Today’s post is directed at those of you spiritual people (some of you are Christians, some of you aren’t) who go around talking about how you commune with God through nature, or feel close to God in nature.
How close to God do you feel when you go into your bathroom and get into your bathtub and put a mattress over your head and get out a few minutes later to find nothing but rubble and broad daylight all around?
How close to God do you feel when your parents, or children, or other family members, disappear in the course of a massive tsunami and earthquake and you don’t know–and can’t know–if you will ever see them again for as long as you live?
How close to God do you feel when your entire village was washed away in a tsunami six years ago and you had to go live in a refugee camp for what you thought would be a temporary thing but it is becoming clear to you as the years go by that this dreadful place is now your permanent new home?
How close to God do you feel when an earthquake comes and all of a sudden the city where you have lived for your entire life is transformed into something out of MadMax?
All of that is part of nature too. If you are going to talk about feeling close to God in nature, you can’t just talk about feeling close to God when you are out riding your bike on a quiet, beautiful, wooded road, or out looking up at the stars on a balmy spring night, or staring at majestic mountain splendor. You can’t just take what you like and leave the rest. You have to deal with the ugliness of nature as well, because that is part of nature too.
In The Plague, Albert Camus tells of a prisoner who looks up at the stars through the grilled window of his prison cell and ponders the sublime indifference of God. The poet Schiller, on the other hand, looked at the stars and wrote “Above the sky there must dwell a dear heavenly Father.”
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them. (Psalm 19:1-3)
But what of this God of whom the heavens declare? Is he good, as Schiller believed? Is he bad, or just plain indifferent, as Camus’s prisoner believed? There are as many different opinions on this as there are people. Merely looking up at the stars will not settle this dispute. Neither will looking at pretty flowers or tall trees or majestic mountain splendor.
Nature may testify of God, but nature in itself will not lead you to very much in the way of knowledge of God. The heavens may declare the glory of God, but it takes more to hear it than just looking up at the stars. It takes faith.
It takes faith to look up at the stars and see them declaring the glory of God. And it takes faith to look at the tornado that just leveled your house or the tsunami that wiped out your village and see in it the goodness of God.
And it takes faith, even if you can’t see any goodness at all in the tornado that leveled your house or the earthquake that transformed your city into something out of MadMax, to say, “Even still, Christ died for me. I am a child of God. I am part of the family, part of the kingdom. There is hope, even for me.”
Don’t think that you can produce this kind of faith through any kind of effort on your own. This faith cannot and does not come as a result of anything we do. It only comes as a gift from God. It comes entirely as a gift from God.
But in order to receive this gift, the first thing you need is to recognize that you are spiritually dead as a result of sin–both your own and the general sin of humanity–and that you need to be reconnected with God in order to live. And for that, you don’t need pretty flowers or a starry night or a quiet road through the forest. You need a dead guy on a cross who came back a couple of days later.