Sometimes it’s easier to understand a concept by looking at its polar opposite. In the same way, the clearest way to experience and appreciate God’s beauty symbolically revealed in nature (see part twelve) is to experience nature without God’s beauty visually present. This happened to me.
For most of my life, I’ve lived in Southern Californian. With the majority of the state’s burgeoning population crammed into three coastal counties, there is little remaining native forest to enjoy. But a forty-five minute drive southeast from my home is a relatively small forested area (less than thirty thousand acres) located largely within the boundaries of Rancho Cuyamaca State Park. Its prominent features are three mountain peaks ranging from 5,700 to more than 6,500 feet in elevation. Ponderosa and Coulter pines, incense cedar, and black oak dominated the forest. Myriad varieties of indigenous wildlife made the park their home.
Tragically, in October, 2003, a careless hunter outside park boundaries started a fire that quickly turned into a raging inferno. It burned out of control for days, destroying most of the parks forested habitats.
The first time I visited the park after the fire was extinguished will forever be lodged in my memory. Where once stood ancient pines and oaks, only charcoal stumps remained. Where wild chaparral and wind-swept meadows thrived, nothing but ash carpeted the sterile ground. Populations of deer, squirrels, raccoons, bobcats, coyotes, wild turkeys, and other birds and mammals once common throughout the park were decimated. It was a heartbreaking experience, and I could not hold back my tears at the great loss.
Here’s the analogy I want to make from this horrible tragedy. I can’t image anyone—not not even the most staunch, thoroughly committed urbanite—could fail to recognize the incomparable difference between the beauty of a pristine forest and the harsh, barren landscape of scorched earth. This is not something we need to analyze or ponder. It comes naturally, an instinctive awareness. We intuitively respond to the beauty and wonder of the natural world and are appalled by the evil and ugliness of ruined, despoiled nature. A seared and blackened forest points to evil, despair, bleakness, pain, and loss. The beauty of unspoiled forests points to goodness, vitality, peace, serenity, wisdom, renewal—the wonder and awe of God’s creation.
God has blessed the human race by creating nature to be a pointer to Him. Besides nature’s beauty, many other symbolic, visual expressions of God’s divine qualities, character, and promises to the human race are revealed in nature. In next week’s blog will look at the peace and restoration God offers in nature—as Jesus and Israel’s greatest king experienced. ©