Montana’s Glacier National Park has long been one of my favorite places on Earth. God’s hand is all over this magnificent wilderness. From lush valleys, waterfalls train your eye upward to their source: glaciers and snow-capped peaks. Meanwhile, grizzlies, mountain goats and bighorn sheep roam the slopes.
A paradise-on-Earth setting can say a lot about how we perceive our omnipotent creator. I appreciate Glacier’s beauty from the perspective of a writer and photographer. It makes me feel small amid God’s vast splendor and majesty.
But I’ve also hiked here with my friend Andy, a geologist. Where I see God’s artistry, Andy sees him in the details — how these mountains were formed over eons as layers of sediment stacked and then uplifted diagonally by tectonic shift. And then how the glaciers carved those immense valleys through amounts of pressure and time we humans can’t fathom.
Another time, I hiked with a park ranger and we talked about seeing God in the ecosystem, where all living things depend on each other for balance and ultimately for life itself. Every plant, every tree and every animal leads to a better understanding of God as master designer.
Our culture has mistakenly decreed that there’s a spiritual realm and a scientific realm, and never the twain shall meet. Most of us know better. In Storycraft, a wonderful book about writing narrative nonfiction, newspaper editor Jack Hart wrote: “If you walk through the woods, and you know the names of all the plants, you’ll see more.” I would add that you’ll get a bigger view of God.
There’s certainly a place in our faith for theological argument. Glacier National Park is not that place, even though we experience God and sense his omnipotence in different ways here. When we compare notes, it’s not with the idea that one needs to be proved wrong in order for the other to be right. It’s more with a sense of awe and wonder at God’s infinite complexity and his sovereignty over not just the “spiritual” realm. “Omni” really does mean “all.” He ordains scientific order and precision as much as beauty and wonder.
What does all of this have to do with reporting God’s stories? I think creation teaches us to develop an eye for wonder, for things that point to him. As we learn to look and listen, we do indeed see more. Then we can bring that perspective everywhere we go. When I as a reporter better understand how different people experience and relate to God, I start to notice things. For instance, in several trips to the Middle East, I learned to see God:
- In the relationships that developed between Muslim refugees and Christian aid workers.
- In the palpable history of a land where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob walked. Where Moses walked. Where Jesus walked.
- In the beauty of desert wilderness, punctuated with green valleys that produce abundant crops.
- In the mathematical precision of the pyramids, or Roman temples.
- In churches, where believers worship enthusiastically, gratefully and in unity among various denominations.
- Amid persecution — real persecution, the kind where people get killed — which believers consider part of their Christian identity.
- And in rare instances when God works outside of the natural laws he established (which is the very definition of a miracle).
Once I’ve collected these glimpses, I can embed them into stories. This not only gives the audience a better look around a place, but also lets them see God in ways both familiar and not. It’s a chance to help people expand their view of omnipotent God as I expand my own.
I once went on a hike with an ecologist and I told how amazed I was at his knowledge of our surroundings. He knew the plants, the animals, how the land formed, how the water flowed and even how to tell–just by looking at the leftover shell–what animal ate a nut.
I remarked that he must be getting so much “more” out of our hike than I did and he said, “once you learn how to read the land, all you see is scars.” I imagine that even in such a pristine wilderness as Glacier, an ecologist can see the harm that man has done to it (acid rain, polluted rivers, invasive species, overuse).
I wondered how this view of nature fits into this post about the revelation of God through his creation. Perhaps in every adulterous minister or child abusing priest or misguided mission trip or vapid worship chorus or self-serving sermon or apathetic parishioner. Once you develop a love of God and His Body, the church, you begin to yearn for the day when she is made one with the Bridegroom. But until then, all you see is scars.
Hi Bob. I think you’re getting at the tension to which this topic quickly leads. There’s beauty all around us, but something is broken, too. For me, beauty points to God, but it also leaves me wanting more because it feels incomplete. Things aren’t quite the way they’re supposed to be. The glaciers in GNP are quickly melting and that entire ecosystem out there is suffering. Yet, I can understand all that — clearly see the scars — and still marvel at how beautiful it all is, even in a broken world. The reason I want more is because I long for restoration, for all things to be made right. Lately I’ve been reading “Simply Christian” by N.T. Wright, who says: “The beauty sometimes seems to be in the itching itself, the sense of longing, the kind of pleasure which is exquisite and yet leaves us unsatisfied.” I think this tension points us to God, too. C.S. Lewis was fond of the term “sensucht,” which means homesickness for a place we’ve not yet been. That approach offers hope, as do the fleeting glimpses of a better, restored world.