January 29, 2015

You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.  Psalm 16:11 Jeremiah 29:11-14

I haven’t seen the movie Wild, which opened in December and is still in theatres nationwide. I’ve never read the immensely popular book of the same name either. But I do know it’s about a woman named Cheryl Strayed (portrayed in the movie by Reese Witherspoon) who, in the mid-‘90s, went through her mother’s death, abused heroin and got divorced, then took up a long, strenuous hike to rediscover herself.

The trail she chose to trek is the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), a 2,650-mile track for both people and horses 100 to 150 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, running along the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges from the Mexican border through California, Oregon and Washington State to Canada. It’s administered by the U.S. Forest Service, which partners with the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, California Department of Parks and Recreation and the Pacific Crest Trail Association for its management and protection.

In all, the PCT winds through six national parks—Yosemite, Sequoia & Kings Canyon and Lassen Volcanic in California; North Cascades and Mount Rainier in Washington; and Crater Lake in Oregon—as well as one national monument, Devils Postpile in California.

People have been seeking peace, comfort and direction in the wilderness for as long as there have been humans (see Psalm 121:1, for example). Being alone in the solitude of the wild is generally conducive to pondering life: it’s easier to find peace and tranquility in the remote outdoors, where quiet and stillness help us think things over without distraction from a noisy, demanding world. And physical exertion brings out those endorphins that make us feel better. The problem is that many think this communing with nature will lead them to find answers within themselves—and therein lies the rub.

The apostle Paul articulated very well the difficulties of looking to our own effort for the solution to our troubles: “What I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate….the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not…I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good [but] I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind” (Romans 7:15, 18, 21, 23).

God does tell us to examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5, 1 John 4:1-3), but we’re unwise if we stop there to find the answers, because our human solutions never get to the real problem: our perverse, rebellious nature means we want to do and be good, but we end up doing just the opposite. “There is none righteous, not even one…There is none who does good, there is not even one,” Scripture affirms (Romans 3:10, 12). That’s what’s called our sin nature, and God knows we’ll never find real peace there, much less on a trail. The goal of assessment is always meant to lead us not further into our souls or the created world or other people or religious rituals, even though these things may compliment or support our findings.

No, our scrutiny should instead lead us to our Creator, the only One who rightly searches our hearts with love and gentle care, to give us what we need and lead us where we should go (1 Chronicles 28:9, 10; Jeremiah 17:10; Psalm 139: 1, 23, 24; Romans 8:27; Revelation 2:23). As Paul concludes, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24, 25).

So, enjoy the parks and other spots set apart for our recreation and enjoyment. But realize life’s mysteries and troubles won’t be resolved there. Look inward and outward all you want—just don’t forget to finally look upward.


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