Somehow, I’ve bought into the idea that the world is worth seeing. God help me, because it’s probably some awful philosophy that every generation’s hipsters have ascribed to, or it’s what Solomon was referring to in Ecclesiastes when he wrote that the eye is never filled with seeing, nor is the ear filled with hearing– all things are wearisome, more than one can say.
But cerulean seas and sandy beaches, palm trees, waterfalls and warm weather beckon me to come and see and swim and read among them. Possibly with a beer. So, every now and again, I go. To the mountains, to the ocean or to the jungle. Part of this semiannual propensity to adventure has to deal with the fact that I can’t seem to tell anyone no, so I’m just busy all the time and end up needing a break before I freak the hell out and do or say something regrettable.
A number of times now, I’ve gone on solo adventures. I’ve invited friends and tried to plan ahead with others, but something tells me that I just plain suck at concocting things involving other people and other places, because rarely do I get out of town with one other human, let alone, more. I need to work on that.
I know plenty of people who choose to travel alone. Many of them, Christians or not say that they need to get to nature, away from the city in order to have a spiritual experience or to see the face of God. Regardless of their background or faith, the explanation is always something similar to, “I see God in the sunset, mountains, valleys, fields, desert, or in the [insert your favorite natural feature here].”
And I don’t doubt they experience something they may want to call God, but I don’t believe He’s what they’ve seen or encountered. The only time humans feel small is when we’re confronted with something grand or magnificent. And though I am referring to physically and spatially large things, I don’t mean we feel physically little. Rather, I mean philosophically- epistemologically small. Humans often have an enlarged view of ourselves because we’re bent on conquering and have had our way with a number of things- gravity, the oceans and skies, winter cold and summer heat- though somehow racism and cancer and terrible music are clearly largely beyond our capabilities at the moment.
Simply stated, big things like mountains and the Grand Canyon and the Pacific Ocean put us in our place. And somehow, we think we like that and then we confuse it with divinity. Perhaps that’s because it’s a bit of a contrast to the millennia-old rebellion we’ve been in against the order of things, but an easy one. This is more manageable than a genuine confrontation with actual Divinity.
I would surmise that these people suffer from Pareidolia– a psychological phenomenon in which the afflicted sees faces everywhere and on everything. But it’s more than that. These humans believe they see the sovereign God of creation in the singing river or on the mountain, or sand dune or whatever.
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Have you ever maintained eye contact with a person while you did something awful? If you have, I would imagine that you’re either a sociopath, or it was incredibly difficult. Young children are capable of this, but their worst offenses are pulling things off tables and shelves that they ought not to, and messing their diapers when you really wish they’d just tell you they have some business to attend to on the little blue or pink toilet.
Often, it’s only a nasty rage that can give us the strength to do something wretched in the face of another person. If not a furor to drive us, then righteous indignation- but that’s not what I’m getting at. How easily can most humans do what they believe to be wrong and unacceptable in front of each other, or more directly, while looking a person in the eye? Of course, there are various ways to work around this. For example: don’t know the person you’re looking at and won’t see them again? Less difficult.
Why is this? Can the view from the top of a mountain prevent us from killing another man? Will the sound of rushing waters stop us from stealing? Could the smell of the sea bar a person’s proclivity toward vandalism? The natural things many a man has claimed to be the face of God are morally powerless against us when we set our minds to do something heinous. Could we look the almighty creator of all the things in the face and murder our brother in front of him? I would guess that only the stupidest- or the most bitter would be able to accomplish something like that.
The vastness of a mountain vista or the seemingly never-ending ocean can’t compare with the immense greatness contained in the eyes of another person. If you want to see God, look no further than His image-bearers, the people He chose to fill with His Spirit- with Himself. The Almighty made the mountains and he satiates the seas with streams and rivers. But He doesn’t occupy them. He does not fill the skies. He left that to sun and stars and birds and now us as technology takes us heavenward.
This is why I love the city- overflowing with humanity in all of our brokenness and misguided activities and real hurt. If you want to see and know God, sit down with a person over coffee or a beer. Better yet, eat a meal with them. Be sure to light candles and use cloth napkins- these are the elements of a liturgy that all of humanity can recognize. Their presence makes a meal holier. The Bible might not say it, but that’s Gospel truth.
The world is beautiful and calls out to me. But is it worth it to see it alone? I’m not sure that it is. I’d prefer to not be a homebody, but if that’s what it takes to see God, then that’s what I need to do. Or, I need to pull my head out and figure out how to plan trips with friends better. Yeah, that seems more like the way to go.