I cannot count the number of times I have experienced the breathtaking beauty of God’s incredible creation in the outdoors. My eyes have stared awestruck at the magnificent elegance of the morning sun as it cracked across the sky and its first beams of light danced off the rippling water of the lake. The alluring chill of the breeze wisps across my face and maneuvered through the trees, rustling the fall leaves in its wake. My ears have had no choice but to hear the melodious chirping of the winged early risers as they frolicked from branch to branch. There is nothing like experiencing God’s charming creation and seeing His majestic handiwork. The heart truly resonates in agreement with the Psalmist:
“On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate” (Psalm 145:5).
God in the Outdoors
As a hunter, I have often had the privilege of acquainting myself with nature in the increasingly elusive solitude of the woods. However, many people have elevated this experience to a whole new level. For some, the tree stand has become a pew and the shooting house a sanctuary. They skip Sunday services with their brothers and sisters in Christ to sit alone in the seclusion of the forest. Inevitably, after the beginning of every hunting season (a much-anticipated time of year in my community), you will see someone snap a picture of the serine beauty of the great outdoors and attach a caption such as, “This is where I come to worship and see God!”
Of course, it’s not only hunters who view creation this way. People look for God in nature in all kinds of ways. Hunting just happens to be a popular activity in my community. But it does raise the question: Is the great outdoors a better place to experience God than the church?
Worshipping the Created Rather Than the Creator
We were definitely meant to enjoy God’s creation and use it as a catalyst for the worship of Him. Just as a masterpiece invokes awe in the skill of the artist, so too creation should thrill our hearts with the glory of the Creator. There is an abundance of references to God’s creation in Scripture, and they all point to one thing—the glory and praise of the one true Sovereign.
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).
“Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in them” (Psalm 69:34).
“Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy” (Psalm 96:1–12).
Majesty of God’s Creation in the Outdoors
However, we elevate nature to an unbiblical level when our enjoyment of it takes precedence over our corporate time of worship with Christ’s church. We end up serving the creation rather than the Creator. Without realizing it, we can begin to shrink God down into our experience of a brightly lit morning sunrise. But God created the beauty of the cosmos to declare the majesty of His glory, and this majesty shows man to be small in comparison. Thus the Psalmist says,
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? (Psalm 8:3-4).
Our hearts should scream praises and melt with worship when we see the majesty of God’s creation—that is why He created it—but we dance on the edge of a knife when we choose a pine tree over the church. We flirt with breaking the first two commandments (Exodus 20:2-6) when it seems like we just can’t worship unless we are alone in the wilderness. This sounds eerily similar to what the apostle Paul warned against when he wrote of God’s wrath being revealed against those who know God’s “invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature” through creation but who nonetheless “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:20, 23).
Who are you Worshipping?
God deserves self-sacrificing devotion and worship, for He created the universe we are ever so tempted to replace Him with. Even better, He descended in the person of His Son from a heavenly throne of unimaginable majesty in order to nail Himself to a tree that He created. And He did all this to graciously give man the right to call Him Father and to be coheirs with Christ of His kingdom (John 1:12-13, Romans 8:16-18, 1 John 3:2-3). But we must make sure that we understand that the God of all creation—the King of our salvation—will not be replaced and belittled by any experience we have of a sunset.
God’s transcendence must be recognized, and He demands that the glory be given where the glory is due—to Him alone. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the great outdoors and allowing yourself to be awestruck by the power and might of the God who created the things you see in nature. But if you can’t seem to worship God unless you are outside in the seclusion of the wilderness, it’s not God you are worshipping.