“Communing with nature” can be soothing, enjoyable, uplifting, refreshing…
…so much so that “being one with nature” can easily be considered something akin to a religious experience.
“Forget the church– I can worship God just as well out on the lake”– how many times have you heard that?
So, let’s analyze the idea. Two points…
First, much of the relaxation, recreation, and peace people experience in “getting back to nature” involves the separation from human community it offers. But such feelings are somewhat deceptive– deceptive in that they are made possible mainly through the agency of the very thing being discounted– human community.
For it is human community that equips us with the food, clothing, transportation, medical care, bug spray… and yes even the guns that make our forays into the wild safe enough to be satisfying. Truth is there are innumerable creatures in the countryside– large and small– that would very much like to have us for lunch. And for that reason, we can sustain our soothing sojourns among them only as long as our supply lines back to civilization hold up. It can really be fun up until the Twinkies start to run out.
The reality though is that the relationship between humanity and nature is broken. We’re alienated from the cosmos in a fundamental way; and sentimentalism aside, we are often at war with the critters we run across in the wilderness. Which brings us to the second point…
The essence of sin is isolation– alienation from community– alienation from community with nature, alienation from community with humanity, alienation from community with God.
Righteousness is right relationships. Unrighteousness is wrong relationships– broken relationships– alienated relationships. Unrighteousness is sin.
Alienation of humans from nature is one manifestation of sin. Alienation of humans from each other is another.
Put those two points together and the conclusion is that people who disparage the collective communion of the church in preference for a solitary communion with nature are mistaken on at least two levels.
On one hand, they overlook humanity’s alienation from nature and nature’s God– which should cast some serious doubt on nature’s ability to mediate a reliable religious experience.
And on the other, they overlook their very own alienation from human community– the church– which should cause them to have even more concern about the nature of their “nature worship.”
Yes, the beauties of nature can be stunning, provoking the deepest sense of praise.
But such praise is not exalted by willful isolation. It is not commended by the image of sin such isolation embodies.
Rather, praise of nature’s God is best expressed within God’s community.
Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever– Psalm 111:1-3 (ESV)