It is easy to read what Paul says in Romans 1:25--"they exchanged the truth about God for the lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen," in a purely negative light as describing the very basis of paganism and the worst form of idolatrous narcissism. However, we cannot deny the seductive beauty and power of such a creation.
A new study has found that merely watching nature documentaries "boosts people's emotions of awe, contentedness, joy and amusement." By the same token, such activity reduces "feelings of nervousness, overburden and fatigue...our connection to nature enhances our attention, cognitive performance and sense of calm." This sounds like a less expensive version of yoga! Executive producer of the documentary, Mike Gunton, says: "What excites me about this film is seeing how Planet Earth II connects with people on a deep emotional level--as a film maker, that is very rewarding...We're always striving to bring our audiences closer to nature and it's thrilling to see how this can generate such positive emotions and have a powerful impact on our viewer's mood and well being."
What these well-meaning researchers fail to ask is why Nature has such a calming and stimulating effect. Failure to answer this underlying question undermines the value of the temporary relief we derive from such an activity. A deep stress-relieving identification with nature needs an ultimate, rewarding explanation of Nature's source and meaning. Self-generated matter that may accidentally become "personal" is an irrational and dissatisfying explanation. We never observe a stone becoming a person. It is always a stone. In considering the world around us, we can come to only one of two possible conclusions: either matter creates itself or a personal transcendent Creator is at the source of reality. These are the only two options, as the Apostle Paul shows in Romans 1:25.
Nature's health-promoting character is due to the creative work of the God who made it and who suited it for our habitation. Why is nature so beautiful, so powerful? Why do we respond to it as we do? Why do human beings fit so well on the earth? Paul speaks of this just a few verses before v.25, in vv. 19-20
"...what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made."
According to Scripture, what people are perceiving at a deep level, as they derive reassurance from Nature, is the stunningly reassuring work of a personal Creator. Without engaging in any conscious thought, human beings sense that they live in a beautiful, intelligent and moral universe. At that deep level, the harmony and vastness of nature is reassuring. Things are not out of control. "If people experience feelings of awe," say the researchers, "they are more likely to display empathetic and charitable behaviors and have been shown to be better able to handle stress." They learn to love Nature and take care of it.
But there are two dangers to avoid.
- Because of the fall, do not be surprised when towards the end of the documentary the cheetah kills and eats the antelope! Nature by itself cannot save us, because it is marked by evil. As the British poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, said in 1849: "Nature is red in tooth and claw." If you stand still long enough, a wild animal may well eat you.
- We can fall into the seduction of "worshiping" Nature as the only and ultimate reality. In so doing, we will be guilty of the greatest sin, egotistically rejecting the Creator (who is the sole and rightful author of Nature) and thus worshiping ourselves.
Paul reminds us that we must "worship and serve the Creator, who is blessed forever." This is the only genuine worship. In addition, only the eternally blessed Creator, whose "glory is set above the heavens" (Ps. 8:1), can be the ultimate and effective Savior of His creation. Nothing in man or in the creation can ever save us. This is the good news of the Gospel. God enters His own creation to bear its sin in the atoning death of God the Son. The resurrection of the Son is the anticipation of the glorious transformation of Nature itself. This will be the culminating experience of our current "emotions of awe, contentedness, joy and amusement" and of deep stress-relieving identification. One day, we will look on Nature in its final beautified form and look into the loving face of its Creator and Redeemer, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.