Ultimately, this reality to which the created order witnesses is the Lord God Almighty, who is not just the Maker of heaven and earth, but also our Redeemer. For while the natural law witnesses to the Creator, it is insufficient to save. Rather, God’s special revelation of the good news of Jesus Christ is the only hope for a creation, and people, that longs for restoration.
One account of morality sees history as the outworking of a competition between groups that are vying for power. Another account grounds morality in personal preference or choice. In contrast to these accounts, the historic Christian faith affirms a revealed standard of morality that is grounded in the divine Creator Himself.
The Basis of Natural Law
While this morality is most clearly revealed in the special revelation of Scripture, the created order and human conscience also bear witness to the same ground of morality. God’s invisible attributes are clearly perceived in the things that have been made (Rom. 1:20). A law is also “written on the heart” (2:15). According to this view, these external (nature) and internal (conscience) witnesses to the Creator’s moral standard render all people “without excuse” (1:20). This universal and accessible law is also called the natural law.
The natural law has been the bedrock of western moral and political thought for centuries. It is built upon two assumptions. First, there is an order to nature—that nature conforms to a law and isn’t chaotic. The Lord God created “plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind” (Gen. 1:11). A maple seed is directed toward its inherent end to become a maple tree and produce more maple seeds. This purpose is not willed upon it by mankind but built into its nature. Second, human beings are rational creatures that can discover this order, which is binding on everyone; the Lord endued men and women with “reasonable” souls (WLC Q. 17).
The natural law is distinct from positive or civil laws that are enacted and enforced by legislators. It is also categorically distinct (though, of course, not separated) from God’s eternal decree. However, the natural law is not autonomous. Herman Bavinck discussed the natural law under the topic of God’s general revelation, where he writes, “This revelation of God is general, perceptible as such, and intelligible to every human. Nature and history are the book of God’s omnipotence and wisdom, his goodness and justice.” Elsewhere, he holds together the books of general and special revelation: “It is one and the same God who in general revelation does not leave himself without a witness to anyone and who in special revelation makes himself knows as a God of grace.”
A fundamental aspect of the natural law is whether nature has an intrinsic aim, or telos. Unfortunately, more modern uses of the natural law assume a mechanistic understanding of nature. For example, Kant’s categorical imperative provides the basis for moral action on the sovereignty of the will. Nature no longer witnesses to morality; instead, nature becomes something to manipulate and master for our own ends. The manipulation of nature for our own ends is demonstrated in the topic of homosexuality.