It was 3am at Camp Wapo and I woke up to what sounded like a tornado outside of the cabin. Naturally, I headed out the front door to see what I could see. The night was lit up by lightning, the trees were thrashing violently, and the rain stung my face. Then the power went out. By about 3:30 things started to quiet down a bit, and I headed to bed. I knew it would be a long day cleaning up after the storm.
In the morning, I was greeted by lots of chirping outside the door and looked out to see the resident nesting birds sitting on the railing and making a racket. Looking down, I noticed one of their baby chicks had fallen out of the nest and was lying on the porch. Now I know the old wives’ tale about touching birds and then having them rejected by their moms, but it was really the only good option. So I grabbed the little fella and plunked him back in the nest. “Godspeed, little one” was my thought. Well, all seemed to be going well until the next morning. The chirping was back, the parents were on the railing, and the chick was back on the deck. Unresponsive.
It was a moment of profound understanding for me as I recalled the words of a seminary professor. He said, “There is no grace in nature.” I had just witnessed that. Left alone on that first day, the birds would have watched their chick die or be carried off by some other critter. All I did was postpone the inevitable. I was the closest thing they had to grace and mercy. I had heard their cries and responded by pulling up their baby and restoring him to safety. But, while we would see that as mercy, their siblings or parents had kicked them back out of the nest. Even when experiencing grace, nature is wired not to receive it. There is no grace in nature, and it seems as though you can’t even insert grace into nature and have it be appreciated.
That’s why I find myself at odds with the statement I sometimes hear, “I worship God through sunrises at the lake” or “I experience God on the golf course, in the midst of his creation.” There is a time and a place for us all to be in awe of God as creator and artist and architect. But we should also realize that nature is not where God meets us as our graceful and merciful creator. You may get a mulligan on the golf course, but most places in nature aren’t that forgiving.
Imagine climbing a mountain to see the sun rise over the range. You aren’t disappointed, and you experience the sight of a lifetime. On the way back down the trail, a rock slips out from under your foot and you fall off the path into a ravine. Forget all the movies you’ve seen and think hard about what will most likely happen. You are stuck, unable to save yourself, so what do you do? You do nothing. You are at the mercy of nature, which is not known for mercy, which has no capacity for grace. That’s a tough spot.
Lesson one, don’t hike alone. Lesson two, don’t go looking for grace and mercy in nature. If you want grace and forgiveness and mercy, you need to look to the source, to the place and the people that God set up to deliver just that. You find grace in community, where people are willing to forgive. You find grace in God’s word spoken and read and preached. You find grace in prayer, as God listens and speaks to you, knowing just what to say in every situation.
Nature is beautiful and inspiring, but cruel and unforgiving. Nature is part of God’s creation, but not the summation of all things good that God has made. I’m reminded every year at church camp that nature is a catalyst for bringing God’s people closer to God, but the kids only survive out here because of God’s grace manifested in the wisdom of sunscreen and hydration and lifeguards and counselors willing to love on the little ones and care for the older ones, and give of themselves for others. God and God’s people do that, God’s nature does not.