My story (the role of nature in my story)
When I was about 9 years old, my family and I went camping in the southern tier of New York State, near the Allegheny Mountains. We wanted to be close to Ischua Creek where we planned to spend the weekend canoeing and fishing for trout. It was a warm spring week and we were excited to get outdoors for the first time in many months.
We got a late start on Friday afternoon, so by the time we reached the creek, it was dark and finding a camping spot was next to impossible. We finally pulled off the road next to what looked like a meadow and decided to make camp. We didn’t own a tent, but my mother’s boyfriend Gary, who was a plasterer, had a role of plastic sheeting we could use to make a wikiup.
The shelter was a simple triangle, with a bottom to keep our sleeping bags dry and two sides in the form of an A-frame. The two ends were open to the meadow like a cannoli. My mom slept in the middle with Gary and me along the open ends.
Sometime during the night it started to rain. Not one of those refreshing summer thunderstorms that blows through in 30 minutes. But a slow, steady drizzle. A cold spring rain that lasted until the wee hours of the morning. I knew I was getting wet, but I was cold and didn’t want to wake up the others. By the time the sun came up, my sleeping bag was saturated and I was numb. I crawled out of the tent to stand up and get into some dry clothes, when I discovered that we were surrounded by dozens of cows. Apparently our meadow was a cattle pasture!
After that rough start to the weekend, we got dry and warm and spent the rest of the time navigating the stream in our canoe, trying to catch small, wild brown trout on worms. That was a fabulously memorable weekend. And I haven’t been able to get nature out of my blood since.
I spent my youth doing as much outdoors as I could. I found that I felt more alive outdoors than indoors, and the further I was from civilization, the better. Winter meant snowmen, snow forts, and snowball fights. Spring and summer were the time for hiking, biking, camping, rafting, and fishing. Fall was the most exciting season though, because it meant whitetail deer hunting.
Before age 16 I would accompany my stepdad, Dave, on his hunts. After 16 I could carry a gun and hunt with the men. We’d hike to a ground or tree blind pre-dawn to get settled in before the deer started moving in search of food and mates. Twenty-five degrees feels a lot colder in the dark. And the woods were eerie in the deep blackness, conjuring up images from the horror movies we’d been watching. It was awesome.
After high school, I moved to California and took advantage of the year-round outdoor opportunities. We hiked and camped every month. We skied in the mountains in winter and surfed at the beach most of the year. My passion for the outdoors grew exponentially with all the exposure.
The writer of the book of Romans, the apostle Paul, tells us that nature is God’s first and most undeniable witness to mankind. In fact, Paul says that we can even learn something of the Father’s character from His creation.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. Romans 1:20
This is what theologians call general revelation: the Creator has revealed Himself in a general way to all humankind. Faced with the reality that there is a universe, never mind its beauty and complexity, there are only two viable conclusions we can come to: either matter and energy and space are self-existent, or there is a creator that is. Atheists are often comfortable with a self-existent universe. Many people in the world find it more likely that there is an intelligent being that created the fundamental fabric of the universe. Based on the enormity of the universe, it stands to reason that this Creator, if He exists, is awfully powerful. We ignore Him at our own risk.
What general revelation does not tell us, however, are the details about God or our relationship to Him. Thankfully, the Bible fills in these details. Jesus taught that mankind is insufferably sinful, and that this sin separates us from God because of His holiness. But our efforts to repair the rift are useless because of our weakness and sin. So God Himself, who apparently loves us more than anything else in this vast universe of His (see John 3:16), devised a plan that would allow us to be welcomed back into His kingdom. This special revelation cannot be found in a sunset or standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon. Anyone who tells you that nature is their church is missing the key ingredients offered only through Scripture, as given to us by the Holy Spirit.
That’s where God met me. I had spent a lifetime immersed in His creation, amazed and awestruck by its beauty and intricacy. Subconsciously, I had been drinking in the Creator’s message of general revelation to me. But I never knew how to act on it. Only when I was introduced to the historical Jesus in the Bible did it all come together.
God’s story, begun in my heart as general revelation through my adventures in nature, was made complete in Christ through the special revelation of Scripture. Thank you, Lord.
Take-home point: Nature, though insufficient on its own for salvation, points us to the Creator.
Take-home verse: Romans 1:20
Questions for thought
What role does nature play in your faith? What about your story?
Do you know anyone who believes that nature is all we need to know God?
What can nature teach us about God? What have you learned about Him this way?
Creator God, in your wisdom you reveal something of yourself to every human being on the planet in all of history through nature, your creation. You tell us in your Word that this revelation is sufficient for us to acknowledge you. But through Scripture you have taught us even more, including your plan to save us from the penalty of our sins and bring us back into fellowship with you. Thank you for nature, for Jesus, and for the Holy Scriptures. Amen.