by Tim Pauls
Summer is nearly upon us. As the days lengthen and the air warms, the thoughts of many are turning to the outdoors, seashores, camping and fishing trips. School is winding down, gardens and vacation plans are in the making, and there’s a collective sigh of relief that winter has given way again.
If this describes you, I stand with you; so as you contemplate the beach or hike or garden or other encounter with the outdoors, let me offer you one friendly reminder: Nature is trying to kill you.
I reflect upon this whenever I pack up to go fishing. Nothing soothes my mind like standing in a pristine stream with a fly rod, pursuing the elusive cutthroat trout. To be there, however, preparation is required. Among the many things to bring along are a sleeping bag and tent (to prevent hypothermia), food (to prevent starvation), water (to prevent dehydration), firewood (hypothermia again), bucket (in case the fire gets out of hand), sunblock (skin cancer), insect repellent (mosquitoes, ticks, etc.), toothbrush (cavities), firearm (bears, wolves, etc.), first aid kit (because I’m me) and friends (because they know first aid).
You’ll note that I’ve not yet listed any fishing gear: before you can pack the fun stuff, you’ve got to make sure you stay alive.
And staying alive isn’t easy, because nature is trying to kill you. You do not live in the Garden of Eden. When people forget this, they end up enjoying a moment of infamy in a headline like, “Tourist Critically Injured Taking Selfie with Bison.”
There is, of course, a theological aspect to all of this. Nature is a big part of God’s creation. It’s covered in the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” As you enjoy nature, you’re enjoying God’s incredible creativity, imagination and vitality. Where many argue that the immense diversity of creation argues for random evolution, it makes a far better case for an imaginative God who delights in enormous variety.
The First Article talks about creation and nature, but it doesn’t talk about redemption. That’s the Second Article (about Jesus) and the Third Article (about the Holy Spirit). If everything you know about God is from the First Article, then you don’t know anything about forgiveness.
To put it another way, if all you know about God is from what you know about nature, then you’ll believe that God has put you in a world of dangerous beauty that will eventually overcome and kill you. Apart from Jesus, Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” actually makes a lot of sense. This is why it’s impossible to know enough about God from nature, because there’s no grace in nature. If the bison isn’t willing to pose for a selfie, it’s certainly not there to pronounce absolution.
We pastors encounter outdoorsy types who tell us, “God is everywhere, so I can worship him just as well in the mountains or on the beach.” Martin Luther had the appropriate response, along the lines of, “It’s true that God is everywhere, but He is not everywhere for you.”
And where is He for you? In His Word, His Sacraments.
Enjoy the outdoors, my friends, but be safe.
And get back to church on Sunday, and be forgiven.
The Rev. Tim Pauls is pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Boise, Idaho.