Chapter 8

Treasuring the Wilderness

The wilderness provides us with wonderful natural resources. But it is so much more than a place of economic opportunity. When we look at an Appalachian mountain as mostly a mound of coal or a hill of timber for us to use for our own purposes, we may be failing to see it comprehensively. A second look can help us to see the same mountain as a watershed, a climate regulator, a source of clean air, a shield against flooding, a habitat for wild creatures, a thing of beauty, a place of peace and solitude, and a location for recreation. And we are not seeing it as God sees it—in all its glory with all its purposes. It’s part of our God-given trust of the earth to have a comprehensive and biblical vision when looking at the wilderness.

Followers of Christ have so many reasons to value the wilderness. Because we see the natural world as entrusted to us by an infinitely wise Creator, it’s not difficult to see the wilderness as a treasure of inestimable worth. It allows the wild creatures to fulfill their God-given responsibility to multiply and fill their portion of the earth.

Caring for the wilderness is an aspect of the Creator’s dominion and stewardship mandated to us. Further, it helps to preserve our own health and to assure our continued survival. Further still, it no doubt holds many future benefits we are currently not even aware of.

Nancy Newhall reminded us over 50 years ago, in a book featuring the masterful black-and-white wilderness photos of Ansel Adams, that the wilderness holds answers to questions man has not yet learned to ask.

Finally, we come to an observation by John Muir: “Like most other things not apparently useful to man, [poison oak] has few friends, and the blind question, ‘Why was it made?’ goes on and on with never a guess that first of all it was made for itself.”19

Muir was hinting at a purpose for the natural world that the patriarch Job learned when God paraded before his mental vision the entire cosmos He created. In the longest direct address of God in the Scriptures (the 129 verses of Job 38–41), the Creator Himself uses numerous parts of the natural world that are beyond human control, human understanding, and human utility to humble Job with the reality that we cannot know all the purposes of God for wild creatures and wild places.

The apostle John, however, does reveal to us one of God’s purposes: He created all things for His pleasure (Rev. 4:11 kjv). So if the natural world was in part created to give God pleasure, are we not being irreverent when we forget that while people can preserve, conserve, or destroy the wilderness, only God can create it?

In the course of our enjoying and properly valuing the wilderness, we can be motivated by the words of Isaac Watts:

I sing the mighty
power of God
that made the mountains rise,
That spread the flowing
seas abroad
and built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom
that ordained
the sun to rule the day;
The moon shines full
at His command
and all the stars obey.
I sing the goodness
of the Lord
that filled the earth with food;
He formed the creatures
with His word
and then pronounced
them good.
Lord, how Thy wonders
are displayed
where’er I turn my eye:
If I survey
the ground I tread
or gaze upon the sky!

There’s not a plant
or flower below
but makes
Thy glories known;
And clouds arise
and tempests blow
by order from Thy throne;
While all that borrows
life from Thee
is ever in Thy care,
And everywhere
that man can be,
Thou, God,
art present there.

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