There is more that could be said about this of course, but this is a basic explanation of something that often confuses people.
This topic also is important for understanding our Savior. Jesus had a nature as well. Actually, he had two natures. He had a human nature (though of course it was sinless), and also a divine nature. He was fully God and fully man. I hope to write another post about this soon, but at the moment, I would just say that just as we act in accordance with our nature, so Jesus acted differently according to his two natures.
Jesus felt hunger, according to his human nature. Of course, according to his divine nature, he wasn’t capable of feeling hunger, because divinity doesn’t hunger.
This way of thinking about “nature”, both in humanity and in Christ, is important for understanding many confusing things in the bible, and I’d encourage you to read more on it sometime.