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Everyone has a voice, and a choice to use it well, use it poorly, or not to use it at all.


Friday, July 1, 2011

Personifying the Wilderness

If you enjoy reading and love the wilderness, you probably like reading about the wilderness. Some of my favorite books are about the backcountry, books like Treasures Beneath the Sea, Endurance, and Everest the Hard Way. Reading books like this are the next best thing to actually being in the backcountry.

Each outdoor adventurer has a different philosophy on the outdoors. Some go out to find themselves, while others go to lose themselves. I enjoy hearing these different philosophies, because they are Cosmic Snail Trails - examples of the subjective giving us clues about the nature of the ultimate objective truth.

I see a pattern in books on the outdoors, especially in books on mountaineering expeditions. The authors almost universally attribute human characteristics to the mountain they are attempting to climb. Even the ancient Tibetan and Nepali name for Mt. Everest personifies the mountain: both the Tibetan name Chomolungma and the Nepali name Sagarmatha mean roughly "Mother Goddess of the Earth". More modern climbers tend to be less charitable. To many, Everest seems to be not so much motherly as hard, petulant, and resentful, often unwilling to be climbed.

What is this human tendency towards the personification of the physical world? Is there something to it? The Hindus, by and large, would say that it is the proper recognition of the god(s) that exists in everything. Staunch atheists would reply that, whatever it is, it is a false perception. What is the Christian reply?

Paul did not fully explain the personification of nature, but he certainly wrote about it:

"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 glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time."

What are we to make of this human (and even Biblical) tendency to personify nature? 

I believe it is an indicator that God is perceived more clearly in the wilderness than elsewhere. God is the ultimate "person" - there is nothing more personal than Him. It makes sense that He should be perceived in His creation - that is the whole premise of the CST Theory. From there, it is a short step to conclude that the less there is to distract us from God, the more of Him we will be able to perceive. When fewer man made objects there are to take up our attention, more of our attention will be free to attend to God. As we come to the end of ourselves and face the limit of our own abilities, we begin to perceive the characteristics of God in His creation.  His power, vastness, beauty, and variety are evident in what He has made.

God put these characteristics there for a reason. I do not pretend to understand all of that reason, but a part of it is that creation is intended by God to be a testament to all humankind - a testament that points us towards God, and condemns us when we reject Him.

"For 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 men are without excuse."

This is the root of why going into the wilderness is so powerful.  God displayed his invisible qualities in visible form in his creation.

The plainest conviction that comes from this is to get out into it! If you don't believe in God, go into the backcountry and experience that which you cannot explain. If you want to believe in God, go into the backcountry and allow Him to make himself known. If you are a Christian of fifty years, who has attended seminary and shepherded churches, go into the backcountry and learn things all your books written by human hands can not teach you, as you marvel at God's invisible characteristics laid before your eyes in visible form.


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