The Wonder of Wilderness.

I was walking home from school earlier today when I noticed a piece of litter laying across my path. It was the small daily devotional “Our Daily Bread“. Now, even though I usually find this kind of devotional literature to be pretty shallow, there is something about it that deeply intrigues me. I’m especially intrigued in circumstances like these, where I find it as garbage along the side of the road. So I picked up the booklet, and flipped through to today’s entry. I had to laugh out loud. The title read: “The Wonder of Wilderness” and was written by Philip Yancey. Here is the text of the entry:

The psalmists had an advantage in praise because of their closer tie to the natural world. David began life outdoors as a shepherd, then spent years hiding in the rocky terrain of Israel. Not surprisingly, a great love, even reverence, for the natural world shines through many of his poems. The psalms present a world that fits together as a whole, with everything upheld by a personal God watching over it.

Wilderness announces to our senses the splendor of an invisible, untamable God. How can we not offer praise to the One who dreamed up porcupines and elk, who splashed bright-green aspen trees across hillsides of gray rock, who transforms the same landscape into a work of art with every blizzard?

The world, in the psalmist’s imagination, cannot contain the delight God inspires. “Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth; break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises” (Ps. 98:4). Nature itself joins in: “Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills be joyful together before the LORD” (v. 8).

The psalms wonderfully solve the problem of a praise-deficient culture by providing the necessary words. We merely need to enter into those words, letting God use the psalms to realign our inner attitudes.

So now I’m wondering, what am I to make of this strange coincidence? What are the odds that something like this would happen? If I had come across the same booklet yesterday, or tomorrow, it would not have had nearly the same impact. Nor would it if I had picked it up on any other day in the three month period this booklet covers. Only today could this Christian environmentalist, who uses the biblical symbol of “the wilderness” to explore his own theology, experience such a strange coincidence.

But is it really as strange and coincidental as I am making it out to be? Has environmentalism entered into the mainstream Christian consciousness so much so that it has become frequent in pulp devotional literature? In flipping through the rest of the booklet I see nothing else that overtly mentions nature, the environment, or the concept of wilderness. Of course, I am aware that ideological green-washing is creeping ever further throughout our culture and also into mainstream Christianity. Yet, there is something about this experience that remains profound.

Recently I was talking to a friend about feminist interpretations of a biblical passage. She told me that, had I not provided her with such a specific lens to read the text, the passage would be ghastly. That got me thinking. We often forget that we are reading through the lens of 21st century Americans living in a culture that is far removed from that of the Bible. Also, we might assume that any feminist, or environmentalist, or anarchist lens is a reinterpretation of a biblical passage, that it is somehow altering it to make it more relevant for our present situation. Until recently, that is how I thought of the relationship between environmentalism and the Bible. Environmentalism, I thought, was a rather recent ideological innovation, and since the Bible is ancient, it should have nothing really to say about the subject. I definitely thought the two views were compatible, and that one could make a case for environmentalism that was biblically sound, but ultimately that it was more or less a biblical addendum. I thought that the words of scripture could be used and applied to the environmentalist cause, but not that these interpretations were necessarily the thoughts or intentions of the biblical writers. The further I delve into this subject though, the more I am convinced that this is not the case.

Lately, it is becoming easier for me to imagine the prophets as environmentalists. After all, they are the voice of a Creator deeply in love with creation and who chooses the wilderness of the deserts, the rivers, and the mountains as places of revelation.

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