One of the defining features of God’s Word is how often it points us to God’s world. Much of Scripture, in fact, assumes a level of understanding about nature. So, it would seem, if we fail to go outdoors, if we fail to experience and engage in God’s creation, our faith could suffer.
Nearly every book of the Bible is bursting with references to creation, chronicling in soaring prose the making of the universe, identifying God’s covenant promise with colors in the sky, and inviting us to gaze with Father Abraham at the starry hosts, where an even greater promise was written.
The psalmist compares the longing of his soul for God with the thirst of a deer running to water, fully expecting his readers to get the word picture! He sings of the heavens’ divine declaration, he praises the Lord for making mankind ruler of “all flocks and herds…animals of the wild…birds of the sky, and the fish of the sea…”
“Ask the beasts, and they will teach you,” exclaims Job, “the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.”
The prophets, too, foretell the restoration of all things using imagery of a transformed created order: wolves lying down with lambs, lions eating straw like oxen, and myrtles and cypress replacing the thorns and briars of the curse.
And of course, Jesus Himself announced the Kingdom of God on earth with parables about trees, seeds, birds of the air which God feeds, along with lilies of the field which He clothes. The Bible at length promises that the consummation of history, like its beginning, will take place in a garden-city atop a mountain, with a river of life and trees whose leaves are to heal the nations.
Faced with this forest of references, it’s hard to see how someone who never spends time outside could fully grasp things the Scripture wants us to. Today, the benefits of modern technology have effectively cut us off from the natural world and the general revelation of God that it offers, perhaps more than ever before in history. Whether it’s our temperature-regulated homes and offices, our glowing screens, or our asphalt jungles, much of our lives happen in an artificial world designed to insulate us from nature.
There are costs to this insulation. Last May, the Washington Post reported that children today spend less time in unstructured outdoor play than any prior generation which, research indicates, results in worse school performance, less creativity, higher levels of obesity, fewer friends, and increased rates of depression and hyperactivity. Even more critically, the world kids experience today bears little resemblance to the backdrop of the Bible.
Writing at The Gospel Coalition, Scott Martin calls this modern isolation from creation not only physically, but spiritually dangerous. Citing studies demonstrating how time in nature reshapes our brains, he suggests that our manmade worlds of concrete and climate control rob us not only of the practical vocabulary to understand Scripture, but actually make unbelief easier. Our Babel-like convenience can delude us into thinking we are self-sufficient and can conceal our own frailty—how we depend on the God of creation for, as Paul says, “life and breath and everything.”
Thankfully, there’s a simple solution: Go outside!
Now, I realize I’m a bit privileged, living in Colorado Springs, where Pike’s Peak is visible from just about every west-facing window. But opportunities to experience the majesty of God’s creation are everywhere. Martin suggests intentionally getting wet in the rain once in a while, working on your church’s landscaping, or visiting local, state, or national parks.
And when we do one of these things, the Scripture asks us to be intentional and think about God and His created intention. Not only will it lead us to a greater sense of awe about God and His world, we’ll better understand His Word, as well.