I have been reading about transcendent philosophy espoused by the likes of Emerson and Thoreau. Its main tenets are that man and (N)ature are inherently good, emphasizing the prime importance of the individual and individual freedom, as well as oneness with the universe. At its most basic, the idea teaches that there is a power deep inside of us that, when we tap it, allows us to become one with what we see, whether it’s a mountain, a constellation, a river, a sunset, a storm, or an animal. It teaches that we have a light inside us that banishes darkness, leading us to know Truth, wisdom, and goodness. And, when all of this aligns within us, a deep delight, a visceral ecstasy-or transcendence-results.
As a student of the Bible, and the God who wrote it, it is disturbing to me that many of these transcendentalist ideas are woven into the weft and warp of the minds of people who seek out the wilderness. Why? Because it gets everything horribly backwards. I will let a simple chart do the talking:
|Sin is real, both in people and Nature||All people and Nature are inherently good|
|God is light and Truth||Each person is his own source of light & Truth|
|Worship of anything other than God is idolatry||Nature and beauty should be worshiped|
|Knowing God brings delight||Delight is a direct result of knowing myself|
|God is the only and the great, holy I AM||I am God, my own deity and salvation|
Still, to believe what the Bible says about all of this, you first have to believe in the reality of sin and evil in this world, and, more directly, in your own heart.
People who don’t know the God of the Bible don’t accept that we live in the tension between God’s goodness and the evil he has allowed.
They only want a loving God. They only want the light, the happiness, and the good things of God. But, for humans to have perfect freedom to choose how they live and what they believe, there has to be a choice. Life or death. Light or darkness. Goodness or evil. It is no wonder that these people cannot fathom how something so evil as the attack on the World Trade Center could happen in this day and age. People who know God, and understand that most of the world has chosen to reject him think, how could it not?
When Hugh got cancer we were all devastated. Sickness has a way of letting big questions scream at us. Why would God allow this suffering, especially for someone as good as Hugh? But our goodness is irrelevant –and irreverent- in the face of a holy, just, and good God. Sickness is just part of what it means to be human. So is death. Mark and Hugh had been paddling together long before the leukemia showed up. They kept paddling during ten long years of treatments. Why? What did the wilderness have to offer in dark and confusing times? It offered the chance to leave the distractions and torments behind: the doctor visits and hospital stays, the long, long road to an outcome that no one could predict, the fear, the hopeless feelings- all of it dropped out of sight the minute the two brothers stepped into their canoes.
We can go to Nature to be wowed. We can go to get away from the world’s brokenness. We can go to seek out the quiet places where God’s voice can be heard, where there are “moments when [we] can sense Him near [us], and [we] can never quite believe it.
He never condemns, He just sustains. He doesn’t judge, He understands. He gives [us] hope again, and says be brave.”
The Walton brothers went out, not to find themselves, not to be their own light, not to become one with Nature, but to bathe in the balm of the unsullied wilderness, perfect in its minute and grand designs, just as God created it.
They went in brotherliness, to be bolstered with strength enough to be brave together in the dark shadow of Hugh’s illness.
They never went to attain ecstasy through oneness with a brilliant sunset. It was to know and treasure that they were one with the very God who made that sunset, knowing that they were loved, held and nurtured in spite of the specter of illness and death. If that’s not ecstasy, what is?
Bear Grylls.Facing the Frozen Ocean. Pan Books, UK.2013 (digital edition). p.105.