By Joel A. Hess –
Since the romantics first rebelled against the industrialism and the city in the 18th and 19th centuries, western civilization has been taught that nature is serene, peaceful, and self healing. Furthermore, if man would stop going “against” it, he would enjoy its peace.
One of the most famous romantics and a favorite of sophomores, Henry David Thoreau writes in Walden, “Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself.”
Today naturalists, alternative medics, environmentalists cringe at the city and long for some sort of oneness with nature. Both conservatives and progressives romanticize nature in their own way. One could say that the argument to remove taboos regarding sexual desires flows from the assumption that doing what is natural is always the best course.
A couple of weeks ago, I spent a week in the canyons near Escalante—absolutely beautiful, absolutely deadly. Sure, I enjoy minimalism and figuring out how to survive on what’s in my pack. Certainly, I could improve my ability to live in that land and enjoy it. But as my friend, the Rev. David Rufner says, “the land doesn’t want you here.” Or something like that. Sound especially transcendent at the time.
There is no natural utopia! There has never been a culture that was more “in tune” with nature. At least not to the degree as it’s often portrayed on the extraordinarily artificial big screen. Native Americans did not live in harmony with nature any more than Bruce Lee.
On the first day of our trip, a naïve and admirably happy couple contemplated crossing a dangerous portion of slip rock. The young man did his best Thoreau, “She’s from Idaho and I’m from North Carolina, but this place just brings us all together.” A couple moments later she protested to him, “I’m not going across there, that’s crazy!” And the boy’s utopia grounded to a halt.
“Life is suffering,” Jordan Peterson repeatedly declares in lectures and his best-selling book, “12 Rules for Life.” Of course this should be common sense and Christians of all people should say, “Amen.”
Of course, this is due to the evil desire constantly pushing every man, woman, and child inward. We call it original sin and concupiscence. But life is suffering also because all creation is under the curse as Paul explains in chapter 8 of Romans, “For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”
So when little Suzie comes to you crying and asking why her dog died, you can say, “Sparky died because of you.” Joking, don’t try that at home. It’s also not the right time to tell her sparky has no soul. Neither did the last couple of U2 albums but whole other topic.
So where is our hope if not nature?!
Well, Jesus, of course. In Him and the Baptism that connects us to Him, we are ushered into a true utopia, a harmonious existence, the new heaven and new earth. A wormhole, time travel, call it what you will. Our spirit steps into the future where there will be no sin, no death, no corruption, no jagged rock or mudslide.
Jesus does have something to do with nature. Though nature is corrupted and crooked because of the curse, it was all made through Him. Everything. There is a reason why it is so beautiful, that we are drawn to it. Though it is no longer in harmony, we can see misplaced remnants of Eden here and there, glimpses of the ideal. It’s OK to stand in awe before a wall of rock or a newborn calf.
It’s OK to want to conserve a wetland or forest. It is God’s creation after all. Just don’t look for it to heal you. And all things are returning to Him. Every beautiful thing we see is all the more beautiful as we know that it is just a preview of that new heaven and new earth. As Jesus Himself was a portal through whom we see that uncorrupted place and time and people!