Occasionally I make visits inside prison walls. Some facilities are more depressing than others. One was clean and state-of-the-art, but allowed the inmates no time outside. None. Were those prisoners anxious to be released? You likely know the answer to that one!
I often visit others who serve long periods of voluntary confinement. No, they’ve not been sentenced to time in prison; they’ve never broken any laws. Yet day after day they willingly retreat to areas under roofs and within walls, rarely seeing the light of day.
Why have Americans accepted such confinement? Two factors loom large in the explanation: Air conditioning and television. Because we have grown dependent on comfort and entertainment, we seldom feel the urge to get out. Nature is something we see on the Discovery Channel or in National Geographic.
In the process we have lost much. Our spirits need that periodic communion with nature. I don’t advocate worship of nature, but contemplation of the majesty of God’s creation can only enhance our appreciation of his power, wisdom and goodness. The experience of being outdoors cannot be digitally duplicated.
“The heavens declare the glory of God,” wrote David long ago, “and the firmament shows his handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard” (Psalm 19:1-3, NKJV). David could write such beautiful prose because he had experienced it firsthand. As a shepherd he spent many nights gazing at star-filled skies, considering the vastness of God’s creation. He was a better man for the experience.
In three of the gospels we’re told that Jesus went “to the mountain” (Mark 6:46, Luke 6:12, John 6:15). In two of those references, prayer is the explicitly-stated reason for going; in the other, spiritual reasons are strongly implied. Why did Jesus leave the comforts of a house to pray? Obviously, he felt a closeness with his father in the great natural cathedral.
Godly people who take time to meditate outdoors will be drawn to greater depths in their relationship with the Lord. When David took time to “… consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained”, it was a segue to the larger questions: “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you visit him?” (Psalm 8:3,4) Confine David inside the cozy comforts of a palace, however, and he will likely think more of himself than of his creator.
Thank God for houses that protect us from the elements that are sometimes harsh! But let us thank him with equal zest for the great out-of-doors. There we see, as in no other place, the awesome power he wields, the incredible wisdom that guides his acts and the goodness that is everywhere proclaimed.
What do we lose by shutting out God’s universe?