Imagine sitting in a historic Methodist Church in central Queenstown and looking through the arched windows towards the snow-capped Remarkables. Then visualize listening to fellow believers reciting with adornment Psalm 121: 1-2, KJ:
“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made the heavens and earth”.
Hearing this spiritual affirmation or portrait of one’s faith during church services was common during my time in Queenstown as a Salvation Army Officer during 1978/9.
Queenstown’s iconic beauty awakened a theological awareness that his omnipresence, inspiration and awe dominate God’s creation. Then came thirty years of tramping in New Zealand that confirmed my belief in the values of EcoQuest Theology.
Reverencing the Immediacy of God’s Spirit in Nature
From the beginning of time, the Bible chronicles a spectrum of inspirational nature-based portraits or eco-metaphors that gives all believers an opportunity for considering how God, nature and mankind are interconnected.
Two major protestant reformers and theologians of the sixteenth century, Martin Luther and John Calvin contemplated the eco-biblical meaning of God, in and of nature. Both Calvin and Luther acknowledged the immediacy of the spirit of God in nature. It was their belief; God was not disconnected from the natural world while occupying some distant celestial palace. On the contrary, Luther was often heard to say,
“God is in, with, and under the whole created world.”
Both visionaries validated God’s nature-based cohabitation which are pivotal in numerous biblical narratives. However, Christianity in modern times needs to say more about this theological container of abundant life and the associated health benefits as outlined in EcoQuest.
Martin Luther’s acknowledgment of the immediacy of God, in and of nature, is still relativity unknown or obscured by his ‘Ninety-Five Theses’ which he nailed to the door of the All-Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517. His theses rejected several teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church which marked the start of the Protestant Reformation.
There is no doubt both Luther and Calvin were in awe of God’s omnipresence in the natural world. Although not stated, each paved the way for the Christian Church to take seriously the theological implications of God’s natural cathedral.
Considering the importance world religions place on nature and holistic health, perhaps the developing eco-theological movement is awakening a call to eco-biblical awareness and preservation of the planet.
Embracing Nature’s Nurture
- Allowing God’s therapeutic creation to speak to us seems so natural
- For nature to inspire us seems so captivating
- For nature to calm our fears seems so healing
- To be consoled by nature’s solitude seems so inviting
- Spending time in nature as a mental health preservative is calming
- Sharing nature with others is desirable, healthy and fulfilling
It is said Nature is a book upon which God writes, and as such, the values of eco-biblical meaning are a portrait of nature’s nurture and healing agency of God’s beauty and solace. In this context, nature isn’t worshipped or mystified but rather a resting place for the human soul to be immersed in God’s abundant creation.
Experiencing nature as a healing agent of God also empowers Christian faith and practice beyond the rigours of religious perfectionism, performance-based or programme-driven belief in God. Nature, as God intended, is not only an antidote for unhealthy stress and fatigue but a cliche for detoxing from; Nature Deficit Disorder.
The New Zealand Baptist Magazine captured the connection between God, nature and Christian awareness in its August 2020 edition.
The article outlined an Adventure Church initiative led by Jono and Kristin Ward from the Eastview Baptist Church in Botany, East Auckland, New Zealand.
“So much of our lives and our children’s lives take place indoors. Does church always need to be”?
In Jono’s view,
“We do want to be intentional that this is a ministry, and we’re doing this as Christians, but we see the enjoyment of nature and building relationships as being just as important and transformative as any direct teaching.”
Eleven-year-old Eden seems to agree:
“I just love getting out into nature, and being with my friends, and learning more about God, outside. Somehow, I just feel God’s love more when I am outside.”
God’s Adventure Capital Requires Your Presence
Eden’s experience of God in nature, is not just about child-like simplicity, rather it reveals our innate awareness for connecting with God regardless of location, religious stereotype or liturgy. It also reveals how faith, community and God’s earthly kingdom are one in the same while remaining spiritually relevant, vibrant and fun loving.
Advancing the virtues of the Adventure Church and experiencing God in and of nature requires the spiritual antennas of an eleven-year-old like Eden, who, in the company of others found how natural faith can be when he said;
“Being with my friends, and learning more about God, outside.”
This brings to mind a question that was put to Jesus in Matthew 21:16 “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.
“Yes,” replied Jesus, “Have you never read, From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise.”
Whether individually or collectively, spending regular time in God’s adventure capital, at the beach, bush or Bridal Veil Falls, your personal, spiritual and relational well-being will be enriched beyond measure.
‘Being inspired by God’s natural cathedral, will incentivize Christian eco-activism.’
The Simplicity of Faith in God’s Natural Cathedral
For some Christians, thoughts of experiencing God, in and of nature, where there are no religious buildings, hierarchy, formality or agenda, may appear too ordinary or not spiritual enough, given that the orthodoxy of Christian convention involves hierarchical structure, tradition and/or conformity.
The Adventure Church demonstrates how natural spontaneity, vitality, friendship and simplicity of faith can be when getting out of our orthodoxy and into the company of nature. It can also define the ordinariness of God, faith and nature as having an extraordinary effect on our well-being.
With so much international evidence emerging about the health benefits of nature and its relationship to personal health, holistic faith requires the company of nature for faith to be fully celebrated. Here, the rock of ages awaits to bless us with a natural spiritual, physical, mental, emotional or relational well-being.
A Matter of Perspective
Christian theology has always taught that God is the creator of the physical world and that any existence outside human reality is part of God’s universal domain. The omnipresence of God (in everything and everywhere) shows us that nature doesn’t have superiority over the status of God. Nature then is secondary to God, and therefore God is not subjected to the physical laws of the universe.
This perspective doesn’t undermine the relationship between God, nature and humanity which is especially important given God’s provision, presence and voice throughout all of creation. This understanding gives us the bases for appreciating the contemporary values of EcoQuest Theology and its use within an Eco-Quest experience and beyond.
Nature, God and Survival in Biblical Times
Given that the values of nature are timeless, it is difficult to capture what life was like in biblical times where reliance on nature was critical for local agricultural production, the general economy, commerce and daily survival. Nature was central in numerous biblical narratives where small towns, villages and rural life were totally dependent on God’s intervention for the sustainability of nature to provide the hierarchy of physical needs for human habitation.
Back then life was one long adventure, where trusting in a merciful God for nature to yield its harvest ,let alone surviving to see another day, was the lot of many. The birth of the Church happened amidst arid settings, harsh regimes and meagre living conditions to say the least. Relying on nature in such circumstances was one in the same with a belief in God. Nature in biblical times was intertwined with religious life, daily living and direction from God.
It also reveals how disconnected twentieth century faith has become as we ponder the absent of nature’s values in exchange for self-importance and the business of stressful living while pursuing the almighty dollar.
The question is, what does disconnection from nature tell us about what we don’t need from God?