As our discussion of natural law proceeds apace, one of things we have to do is distinguish between the unacceptable forms of natural law and the acceptable forms of it. I mean, to accept the unacceptable forms of natural law would be . . . unnatural. Creepy almost.
So what’s the difference? At the end of the day, if someone wants to say that natural law can give us a moral compass whether or not there is a God, that is unacceptable. It is idolatrous. In such a case, nature functions as the source of law. In my understanding of what Scripture teaches, the only source of natural revelation would be God Himself, as He is — which is triune. God is not an optional component in the system. With natural revelation, creation is the medium through which God speaks.
The world is God talking, and it is absurd to postulate a system where you keep the talking, but then grant that the existence of the talker is up for grabs. Scholars apparently differ . . .
So a litmus test of whether we are going in a bad direction would be whether or not the words nature and creation are interchangeable, for the purposes of our discussion. If those two things are treated as being completely different, then we have compromised with unbelief. If nature functions as a “given,” whether or not it has a Creator, then we are, metaphorically speaking, on the bad side of town at two in the morning, we are out of gas, and have five thousand dollars in our pocket.
Now it is true that an atheist can know certain things by means of this natural law, and he can be right about those things. But he is not right about the source of that knowledge, and he is not right about the context of his moral knowledge. If a natural law theorist wants to flatter this atheist, and act like his moral knowledge is a valid bit of knowing, even within his atheistic context, then that natural law theorist, in my view, has given away the store, not to mention the farm, and to switch metaphors a third time, is five thousand dollars down.
In other words, nature does not just show us morality, suspended in midair. Natural law delivers the whole package, and the true Creator of it.
When we speak of natural revelation, this implies that there must be a revealer. Now I think the same way about natural law, but there is a long tradition of some folks thinking that natural law is possible without the implication of a lawgiver. In my long standing efforts to surprise absolutely no one, I think this is incoherent. Revelation implies a revealer; design implies a designer; law implies a lawgiver; boondoggles imply a Congress. Who does not know these things? Let us not be children.
To believe that natural law can give us morality, but fail to supply a reason for it, is unnatural. There is no morality without a reason. Such a monstrosity is contrary to natural law. If natural law is to have a scriptural witness in its favor, according to the apostle Paul, this means that natural law speaks about the nature of the lawgiver as much as about the content of the law. Indeed, the content of the law reflects the character of the God whose nature it describes. There is a living God, whose divine majesty can be clearly seen, and denial of this leaves a person without excuse. If Romans 1 is to be summoned to testify about any of this, then natural law reveals things like the reality of wrath (Rom. 1:18), the impermissibility of idolatry (Rom. 1:22), the duty of giving thanks to the true God (Rom. 1:21), and the wickedness of homosexual acts (Rom. 1:26-27). This is not Aristotle’s Prime Mover. It is the Father of the Lord Jesus.