Thursday, September 27, 2012

Discovering God (in nature)


When people talk about becoming a Christian, the term sometimes used is 'finding Jesus' as though Jesus were hiding somewhere and one only has to look in the right place to find him. In fact, a number of cartoons have illustrated this possibility, with Jesus hiding somewhere behind a curtain or a couch.

Putting the emphasis on Jesus indicates that the only way to 'find' God is by 'finding' Jesus. You may feel spiritual, you may seek to know God, but until you 'find Jesus' it is actually you who is lost.

The other thing this term does is make 'finding Jesus' a one-off event. When you find something, you've found it. No further looking is required. Of course, you may lose it again and then have to find it for a second time. But there are times when you have 'found' something and times when you haven't, with no middle ground. You can't half find something and once you've found it you don't keep looking. It's either found or not.

Despite the claims of many born-again Christians, I don't believe that 'finding God' can be so neatly differentiated into a before and after stage. Rather than a game of hide'n'seek, it is an ongoing journey. We are continually seeking and continually finding. The word 'discovering' therefore seems more appropriate to me than 'find'.

Furthermore, God is not just discovered by Christians, but people who aren't Christians are continually discovering him too. This includes not just people of other religions - but also agnostics and even atheists - although they may not recognise what they have discovered is God.

In The Mind of God, Paul Davies[1] says: 'even hard-nosed atheists frequently have what has been called a sense of reverence for nature, a fascination and respect for its depth and beauty and subtlety, that is akin to religious awe.’ That to me sounds very much like the process of discovering God.

And while I believe God can be discovered in many different places - in religion, in relationship, in receiving kindness from others, in feeling solidarity with others, in feeling compassion for all living creatures, in seeking to correct injustice - it is in nature that I believe many people do find God.

Nature is incredibly beautiful and incredibly complex. That in itself often causes people to think about the reason behind it all. While not everybody will come to the conclusion that that 'reason' is God, many will - even if they reject religion. And even those who do not believe that God had anything to do with it, the very act of thinking about that 'reason' is part of discovering God.

If I stand in front of the Mona Lisa, and I think about the one who painted it, I am at least partly discovering Leonardo Da Vinci - even if I come to the conclusion that the painting occurred by someone accidentally throwing paint onto a canvas which just happened to land in such a way that the Mona Lisa face appeared.

Secondly, the beauty of nature often is so breathtaking that all we can do is stand in awe. To stand in awe of what God has made is to discover God. To feel wonder and delight and joy while looking at God's Creation is to feel part of the same wonder and joy and delight that God feels. Although, as finite beings, we will only feel that wonder and joy and delight on a limited scale, when we are truly captivated by nature I believe we sense for just a moment a tiny portion of what God feels. It seems we are raised just a little bit above our finitude and humanness.

Something else we often sense in nature in peace. Partly, this is because nature is soothing. There is a reason why when people want to relax, they listen to CDs of bird calls rather than CDs of bulldozers. Discovering that peace is part of discovering God.

So too is the recognition that we are not just individuals but part of the community of Creation. Nature often brings peace because it helps us forget about ourselves. We are lost in the moment and our own concerns are either forgotten or become less significant.

It is hard to discover God when we are solely focused on ourselves. Being in nature often turns our focus outward. The 'I' as an individual is enveloped in the 'we' of Creation. We are then able to see not just that we are part of a larger picture, but how we might act in ways to help that larger picture. Discovering God is not just about saying, 'Yes, I've found Jesus' and now I can put him on the mantelpiece along with my rock collection to stare at. It is about discovering his will, not just in our lives, but in the whole of Creation, and helping to see God's will be done.

I don't think God can ever be 'found'. Human beings will never be able to completely understand him or completely know him. We can't put him in a box, label him and store him somewhere safe so we can't lose him again. But we can catch glimpses. We can come close. We can have moments when we seem to rise briefly above our human nature. And we can keep looking and discovering, knowing the journey will never end, that there will always be new things to find and new things to search for - and that's what makes the faith journey so exciting.

Davies, Paul. The Mind of God; Science and the Search for Ultimate Meaning. Maryborough, Victoria: Penguin Books, 2008.

[1] Paul Davies, The Mind of God; Science and the Search for Ultimate Meaning (Maryborough, Victoria: Penguin Books, 2008).

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