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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Nature with God and Humans


 
"Nature is the art of God."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Joseph Campbell -- American writer, mythologist, and lecturer (1904-1987) -- was known to believe that myth arises out of the land as much as out of the psyche. Campbell believed your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again.This is Campbell's definition for purpose: "The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature."

Campbell said that myths are clues to the spiritual potentialities of the human life. Myths developed as stories told by humans to explain their natural surroundings and why certain events occurred in nature.  They created stories to explain echoes, rainbows, constellations, sunsets, etc.

Theologian and author Rev. R.J. Rushdoony asserts that one of the major myths of the modern world is the idea that there is some such thing as "Nature" that operates as a controlling agent or force. ("The Myth of Nature, http://chalcedon.edu/research/articles/the-myth-of-nature)

Rushdoony explains, "It is one thing to say that the universe or creation exists; it is another to assert that this universe is the source of its own laws and phenomena, or that it is a self-enclosed system of causality...." He continues,

"The Bible has no such term as "Nature." 
It does not recognize Nature as the source and cause of natural phenomena; 
rather, it sees God directly and absolutely operative in all natural phenomena. 
There is no law inherent in 'nature,' but there is a law over 'nature.'
Nature" is a collective name for an uncollectivized reality, 
and by uncollectivized it is meant that "nature" has no unity in and of itself 
that makes it a unified order.'

Yet, many people maintain the believe that nature does function independently of God and that "natural law" is some self-contained system with its own inherent rules. Such a belief reduces God to "the mechanic" who merely created nature. Those who believe this often take the next step -- to accept the ultimacy of nature and to drop God entirely.

Some would say that the concept of "natural law" with its supposedly distinct nature gives scientists and other believers the means by which to elevate their opinions, dogma and prejudices to some metaphysical level where nobody will dare to criticize it. This leads to the understanding that natural law can replace God's law.

Is nature a mythical concept forged by man or is nature a gift of God, both fashioned and controlled by him? From the beginning of human understanding, people have striven to define nature -- what it is, how it works, and who (if anyone) is the controlling force. The concept of natural law did not even exist until the Ancient Greek philosopher-scientists -- discovered? invented? -- it in the pre-Hellenistic age. And, mankind continues to seek meaning in nature, be it myth or Holy creation.

Campbell once said, "People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I think that what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That's what it's all finally about, and that's what these clues help us to find within ourselves."


Nature = God's Creation To Help Us "Find Ourselves"

I believe that God created nature and all the wonderful things in it, and I believe that He controls the workings of the natural world. Any law that is known as "natural law" was made by the Creator, thus is subject to human interpretation and change. Man, in his earthly state of being inquisitive uses his weak intelligence to comprehend natural things so that he may better understand the natural gifts provided by God.

Does God want humans to question, better understand, and use all of their intelligence? I believe so, within reason and within God's plan. I have no argument with science until the study claims to refute the existence of the Almighty and his ultimate control. I think humans (also a creation of God) should see everything in nature as a wonderful link between the Creator and themselves. Nature can be an important key for mankind -- a key to inner understandings and a conduit to a better relationship with God.

"And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, 
and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.
So God created the great creatures of the sea 
and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, 
according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. 
And God saw that it was good." Genesis 1:20‑21

In The Solace of Fierce Landscapes (Oxford Universtiy Press, 1998) Beldon Lane states: "Talk about God cannot easily be separated from discussions of place. A desert-mountain environment (or any landscape, for that matter) plays a central role in constructing human subjectivity, including the way one envisions the holy. The place where we live tells us who we are -- how we relate to other people, to the larger world around us, even to God. Meaningful participation in any environment requires our learning certain 'gestures of approach' or disciplines of interpretation that make entry possible. All these are matters essential to the analysis of any spirituality."

For centuries, various Christian individuals and religious orders have withdrawn intentionally away and deeper into raw, natural settings to seek God in places less urbanized or developed. Rev. Jerrod H. Hugenot tells of Jesus's wilderness experience:

"Out in the desert, Jesus spent time withdrawn from people and the basic comforts,
if not needs, of life.  He endures out in the midst of a place not for the faint of heart, 
making John the Baptist’s frugal existence of hair shirts and locusts with honey look positively opulent.  Luke’s telling of the story has Jesus out there for forty days, 
echoing another era of the Bible as Israel wanders in the wilderness for forty years."

 ("The Need For Fierce Landscapes," http://www.fbcbennington.org/sermonsjhh/
tag/jerrod-hugenot?currentPage=2, 2009) 

Withdrawing allows people to focus, to strip bare who they are and what they presume is most important or pressing in your life.  Hugenot notes, "After forty days and forty nights, Jesus is weak in his physical deprivations, yet as it is said, that which challenges strengthens.  He is offered three temptations that have increasing degrees of enticement:  food to eat, power over the world, and finally to challenge God for power.  Each temptation challenges Jesus to exercise his power, to take the easier path.  Jesus refuses each one, which again, by the general measure of the world, would be increasingly foolish.  'If you have power, use it!' the world would say.  Jesus could have done any of these three things, yet he did not.  Jesus not only refuses, he refutes the very thought of being tempted to stray from God’s ways."

In The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, Lane rejects the easy affirmations of pop spirituality for the harsher but more profound truths that wilderness can teach. He writes...

"There is an unaccountable solace that fierce landscapes offer to the soul. 
They heal, as well as mirror, the brokeness we find within." 

This idea that inhuman landscapes should be the source of spiritual comfort and that the very indifference of the wilderness can release humans from the demands of the endlessly anxious ego, teach them to ignore the inessential in our own lives, and enable them to transcend the "false self" that is ever-obsessed with managing impressions is clear in Lane's book. Lane comes eventually to settle upon the apophatic (God can be known to humans only in terms of what He is not) and mystical for his ultimate framework of desert and mountain spirituality.

Biblical references seem to reinforce the apophatic nature of God.
  • No one has seen or can see God (John 1:18).
  • He lives in unapproachable light (1 Tim. 6:16).
  • His ways are unsearchable and unfathomable (Job 11:7-8, Romans 11:33-36).
Natural places have a way of leaving people speechless: this awe is often described as "feeling closer to God" or "being in the presence of God." In fact natural experiences can evoke feelings of being "God struck." And, doesn't it seem that wilderness and harsh landscapes, in particular, evoke the strongest feelings of communion?
Lane believes...

"If we cannot know God's essence, we can stand in God's place --- on the high mountain,
in the lonely desert, at the point where terror gives way to wonder. 
Only here do we enter the abandonment, the agnosia 
(The inability to recognize and identify objects or persons despite 
having knowledge of the characteristics of those objects or persons.), 
that is finally necessary for meeting God."

According to Pastor Bob Deffinbaugh of Community Bible Chapel in Richardson, Texas, the universe as a product of Divine creation is one of the important means of Divine revelation to man. In his study, Bob Deffinbaugh numbers the ways nature reveals some of God's attributes. (Bob Deffinbaugh, "Nature's Part in God's Perfect Plan," http://bible.org/seriespage)

(1) Creation witnesses to God’s invisible attributes of eternal power and divine nature.
(2) Creation witnesses to God’s grace.
(3) Creation witnesses to God’s faithfulness in caring for His creatures.
(4) Nature reveals God’s infinite knowledge.
(5) Nature reveals God’s infinite wisdom.
(6) Nature reveals God’s holiness. 
(7) Nature reveals God’s glory.
(8) Nature reveals God’s righteousness.
(9) Nature reveals a certain standard of conduct. 

Romans 1:20 provides further proof of the importance of nature: “The invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead.”

The universe in its immensity, complexity, design, and beauty testify to the God who created it; and as Romans brings out, it is a testimony to the power of God and to the personality and deity of God. Dr. John F Walvoord states...

"This revelation of God in nature, 
which is perceivable by man in his normal intelligence,
is stated in Romans to be so clear that according to this scripture
'they are without excuse,' that is, all men should worship the Creator."

(Dr. John F. Walvoord, "The Spirit at Work in Revealing Truth," http://bible.org/seriespage)

  
Landscapes Witness to God

Landscapes (all natural settings) and spirituality are inevitably interwoven. Far beyond the simple "eye candy" in visual perception, landscapes can evoke awakenings. These awakenings can return visitors to how they are linked to their surroundings -- linked physically, spiritually, and psychically. The Maker has provided us with natural tools that serve not only as striking adornments but also as wonders that create deep human understanding.

I, for one, have never felt closer to God than when taking time to pause and truly experience His natural creations. Where? I have felt this when examining at a blade of grass in my own tiny backyard and when standing on the rim of the awesome, indescribable Grand Canyon in Arizona. With whom? I have felt this all alone while deep in the woods of Shawnee Forest and with many others atop a mountain while on the Appalachian Trail during a pouring rainstorm. No matter the time or place of my natural exultation, I knew instinctively I was worshiping God and giving Him thanks for the creations I knew as "nature." Each time I better understood God's grace, infinite wisdom, and glory.

"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.
Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.
The winds will blow their own freshness into you,
and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves."
-John Muir

"The best remedy for those who are afraid,
lonely or unhappy is to go outside,
somewhere where they can be quiet,
alone with the heavens, nature and God.
Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be
and that God wishes to see people happy,
amidst the simple beauty of nature.
I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles."
-Anne Frank  


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