It’s Thursday, time for some theology.
What might you say if you wanted to get a Confessional Lutheran Minister to take a long sigh, smile condescendingly, and grind his teeth? Well, maybe you can come up with some other ideas, but one surefire statement would be, “I love going for walks in the woods/on the beach/out in nature. I really find God when I’m out there.”
If you’ve ever said that you’re probably feeling slightly miffed and ready to click close on this blog post, but please hang with me. I want to show you how you legitimately can find God, where to find him, and how to make those walks in the woods/on the beach/out in nature a lot more spiritually fulfilling.
First of all, we need to establish our source of truth. If you’re looking for God – and you’re reading this blog – I’m guessing you and I are probably agreed at least that the God of the Bible is the true God, and that Jesus was real and that what he said was worth listening to. If you have a different viewpoint we need to have a different discussion, but not in this post.
On trial before Pilate, Jesus said, “For this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of the truth listens to me” (John 18:37). What truth was Jesus talking about? Where did he say the truth was to be found? “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). In other words, if we are looking for the truth, the place to start is the Word.
To punctuate this, God inspired the writer to the Hebrews to say this: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Quite the credentials Jesus has. If God has spoken through Jesus, and Jesus says that his job is to testify to the truth, and he says that the truth is found in the Word, where should we look for the truth? The Word.
Does that necessarily mean that we can’t find God elsewhere? Do we not find truth any place other than the Word? Can’t it be a both/and, rather than an either/or? Certainly, people report experience spiritual good when they “commune with nature,” so isn’t there something to that?
Well, let’s once again look at the source of truth to find out what value there is and isn’t in that sort of thing. When the Word speaks of nature, it says first of all that “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1). As the creator of all things, God is the master of all, and creation serves to glorify him. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1). So, in a way, a person might be able to “find God” in nature, in that nature speaks to his presence, his greatness, and his wisdom. Paul says as much when he writes in his letter to the Romans, “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). God has made himself evident in his creation.
All of us probably have had experiences where we saw something beautiful in nature and it pulled at our hearts. Maybe it was just the peacefulness of a place free of human interference that filled us with the sense of something greater. Such experiences are one of God’s purposes in his natural world.
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:24-27).
God’s creation does tell us that he is there, and it is a step to us “finding God.” The problem is that knowing that God exists simply isn’t enough. “You believe that there is on God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder” (James 2:19). We need more than just the knowledge of God’s existence if we are to have any hope. “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).
We need faith – trust that relies solely on God and his goodness for eternal salvation – if we are to have any hope. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Faith comes from one thing only – the Gospel. “Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Faith is both created and strengthened by hearing the Word. Nature itself cannot provide for us the Gospel truth we need to be strong in faith.
So what good is it to go out and “commune with nature?” Well, there may be some good. This time of year we don’t do a lot of communing with nature in the Upper Midwest. We mostly snarl at nature as we avoid it, huddling in our homes and cars trying to stay warm. But when the weather is nice I find that getting to a peaceful place where I can be free of distractions and focus on prayer and study of the Word is a really good thing. That’s the key, though – keeping the Word as a part of that process.
Think of it like communication. If you have a relationship with another human being, there has to be two-way communication. It is the same with God. Prayer is how you speak to God. How does he speak to you? Through his Word. A lot of people go out into nature, or some other quiet still place, and pray with the hopes that somehow through that time in prayer God will speak to them. But if they leave the Word out of the process, they can’t really expect to get much from God. Sure, maybe a Bible verse or a Biblical thought will come to them – but that is the Word working. Any other thoughts, thoughts that don’t jive with Scripture, are either the result of misconception and confusion in the sinful mind or the trickery of Satan and his minions. That’s why the Word is so necessary – it is the source of truth! You want to hear truth from God, go to the source!
Next time you’re going on a walk on a beach or through the woods or finding some quiet place, don’t look for God to speak to you through the call of a bird or a breeze in the trees or any of that. Far be it from me to say that God couldn’t speak to you through those things, but he hasn’t told us that he will. He has told us to listen to his Son, who pointed us to the Word as the source of truth. So, if you’re going to go on one of those walks, take a Bible with you and spend a little time reading it. You’ll get so much more out of the experience.