Cottonwood Creek and the Tetons, GTNP

I love nature.  Hiking through the woods of Southern Ontario.  Standing at the base of the majestic Tetons in Wyoming.  Falling asleep to the constant, calming rhythm of ocean waves.  Climbing over boulders at the base of a remote waterfall in the Smokies.  “These are a few of my favorite things,” to quote Julie Andrews.  Get me to a place far from the maddening crowd, far from the concrete jungle!

Jackson Lake and Mt. Moran, GTNP

I find nature greatly restorative.  It is as if I can connect with God better in nature.  I am not alone in this; since the beginning of time people have left whatever they deemed to be civilization to find “God.”  Native Americans would leave the camp for a vision-quest.  Hike through the bush of the Far North of Canada and you will find piles of rocks shaped with a human figure called inukshuks in places where the Inuit sensed a stronger connection to the divine; these are usually some distance from development.  Whether it was the pagans of Canaan, the ancient Greeks, the builders of Machu Picchu, the Buddhists of the Himalayans, or the Japanese who revered Mt. Fuji, mountains have always been deemed holy places because of there proximity to the “heavens.”  Think about the Bible.  Abraham had to leave Ur to follow God.  He was lead away from camp to Mt. Moriah to worship God.  Moses finds the burning bush on the backside of a remote mountain while tending sheep.  Israel was refined in the Desert.  Elijah meets God in the Kerith Ravine and at the mouth of a mountain cave on Mt. Horeb.  God disgraced Baal at the top of Mt. Carmel.  People left Jerusalem to find John the Baptist at the Jordan River.  Jesus was tested in the Desert as well.  The apostles were fishermen not artisans, politicians, or religious leaders.  Jesus spent most of his ministry in small fishing villages, rolling foothills, and on the Sea of Galilee not in Sepphoris, the developed Hellenized city ten miles away.  Salvation was purchased through crucifixion “outside of the city.”

Old Faithful, YNP

Many are realizing that the further we pull ourselves from nature, the more strained our own souls become.  It is as if we, creatures, are tied to Creation.  The cities we have created and the technology we have discovered are great blessings in many cases.  But they also allow us to think of ourselves as Creators and tease us to pull away from the Original Creator of all things.  One trip down a raging river, one tree falling on your house, one mudslide that flattens a million dollar, state-of-the-art house in Malibu and we are reminded that there is a Power above ourselves.

Thunderhead, YNP

It is this impulse that is being appealed to in today’s reading.  This new, short Medinan surah derives its name — Thunder — from the thunder in ayah 13 that praises God with its power and awe.  People are rejecting the words of Muhammad.  He comes speaking of a singular God who creates all things, not the provincial pagan gods the Arabs had grown up with.  The people should leave these inferior gods and worship the one true Creator.  The vast majority reject Muhammad’s preaching and dare his God to bring on the punishment Muhammad claims comes with disbelief (13:6).  The people ask for a miracle as an inducement to believe (13:7).  Allah tells Muhammad to point simply to the vast created world as evidence to His reality and power.  See the heavens, the sun, the moon, the mountains and rivers of the earth, self-propagating fruit, the consistency of night and day, the fertility of soil, human reproduction, lightning and thunder, heavy rain clouds, and the water cycle and its natural purifying capability.  Muhammad’s message is simple:

There truly are signs in this for people who reflect . . . [and] reason. . . . This is how God works illustrations. (13:3-4, 17)

Of course, the drawback to using nature as an evidence for God is that it is entirely subjective and immensely impersonal.  The same hike that moves my soul to praise makes someone else beg for air-conditioning and bug spray.  The Grand Canyon makes one person marvel at God’s power and for another it only further proves the ongoing evolutionary formation of our planet (not to imply that a belief in God is necessarily incongruent with some form of evolution).  You might see love in the way nature is so wonderfully balanced that provision is almost always there and available.  You certainly would see order and power.  We can tell much about God from nature, but how would you see righteousness or holiness?  How would you determine the best way to live life from a mountain’s grandeur?  How would you ever get Jesus from Niagara Falls?  Nature screams the existence of a Higher Power, a Creator, a Sustainer.  But which Higher Power?  A personal one?  A god who reveals its will in some way?  A personal God who is interested and involved in one’s everyday life?  Nature is a fantastic place to begin an apologetic, but more is needed.

(All of the pictures used in this post were taken last summer in Wyoming on our family vacation to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone.  Beautiful!)