What Do We Mean By Nature Anyway?

When we examine questions of dispute or importance, it can be a difficult matter to precisely define our terms.  Let us take as our example today the word nature.  The Merriam-Webster online dictionary, for example, gives nine distinct meanings for nature:

“1a the inherent character or basic constitution (see constitution 2) of a person or thing essence 

  • the nature of the controversy
b dispositiontemperament

  • it was his nature to look after others
  •  —F. A. Swinnerton
  • her romantic nature
2a a creative and controlling force in the universe
b an inner force (such as instinct, appetite, desire) or the sum of such forces in an individual
3a kind or class usually distinguished by fundamental or essential characteristics 

  • documents of a confidential nature


  • acts of a ceremonial nature
4the physical constitution or drives of an organism; especially an excretory organ or function used in phrases like the call of nature
5a spontaneous attitude (as of generosity)
6the external world in its entirety
7a humankind’s original or natural condition
b a simplified mode of life resembling this condition 

  • escape from civilization and get back to nature
8the genetically controlled qualities of an organism

  • nature … modified by nurture
  •  —E. G. Conklin
9natural scenery 

  • enjoyed the beauties of nature”

When we look at something as complicated as nature is, it is worthwhile for us to examine what we mean, because the words we use and the sense that we use them in means a great deal.  Speaking for myself, when I refer to “natural scenery,” I prefer to use the term creation instead of nature to describe this, because what I am viewing is not something that just is, but rather something that was purposefully made by One whose aesthetic senses are far beyond our own but something we can at least infer because we share that quality ourselves as human beings [1].  How do we mean nature, though, when we talk about the thorny issue of human nature [2]?  Our meaning of nature has a great deal of importance in how we view questions of great importance regarding God and man.

This becomes of considerable importance because at least in the religious tradition I come from, human nature has very loaded meanings that may not be immediately obvious to anyone using the term.  Perhaps surprisingly, one of the most striking similarities in the wider world to the sense in which I and others of my background use the term human nature is in the musical realm.  It should be admitted that when we look at the world of music, singers like Michael Jackson and Madonna have celebrated and embraced human nature while I would be far less praising about it, but it remains that we are at least wrestling with the same sort of tendencies.  When Michael Jackson examines various problematic areas of his life, including his staring at an attractive girl or seeking to enjoy the corrupt life of the city, he is at least aware that his human nature is bent in some fashion.  So too Madonna means this quite openly when she comments that human nature leads her to break rules and transgress the standards of others.  She celebrates this self-expression and transgression, but she at least acknowledges that it is transgression rather than denying it as is the fashion of some.

And it is that acknowledgement of human nature as transgressive and problematic where we must begin.  If someone has human nature within them, they have an automatic internal drive to transgress some boundaries, to push back when others tell them what to do or how they should live.  Whether or not we struggle against that nature, to whatever extent our struggle is successful or not, having human nature means having some element of corruption and wickedness and a desire to transgress boundaries and standards within us.  This transgressive nature may express itself in a wide variety of ways over the course of our lives, but it is something we must deal with as part of our human nature.  Even without being a Calvinist, one must admit that there is something natively wrong with ourselves from the inside, and whether we struggle against that wrongness, deny it and present to the world a picture of fake perfection, or celebrate and embrace and wallow in that wrongness and view any sort of correction or blame or attempts to induce guilt and shame over that wrongness as illegitimate an unacceptable, that wrongness is deeply inside of us, part of our longings and drives and imagination.

Given that, how is it that Jesus Christ was perfect and blameless?  Jesus Christ had the form of a human being, he felt hunger and exhaustion and even things like frustration and irritation like human beings do, but He did not sin.  Moreover, although we refer to Jesus Christ being tempted (for example, the three temptations by Satan in the wilderness), we do not see that Jesus Christ had any sort of internal temptation in the sort of drive to sin that we find within ourselves.  Even at the moment when Jesus Christ was contemplating His death and suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, and acknowledging the gulf between his own self-interest and the will of God, we see a full commitment to obedience to God’s ways that is difficult for us to fathom and impossible for us to imitate without God’s help.  As human beings, we are well aware of there being two natures within us, whether or not we are deeply spiritual people or not.  We have a nature that corresponds to our conscious intent and another nature that corresponds to our powerful internal longings and drives, many of which we may be aware are problematic or even self-destructive.  If you have ever struggled against addictions or sought to engage in a change of your diet and exercise regimen in order to live healthier, you know the two natures within you, and you lament when your baser or lower nature wins out and behaves in ways that threaten your overall well-being that you consciously seek to live out.  There is no question that human beings have two natures, and that the desire to do right and the ability to do right are not always both present within us.

Yet we do not see that interior struggle of natures within Jesus Christ when we look at scripture.  Rather, what we see is that while Jesus Christ was in the form of a human being and subject to all the limitations of humanity that form entailed (including mortality as experienced by the horrific death of crucifixion), Jesus Christ was entirely on the same wavelength of God and not subject to the same sort of internal tension that human beings struggle with and fail miserably at overcoming on a regular basis.  Jesus Christ was not an addict, not someone who wanted anything that was loathsome or improper, and when he dealt with external temptation or attempts to trap Him by those who thought themselves subtle and clever, He was able to turn the trap on those who sought to entrap Him, contrary to their expectations.  This is a consistent pattern that we see in scripture, whether we are looking at Jesus’ throwing back scripture to Satan and telling him that he should only serve God, or his brilliant way out of the traps of Jewish leadership, to the point where He drew the principles of eternal life from the Torah from the grammatical tense of God’s claim to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob because it was in the present tense and not the past tense.

We may say, therefore, that Jesus Christ did have a nature that was different than ours.  We may find this incomprehensible.  We may bristle against the reality that the way we are naturally is not the way we ought to be, and we may fight for the right to be the grubbiest caterpillars possible because we are unaware that we were designed and created to become butterflies, something we cannot even conceive in our present fallen state.  But the question of nature is a vitally important one.  Form and nature need not be synonymous.  If we only have the grubby and fallen nature that is ours by birthright as human beings, we have no expectation or hope of a better existence than we now enjoy.  However, if we feel within us the pull of both a higher and lower nature and struggle to develop and mature the higher nature, we have an understanding that we were meant for more than this, and that the realization of a higher nature inside of us signifies that our external form does not define our existence and nature.  We may be wise and good and have the form of that which is despised and dishonored by others.  Likewise, we may be honored because of the offices we possess or the attractiveness of our external form but internally we may be loathsome and wicked beings, in which case we live in fear that the loss of our external attractiveness will signify people treating us as we really are, which we cannot bear.  Having defined the way that nature is to be viewed in this study of the nature of Christ, we may therefore state at the outset that neither the nature of Christ nor our own nature depends merely on our external form.  However much of our lives may be shaped by the limitations of those forms–human frailty, questions of ethnic or gender identity or what not, it is truly our nature, our internal character, which defines our eternal destiny, and that which will emerge gloriously bright or be weighed in the balance of divine judgment and found wanting.  Which will be the case for us?

[1] See, for example:





[2] See, for example:



About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christianity, Church of God, Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to What Do We Mean By Nature Anyway?

  1. Pingback: An Introduction To The Una Natura Project | Edge Induced Cohesion

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