Welcome: An Introduction

Sharing the insights I discover as I explore and experience the mystery that is our reality. Join me in my journey and share yours.

Monday, November 8, 2010

God and Nature

I wrote these thoughts while spending some time at my favorite quiet place, by the river not far from our house. They contain some reflections on God's greatness and put into perspective the beauty and wonder of nature:

Tufts of grass sprout up amidst a bed of rocks lining the river's curves. Birds swoop and dive high above among the treetops, sounding their calls, bidding adieu to another fine day. Atop my makeshift perch of impressive quartz, I look at the vast array of stones surrounding me. If it were a snapshot I would title it "Impermanence", for every rock I see has a continually evolving story that no one but God will ever know.

Sometimes when I look at a particular rock, in its misshapen and irregular shape, bearing deep grooves, sporting gashes along its contour where elements have taken off whole pieces, I wonder where along the river, or perhaps buried inside some deep glacier, did it have its beginning. Such a thought is almost hard to comprehend-the genesis of a stone. Even with a tree, one could come to wonder where it got its beginning. Of course in the seed from which it sprung from, but what about the tree that seed came from? And the tree before that? Have you ever wondered what the very first tree looked like? What kind it might have been? Could such a thing ever be figured out, with total certainty?

Even the Bible, which serves as no science text book but regardless does give an account of the beginning, does not get very specific. It tends to speak more in general terms, giving account of large groups at a time in terms of their conception. This is naturally because the Bible's message is not one of biology but one of salvation.

I must admit and humble myself that there are some things that mankind will never truly know for sure. We can speculate, hypothesize, and have fun dreaming up the possibilities, but some answers seem to belong to God and God alone.

What exactly does that mean? What could one get from that truth? The truth of an all-knowing diety that has existed before time and exists outside of time wholly independent from our existence? I know to me, it points towards the vastness of God, to His greatness, to His holiness and His soveriegnty over all things. It also is a very humbling thought.

Hood River Photo

As I return my thoughts back to the rocks surrounding me and look at their living scars I'm reminded of the merciless nature of the natural world. As beautiful as it is, it has little if no compassion on the weak, no pity for the weary. If you can't keep up out here you are welcomed quite readily into the bosom of nature's grave where quite assuredly other creatures will make good use of you. I am reminded that as much as I take refreshment and find awe in its presence, it is really the glory of God manifested that my heart is drawn to. God's love is the direct antithesis of nature's brutality. Where the natural world tramples on the weak, the Lord lifts the weak up. Where the weary found in nature could easily be overcome and drowned by the merciless waves of the sea, the weary who trust in God have only to ask and receive His water, living water, that brings life, not death, and light to the soul.

In relation to nature and God Thomas Merton wrote this:

"When we see things as they are in God (or as we think they are in God) in relation to the goodness and love of their creator, then the things are filled with more beauty and mores significance than would be possible if we just looked at the thing for its own sake....The tree offers us shade, which is pleasant, and so reminds us of God's mercy and love which is pleasant and full of solace, and the tree appears to be the instrument of God's mercy and love for the just and the unjust alike.

...The tree is a living thing, nourished as we are by the Lord God, and holding up its leaves and branches loving the air and the light that move around and among it, and nourished by the sun and the rain and the rich ground: and so, loving the tree, not for itself, we are able to achieve the imaginative self-identification with it poets and Saints both seek after and we love it in something of the same kind of way as Saint Francis loved and understood the birds and living creatures.

The soul cannot enjoy things, it can only enjoy itself or the love of God. It cannot enjoy trees: but God and his mercy and love are everywhere in the air, in the trees, in our hearts. So we can be struck with love and sympathy and understanding for the Godliness that is in all the things around us, that proclaim the immense and unfailing love of their creator."
                                        ~ Thomas Merton, Run to the Mountain, p. 26-27

I think Merton, in this passage, gives much for one to reflect on when spending time in nature.
Anyways, I don't want to make this too long, but if any of you have any thoughts towards this topic I'd love your feedback :)

~Many blessings


  1. I don't believe nature is a brutal place. Everything we've recieved to survive has come through nature. The water in the stream, the berries on the bush, the crops in the field, the light from the sun (and stars), the shade and shelter in the form of trees and rocks, the earth we bury our dead under, the warmth of fire that keeps us strong through the cold. When nature harms us it is we who are harming ourselves by taking nature for granted.

  2. Thank you Justin for your comments and observations. I do agree with the fact that nature can be a very giving source too, a source of plentitude when it comes to nourishment (as in the form of berries, and food sources, shelter, etc.). I would suggest though that nature is not very forgiving or lenient towards the weak in nature. This can be seen with a struggling member of an elephant herd that is singled in on and then, because of its weakness, taken down by a predator on an african plain. Part of life? yes...a brutal side of nature nonetheless, yes.
    I do agree that we do have the misfortune of many times taking nature for granted. That's how we, as humans, have gotten ourselves in a huge environmental mess. We need to respect nature, for we are interconnected with it, all life is connected in one form or another with all living life. When we harm nature, we harm ourselves.
    Take care :)

  3. But little lion cubs have to eat as well. Some of that moral relativism working its ugly fingers into the equation, I suppose. Life is not a perfect thing, no one really ever has a flawless life. Would you say that civilization is more forgiving than nature is? If you screw up royaly at work, would you not be fired? Do we not have car accidents, plane crashes, terrorist attacks? Society is a lot less forgiving and with fewer pleasantries.

    Society won't kill you outright (unless it does), it'll just punish you until you die of miserable old age. People do worse things to people than nature ever could. Yes, nature gets rid of the weak, but only to benefit the strong. We are the strong, you and I, son and daughter of thousands of generations of people fortunate enough to be born with the right genes and luck. Not only would we not be here if the weak were allowed to live, but those alive now would face an even more difficult life.

    Nature allows us to evolve to be faster, stronger, smarter, to evade that lion. Yes, some creatures must die early and sometimes painful deaths, but only in society are creatures allowed to suffer for decades before death finally takes them. Those that are born don't have a choice about it, but nature gives us the best advantages it can give.

  4. I was thinking of the stereotypical piece of rock that gets crushed, apparently mercilessly, until - surprise! - it becomes a beautiful diamond. Or how devastating forest fires invigorate new life into ecosystems, after the blaze has died down. Dead things give new life to other things. There are many examples of hope and redemption in nature.

    But then, as you say, it is violent, dispassionate, unconcerned for the weak, etc. And, as Justin pointed out, it all depends on one's perspective. Nature affords opportunity to meditate on so many aspects of the God who created it all. And, as I have been recently learning, the Saviour who will redeem it all as well (cf Romans 8:21). :-)

    Btw, I loved your comments about not reading Scripture as primarily about science, but about God...it's a huge pet peeve of mine when people miss that point and talk themselves into all sorts of corners! :)

  5. Thanks Becky and Justin for your comments. Justin, you make some really good points. When I wrote what I did I did think of the possibility that it would seem as if I was minimizing the role of nature and its function. That wasn't my intention. It was to point to the divinity of God and the fact that His compassion and mercy supercedes that of the natural world...it is supernatural. Nature is a beautiful thing and it has its function and purpose. I would agree to the statement: Not only would we not be here if the weak were allowed to live, but those alive now would face an even more difficult life.
    It is an unfortunate thing, suffering, but it does exist, and there are some purposes to it I suppose.

    One of the main points of what I wrote was the point that nature reflects the glory of God and that we can learn insights into God's character and mercy through His creations, as Merton eluded to.

    I suppose...as you and Becky point out...perspective is everything! That's why I love blogging and facebook, etc. because it affords me the opportunity to learn other's perspectives. We should have minds that are open and receptive to new ideas. Thank you Justin for your differing perspective :)

    Blessings to you both! :)


  6. Becky, Justin and Jessica. I thoroughly enjoyed reading both the post and your exchanged comments. If I may add though, I believe this post is more about the incomprehensibility of God rather than nature or humans. There are some things we must accept that we just cannot know, no matter how much we try. We only know in part and that's the reason for all individual perspectives. We will know fully when we finally see him. So let's just "be still and know that HE is GOD" and enjoy his love for us while on the way home.

    A very merry Christmas and a happy new year to us all.