Thursday, June 18, 2009

Nature

Nature takes many forms.

There is what we oddly call “mother nature,” and by which we usually mean severe weather or geological anomalies such as volcanoes and earthquakes. I’m not sure where that expression comes from though. I imagine some guy who had a rough childhood stood watching a volcano spewing hot lava, or a hurricane uprooting trees, and said, “Hmmm. Kinda reminds me of mom.” However it came about, it is an odd monicker. Mothers are usually nurturing, compassionate, and fond of nice, well–built homes. Nature on the other hand is often violent, disruptive, and fond of trailer parks. I fail to see the connection.

Environmentalists strive for the preservation of nature. And this, contrary to what some Christians believe, is a good thing. God has made us caretakers of this planet we are on and it is our responsibility to be good stewards of what God has entrusted us with. Now, granted, some take things a bit too far. This past week I read a story about a group that wanted to promote clean air by riding their bikes naked through New York City. The bike part I get. The naked part, I don’t. Yes, a large man on a bike instead of in a car lowers our human footprint, as they say. However, a large naked guy on a bike instead of in a car, does not inspire me to greater concern for nature. It inspires me to greater concern for my corneas.

And then there is what we call human nature. Human nature, of course, has many faces. There is the compassionate and loving side. There is the side that gives selflessly, that puts others first and that gives little thought to personal needs. That is the rare side of human nature. More often, though, we encounter the ugly side of humanity.

And perhaps one of the most common aspects of the ugly side, is that of corruption. Corruption can be found anywhere and everywhere, and Africa is no exception.

This week the big news story here in Zambia has to do with a government official who made off with something like 6 million dollars (US) in funds from the Ministry of Health. In reaction to the news, doctors and nurses went on strike claiming that if there was 6 million dollars lying around waiting to be stolen, then there was surely enough for them to get a raise. Then, teachers across the country went on strike claiming that it just seemed like a fun thing to do. As a result, students from local high schools began to riot by throwing rocks at passing cars, claiming that if there was 6 million dollars lying around waiting to be stolen and that if doctors and nurses and teachers could go on strike, then surely, rock throwing must fit into the picture somehow.

At times, when we hear things like this in Africa, we shake our head in bewilderment as though we know nothing of such things. Of course, this is far from true. My thoughts and actions frequently testifies to my own various forms of corruption. Granted, I have never stolen 6 million dollars. But my inclinations, my nature, is seldom faultless.

For instance, I find myself frequently jealous rather than joyous at the successes and opportunities enjoyed by my friends. And even when I do serve others in whatever way, I often find that I am motivated by my own need for significance rather than by genuine compassion and concern. And sometimes, becoming aware of these and other less than godly qualities that I possess, can be discouraging.

This past week we hosted a team from a church in Virginia. On the last day of the team’s visit we took them a few hours outside the city of Lusaka so they could rest and take in a bit of nature, Zambia style.

The Lower Zambezi River is home to an ample array of flora and fauna. And as we were speeding along the river, I couldn’t escape the sense that it was all put there for our benefit, that the beauty of nature is far too precise, far too harmonious to have been accidental. Perhaps this is why some prefer the term “mother nature.” Because nature, is intensely personal. It bears an unmistakable note of dedication that is far more than merely the signature of the Artist. Rather, it is a note from the Artist himself, to all who would appreciate it declaring that it is done for our benefit, from the Creator himself to us.

And in all of this, I am reminded that God is an intensely personal God who has come to restore to humanity the beauty of the divine imprint upon our human nature, an imprint that has long been lost (Gen. 1:27). And in the slow saunter of a Saddleback Stork, and in the quiet restoration of my own soul, I am reminded that what God does, is inherently good (see all of Gen. 1), and that what we do apart from his Spirit, despite whatever clever things we may dress it up in, is inherently corrupt.

“Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace,” (Romans 8:5-6).

Thus the hope for Zambia, the hope for an imperfect missionary, the hope for the environment, is not merely a greater appreciation for nature, but rather a greater seeking of the Spirit that changes our nature and makes us more like the One who created it all to begin with.

And best of all, no one has to get naked.