Seeing God at the Canyon

Everyone sees his god at the Grand Canyon. It defies description. Two hundred miles of cliffs and pillars and clefts and slides appear more like a movie backdrop than something real. You can see places in the distance where no man has ever stepped. As the sun moves toward the west, new vistas emerge with color and texture unnoticed only a minute earlier.

We stood on the south rim a few weeks ago amidst people from across the globe. Most had cameras and excitedly took turns mugging with the hazy sunset behind them. A German lady was reading aloud from a tour book describing the eons it took to move so much earth. At one end of the overlook a college student droned on about the wonders and threat of erosion?mostly quoting from a park brochure his companions had not yet read. Some of us said nothing except to point out a new view or better perspective.

It reminded me of a movie from years ago called, appropriately, “t1:place>Grand Canyon.” It was mostly not about the Canyon but rather centered on the messy lives of Los Angelinos as they crossed paths with a saintly wrecker driver. At the end of the movie they all packed into a van and went to see the Canyon. The film’s final scene cut between the majesty of creation and the beaming faces of the pilgrims. They smiled, softened, wept, hugged ?and went back home, whole. How’s that work?

Many of us find a day in the woods or a night under the stars restorative. It’s more than just a change in scenery, I think. Our perspective changes when we are surrounded by things beyond man’s power to make or control. Maybe we are humbled or comforted to know that the world is in stronger hands than ours. We, believer and pagan alike, see the hand of our god in the stupendous extremes of nature. The Materialist will wonder at the huge, lovely things random chance hath wrought. The New Ager will bliss out over nameless beauty and feel harmony with eternal something. Maybe some, like our movie characters, drive home “fixed.”

It’s more complex for the believer. Creation is not just a wonder but also a sign. It has meaning. We live in reality and see the dry land and prickly-poisonous life in the region as the fruit of the Fall. We marvel at the variety of created things and colors and textures given to show the character of the Author of beauty. We see the aging of the Earth as a reminder that it is not eternal; it had a beginning, a Creator, and has a finite existence. At its most awesome fallen nature makes us wistful for the perfect that was and will be again. The total effect is stunning. It has meaning to those who know the God who is not silent.

God speaks in wild places. Jesus prayed in the desert. Moses received his call after years there. Elijah’s great dialog with God took place over a barren place. The wilderness, for all its variety, is a place of solitude and quiet. As I walk though the green mountains I love, so many mysteries call attention to themselves. In the desert, the mysteries are quieter, more subtle though harsh.

He also speaks through his creation. David often referred to the majesty and wonder of God’s work in his soaring songs of praise. God referred Job to the age and miracles of creation to remind Job of his own dependency and limitations. Paul spoke of natural revelation which offers to all evidence of his existence and even indicators of God’s nature. Our own experience bears this out. This side of Calvary, believers see the wonder without worshipping the things God has made. We know that natural beauty is only more permanent that our vision, not more permanent the One who made us. Even natural revelation is more revealing to us because God has given more specific knowledge of himself through the scriptures and through Jesus.

Back on the South Rim the next morning, my children and I caught just a bit of what the rough terrain was saying. For a moment it was quiet. There were no planes or buses or voices discernible on Hopi point. We could see no roads or signs of man. There was only a quiet breeze and silent river miles away. We heard only the sounds of the ages and saw only what appears to us timeless. For those brief moments we moved beyond mere wonder and into awe. All we could hear and see pointed to the God who knows the beginning and end of all things. Creation knows its Master and so do we.

Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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