catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 21 :: 2005.11.18 — 2005.12.01


Natural asylum

I have made several lifestyle changes in the past few years as I have become increasingly aware of what has been happening to our food, water, wildlife, wetlands, and forests. I have sensed a need to study ecology from a biblical perspective. I am not so na?ve as to believe that my sources do not have a bias. I try to get information from non-political independent groups. I have read from sources religious and secular; left, right, and middle; scientific and philosophical; professional and popular. Perhaps my most valuable source has been from Nature itself on hikes through forests and on my knees planting gardens. It is beside the waters and on tops of mountains that God speaks to me through a revelation available to all those who will stop and listen.

The universe belongs to God. It is His Sistine Chapel. A man that is in awe of a majestic mountain vista is a man in awe of God. When a woman is able to find peace by a stream or the sea, she is being ministered to by God. Nature is good because it is God?s work.

Nature is in the business of doing God?s good work when it ministers to the spirit of a man or woman. A plethora of Christian and New Age audio and video recordings available on the market today illustrate this point. One does not have to travel to a beach or to Brazil to benefit from the ocean or the rainforest.

The doctrine of the Fall of man implies that there was a negative effect on the natural world. However, an imperfect universe does not negate the fact that the universe is the product of God?s mind, and in an imperfect way, reflects His mind and will. It reflects something of His personality. Art students can quickly identify a work with a known artist. Often, an artist?s mood, worldview, and knowledge about a subject can be perceived from a painting. Something of the mind of a computer programmer is reflected in the software he designs. Likewise, something of the mind of God can be understood by a meditation on His marvelous works.

In Romans 1:19, 20 the apostle Paul states that the invisible attributes of God can be clearly seen through the physical world. This is in the context of an important soteriological passage. God has revealed Himself to every human being through nature. In this sense, every human has access to God. To the extent one chooses to embrace, ignore, or destroy this revelation of God, one is indirectly accepting, ignoring, or rejecting God. This choice may very well determine whether that person will receive additional revelation. At the very least, it sets a precedent for rejecting God that may continue throughout a lifetime.

Wendell Berry uses more poignant words: ?Our destruction of nature is not just bad stewardship, or stupid economics, or a betrayal of family responsibility; it is the most horrid blasphemy. It is flinging God?s gifts into His face, as if they were of no worth beyond that assigned to them by our destruction of them? 1. Of all people, Christians should have a respect for the natural world of which they are an integral part. Yet, this is too rarely the case. Berry adds that the Christian is ?praying to a God whose works he is prepared at any moment to destroy. What could be more wicked, or more mad?? 2 For the moment, it does not appear that this madness is slowing down at all.

Mercury in fish, increases in various cancers, and famines may be directly related to the exploitation of the natural world. There may very well be an endangered plant or animal somewhere in this world that holds the key to fighting off a disease like AIDS or cancer. Perhaps a potential cure has already been destroyed. It might seem from the vantage point of an angel or alien that the human race is attempting suicide.

The physical fitness of the human race is linked to spiritual fitness. Those who place the non-physical realm on a higher moral plane than the physical realm are mistaken. Both are aspects of God?s creation. Nowhere in Scripture does God categorize one as qualitatively better than the other. It is said that God created Adam in His own image. There is something in the physical body of man that reflects God?s bodiless image. The principle of analogy necessitates that everything that God created is in some way similar to God 3.

There seems to be both transcendent and immanent aspects of the non-physical realm just as both of these qualities relate to God. God is logically and chronologically prior to His creation. God is also within his creation. The non-physical realm is not necessarily limited to the natural world, but it does seem to be an integral part of it.

A Platonic view of reality divides the world into levels of value that have no connection to reality or the Bible. Platonic dualism views the physical world as evil. As things move further from a non-physical reality, they become decreasingly evil until one arrives at pure ?Nous? or ?Mind.?

Though few Christians would use the term ?evil? to describe the physical reality, many make a similar distinction between the physical and the spiritual in which the spiritual is viewed as qualitatively better. If there is such a qualitative division in the universe it is between a transcendent holy God and everything else, not between the unseen and the seen. All of God?s work is sacred whether we see or not, or whether we understand or not.

An irony observed by this writer is found in man?s tendency to label sacred a Cathedral, but diminish the reality of God?s presence in a forest or a field. A house of worship can be a sacred place to the extent that worshippers acknowledge the presence of God. The art of stained glass windows or paintings can be an interpretation and tribute to God?s work. They can serve as an aid to worshippers in their quest to glorify God. Yet every ?sacred? work of man is just an imitation or an interpretation or an extension of His original design.

For me, nature has become a sort of asylum?a place where I find both sanity and peace. Most importantly, it is where I sense God?s presence. For me, the Bible makes more sense outside. If I can?t go outside, I prefer a plant on my desk when I study. Call it mysticism if you like. I believe that a young David would have agreed. We do not have a record of Christ spending long hours in prayer at the temple or in synagogues, but He spent entire nights praying in the wilderness areas or gardens accessible to Him. I believe that a Christianity divorced from a love of creation is dangerous. It produces a synthetic religion that overlooks the importance of this world and the lessons that God wants to teach us. At best, it results in a relationship with God lacking in depth and understanding.

The eastern mystic sees an impersonal God in all. The average Christian sees a personal God beyond all. The responsible Christian sees a personal God in all as well as beyond all. In a certain sense, the creation is an extension of God. Paul acknowledges that we exist within Him (Acts 17:28). Though God is not found in temples made with hands, (Acts 17:24), His image is present in the created world (Psalm 19:1-3). Rather than limiting your worship experience only to a church building or a prayer closet, go where God has clearly revealed Himself?to a cathedral of trees, to a garden sanctuary, to a sea of grass. Go alone and pray. Go with a friend and fellowship. Go with a Bible and get to know the maker of Heaven and Earth on the intimate level you were designed to enjoy.

1 Wendell Berry, ?Christianity and the Survival of Creation.? Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community (Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc., 1993), 98.

2 Ibid., 115.

3 It would be pointless to try to disprove this fact with the idea that God is in no way similar to evil. God did not create evil; it is not substantive. Just as one can only have darkness to the degree that light is absent, evil is a privation of good.

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