Losing Our Joy in Nature

In Pollution And The Death Of Man: The Christian View Of Ecology, published over forty years ago, Francis Schaeffer recounted that Charles Darwin near the end of his life found that two things had become dull to him: his joy in the arts and his joy in nature. Schaeffer comments on the irony of this great naturalist losing his enthusiasm for the very thing he had made his life’s calling. Then he continues:

We are seeing today . . . the same loss of joy in our total culture as Darwin personally experienced: first of all in the area of the arts, then in the area of nature. The distressing thing about this is that . . . Christians often really have had no better sense about these things than unbelievers. The death of joy in nature is leading to the death of nature itself (p.11).

Schaeffer also tells the story of visiting a Christian school in the 1960s that was located across a ravine from a “hippie community.” Curious, Schaeffer crossed the ravine to learn more about the settlement. He discovered that the commune was clearly a pagan one—even conducting pagan earth rituals common to the New Age Movement today. But he was also struck with how attractive the community was and how carefully they kept the land. The difference between the grounds of the two communities was extreme.

The leader of the pagan commune even commented to Schaeffer about the “ugliness” of the Christian school. Schaeffer tells of his reaction to that comment:

It was then that I realized what the situation this was. When I stood on the Christian ground and looked at the Bohemian people’s place, it was beautiful. They had even gone to the trouble of running their electric cables under the level of the trees so that they couldn’t be seen. Then I stood on the pagan ground and looked at the Christian community and saw ugliness. That is horrible. Here you have a Christianity that is failing to take into account man’s responsibility and proper relationship to nature (p.42).

Schaeffer’s book was not just another commentary on the decline of Christianity; it was a call to apply biblical principles to the world’s growing environmental problems. It was an invitation to rediscover the wonder of God in creation. It was a reminder that we are not as likely to care for one another if we have forgotten the high calling of God to appreciate and care for all that He has made.

It’s not too late to find joy and renewed worship in an awareness that was expressed by George MacDonald more than a hundred years ago:

If it were not for the outside world, we should have no inside world to understand things by. Least of all could we understand God without these millions of sights and sounds and scents and motions weaving their endless harmonies. They come out from His heart to let us know a little of what is in it (What’s Mine’s Mine, p.29).

The capacity of God’s awesome creation to reveal knowledge of himself and His goodness is so obvious that children are almost the first to notice—something Peter Illyn of Restoring Eden discovered a few years ago when he was out in the wilderness with his young son.  As they were walking, the joy of the experience prompted the boy to say, “You know, Dad, it’s easy to believe in God when you’re outdoors, isn’t it?”  A sermon from the lips of a child.

How long has it been since you’ve let your voice join with the voices of the mountains and rivers singing for joy at the promise that our Redeemer and Creator will indeed come and judge the world with both righteousness and equity.

KEY SCRIPTURE:
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; 5make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn– shout for joy before the Lord, the King. Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity (Psalm 98:4-9)