I love to watch sunrises and sunsets – I think that they may be the most majestic commonplace events to grace the earth. A sunrise or sunset is nothing out of the ordinary: never has a day gone by in the history of the earth that the sun didn’t rise in the morning, and then set again in the evening. Yet, although they are literally everyday occurrences, and although the sun is always the same sun (I think), each day heralds a sunrise that is never quite the same as the day before. Somehow, based on differences in cloudiness, precipitation, and pollutant index, each new day’s sunset somehow ends up being unique, a new painting on the tapestry of the sky. When I watch the sun rise at the start of the day, and then set again at its end, I wonder – how is it possible that something so repetitious, so regular, can so consistently and unfailingly delight and dazzle? It reminds me that each day is not just another day that God has absentmindedly allowed to come upon the earth again, in the ceaseless roll of the tides of time. God wakes us up and sustains the world anew each day for a purpose; each day is a distinct and unique and precious collection of moments that God has intentionally orchestrated.
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. -Psalm 90:14
When I hear Christian discourse around environmental conservation, or stewardship of Creation (as it is called in Christianese), the arguments tend to center around the idea of humans having a responsibility over the earth to cultivate and care for it, because God placed Creation under the charge of humans. Genesis 1:26 describes God’s plan for humans to have dominion over the fish and birds and cattle and wild animals, and two verses down, God directly charges his created humans to fill the earth and subdue it. Genesis 2:15 later tells us that God gave Adam the job of tilling and keeping the Garden of Eden. We are stewards over God’s creation, and as good stewards, we have to take care of what has been placed in our charge. It’s the holy task that God gave to humankind, and we have to be reverent and responsible about executing it.
Yet, such discourse misses out on the larger beautiful narrative undergirding why God placed human beings in Nature – that Nature provides an avenue for God to reveal himself to us. Throughout the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, most of the great divine encounters happened outside of the Temple, on the mountains and in the caves and in the deserts and fields. Many of the great encounterers described were not priests in the cities or in the camps, but were prophets wandering in the wilderness, or shepherds in the field. When King Nebuchadnezzar aggrandized himself before God in Daniel 4, he was driven away from human society, and only encountered God and came to his senses as he lived in the wilderness and his body was bathed with the dew of heaven.
We fervently construct cathedrals and church buildings to encounter and worship God in, and often miss out on the great Cathedral of Nature through which God has revealed his invisible eternal power and divine nature, since the beginning of Creation (Rom 1:20).
In them the birds build their nests; the stork has its home in the fir trees. The high mountains are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge for the coneys. You have made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting … the young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God. When the sun rises, they withdraw and lie down in their dens. … O LORD, how manifold are your works! –Psalm 104:17-24
Nature, and all of Creation, was meant to be a key way by which we interact with, and experience God. A famous line from the musical Les Miserables goes, “to love another person is to see the face of God.” Indeed, similarly “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Ps 19:1). When the psalmist saw the lions and goats and birds interacting with each other and with the rest of Creation, he saw God, and was comforted by God’s providence. When we find ourselves encountering forests and mountains and stars and seas in their majesty, we are reminded of how small we are and how big God is. When we consider the lilies of the field – and really consider them – we realize how foolish our cares and concerns are, in light of the powerful God who cares for us. When we hear thunderclaps or watch the waves roar, we can sometimes catch in their midst the whisper of Creation worshipping and praising its Creator. And we can sometimes then, as mortals, join in the mighty chorus, which the morning stars began.
All thy works with joy surround thee, earth and heaven reflect thy rays. Stars and angels sing around thee, center of unbroken praise! Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea, singing bird and flowing fountain call us to rejoice in thee!
We care for, and steward Creation, not just because of some divine command or as some holy task to fulfill; rather, we delight in nature and worship alongside it because we experience God through it. Stewardship of Creation is not merely a responsibility, it’s a deep and holy privilege. Let’s go out more, stop more, and take time to consider more, that we may become better stewards, and better worshippers!
We are holy creatures living among other holy creatures in a world that is holy. -William Blake