Ken Samples, our staff philosopher, says he doesn’t know anyone who loves nature as much as I do. He wanted to know what it is about nature that I find so attractive and why I will go to such extreme physical means to get to beautiful natural settings. He is not alone. Hundreds of friends and strangers alike have asked me the same question.
I could probably fit my answer to this question in a book, but I will make just a few brief comments here.
First, as a scientist, I know that never before in Earth’s history has the terrestrial realm been as magnificent and beautiful as it is right now. Never before has Earth manifested such spectacular scenery. Never before has Earth contained so many diverse species of life. As a scientist, I also know that we humans have been endowed with an enormous and multifaceted aesthetic capacity to appreciate and enjoy beauty. God created us at the most beautiful time in Earth’s history and so richly endowed us with the capacity to appreciate beauty. This implies that he wants us to explore the natural realm and revel in the beauty and magnificence of what he has created (see images 1–3). Whenever I do that, I feel God’s presence in a powerful way that I never do when I am cooped up inside a man-made structure.
Images 1–3: God gave us a planet filled with natural beauty.
From top: (1) Espresso Ridge near Mount Forbes in British Columbia; (2) the Kalalau Trail on the Nā Pali Coast of Kaua’i; and (3) in Numa Pass near Floe Lake in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia. Image credits: Hugh Ross
Second, in Job 12:7, Job says, “Ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you.” There are important spiritual lessons we can learn just by observing mammals and birds in nature. Where wild mammals and birds have never been threatened or abused by humans, we can see their innate desire to relate to a higher being and to serve and please a higher being (see images 4–6). As God designed birds and mammals to relate to higher beings and to serve and please us higher beings, likewise he created us humans to relate to a higher Being and to serve and please him. Getting out in nature and attempting to get close to the birds and mammals teaches us the importance of dealing with the sin that blocks our intimacy with God and the animals.
Images 4–6: God endowed mammals and birds with a desire to relate to humans.
I took these photos of a hoary marmot in the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia. When he saw me, he came out from his hiding place to greet me. He let me get within four feet and proceeded to do a dance for me on his rock.
Third, spending time in nature rejuvenates the soul. So much of twenty-first-century life is spent in densely populated metropolitan cities in office buildings at rows of desks staring at computer screens. Our bodies need a break from such sedentary living. Our minds and spirits need to be refreshed.
Fourth, at least for me, there is a feeling of euphoria and profound gratefulness in getting out in nature and recognizing that God designed everything I see, from horizon to horizon, up into the farthest reaches of the starry and galaxy-filled sky, and every life-form that has ever existed. He designed all this so that billions of human beings can hear the gospel message and receive God’s redemptive offer. Getting out in nature reminds us of how powerful, loving, and righteous God is.
Fifth, God gave us two books of his revelation: the book of Scripture and the book of nature. God commands us to read and study both books. When we read and study them, we have the promise that they will “refresh the soul,” “make wise the simple,” “give joy to the heart,” “give light to the eyes,” and reveal to us “purity” and “righteousness.” I have found that the best way to get atheists and skeptics to read the Bible is to first take them out to some place of spectacular natural beauty. That the book of nature is an antidote to atheism, agnosticism, and deism is affirmed by the strong correlation between the growth of these isms and the rise of urbanization.
I can and will write much more. However, let me encourage you to really get out in nature. There is a big difference between seeing nature from a cruise ship or a tour bus and experiencing it on a hike through the wilderness. If you see more than two other humans per mile of hiking, you are probably not seeing nature as God created it. My most rewarding and instructive experiences in nature have been those where few, if any, people are around.
Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:1a)