Where does one find God? In Bend, there are magnificent buildings with crosses on top, and certainly some come to the Lord there, yet more and more we see these buildings torn down or renovated. A church building by my house is now a pizza parlor. Another church in the area became a home brew store for a few years, and is now being torn down to make way for a Starbucks. At the same time, these buildings grow more and more empty as we go through a worldwide pandemic, preventing large in person gatherings.
Next to these structures, Bend is also a land of ancient volcanic explosions that form sweeping landscapes of lava flows and waterfalls, natural boundaries in the earth where channels of lava rock and water cascade around each other with impressive power. Some of the local favorite attractions to hike to are Cline Falls, and Tumalo Falls. Men may have built churches, but the creator built mountains and waterfalls that we could never match. It's because of this natural beauty that Bend has become a mecca for photographers and viral Instagram posting. In effect, the aesthetics of nature become an object of worship, and the novelty of experiencing sweeping vistas becomes one's God, or at least brings us closer to him though our pursuit may be misplaced.
A theme emerges from the community when meeting wonderers on the trail. Hikers claim the outdoors are their church. They’ve come to feel closer to God there. How could a building compare to the splendor of God’s creation? I often run into these hikers claiming that nature is their cathedral. This sounds great, but there's a problem. Often these nomads have no one to share it with, and lack Christian relationships in the Body of Christ - the people who make His church and help us to be a part of his family.
Another problem emerges on this path, with the locals who have grown up in Central Oregon. For some of them, the hiking and the views can be taken for granted. I've met many born and raised in the area, who have only ventured into the forest once or twice. Though nature can give a greater awe factor than a building, what do you do when the feeling fades? Where do you really find God and experience him beyond the feelings of novelty or beauty? Can these things help you to find him and keep in relationship with him?
The apostle Paul speaks to searchers and wonderers in Acts 17. The men of Athens are worshipping statue after statue of Gods and goddesses, debating philosophy in temple after temple, even giving praise to an unknown God. Paul takes the opportunity to tell them about the God they do not know and why they can't seem to find him in their pursuit of worshipping everything:
"Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us." - Acts 17:22-28
Wether you’re in a building, or in the woods - God isn’t far from any one of us. He made it all. He set the nations and natural boundaries into motion, every waterfall, every explosion of lava rock that we get to witness locally in Bend. The natural wanderlust that we feel on the trail is a mechanism bringing us closer to God. He did it all so that we may look up and wonder about creation and perhaps seek the creator. Though he arranges the opportunity, he gives us the choice. He is not far from anyone of us, if we decide to reach out. So, where does one find God? He’s as close as you next breath. He’s in the forest; he’s in the temple; he’s exactly where and when you’ll find him if you choose.
I was on a bench. After a long summer of loneliness and prayer to connect with God, it was my first day setting foot on my new college campus. I had just moved into my apartment, with boxes still unpacked. I wondered onto campus to search for a wifi connection, but found quite a different connection entirely. A Christian happened to walk by and asked if I wanted to discuss the Bible. That began a search, reaching out for a relationship with God and him reaching back through His word. God determined the time and place, and my life changed forever. I chose to respond to him.
If you're in the same place I was, wondering where to find God and wanting a relationship with him, then I encourage you to begin reading the Bible. That's how God speaks to us. Any friendship needs communication. We find God by going to His word and responding to it in prayer.
Part 4 coming soon!