I live about 20 minutes away from a beautiful canyon filled with a stunning national forest and over 200 natural climbing routes. Whenever I have the chance, I go up there to explore, hike, rock climb, and sometimes just to think. A lot of my friends joke about how I pretty much live up there. Secretly, I wish I did.
The truth is that I’ve never been a big city person. There’s something about concrete, construction, noise pollution, and crowds that really turns me off. Whenever I’ve stayed in a city, I’ve felt the loneliest I ever have in my life, like I’m missing something significant. I feel too chaotic and too estranged.
I always thought that was a weird quirk of mine, but recently, I’ve come to realize why I might feel such a distinct spiritual/emotional divide when I’m in the mountains versus being in the city. Scripturally and physically, there’s a big difference between these two settings. As I sat in my Institute class last night, I had a spark of revelation that continues that theme: our Savior is never represented by cities, but by the nature in the scriptures. And that brings up enough mind-blowing symbolism that I need to talk about it with you guys.
Symbols of Christ in the Natural World
When Christ is talked about in scripture, he’s frequently referred to with symbols. One of the most common symbols of Christ is “the good shepherd” who nurtures and protects his sheep. It’s a symbol that Christ himself uses when talking about his divine role (Ex: “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine” (John 10:14). What’s interesting is that Christ associates himself with the pastoral and simple man who makes a livelihood, not in the city, but out in the hills, on earth and fields. Beyond that symbol, it’s incredible to note that almost all of the symbols of Christ have one incredible common denominator: nature.
In John 4:14, Christ is living water that shall prevent men from ever thirsting. He is the light of the world and the sun of righteousness (John 8:12, Mal. 4:2), our source of energy and sustainability. Christ is the rock, he is the lamb, he is the vine, and he is the tree. We can see that in Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life, where men only find happiness in God’s love, or Christ (the tree). Furthermore, you might remember the scripture about the vine and branches that was referred to in conference several times. In John 15:5, Christ says, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”
If you still haven’t caught on at this point, Christ is always referred to as an element of nature and a lifeblood for us on earth, something that sustains us. He uses the natural world in parables constantly — the vineyard, the mustard seed, the 99 sheep, the sowers, the wheat and tares, etc. The natural world was not just created by the Savior, but is a critical aspect of his identity as the Son of God, and something so precious to him. The fact that he speaks of nature so often is evidence of his love for it.
Symbols of the Natural Man in the Physical World
Contrasted with the beautiful, natural symbols of the Savior in scripture are the man-made, institutional symbols of the world in scripture, and there are many. The easiest for us to pick out are the Tower of Babel and the Great and Spacious Building, both structures that were created to elevate the lavish lifestyle of man and perhaps imitate or mock the grandeur of the Lord’s creations. While it is in nature that we most often find the Savior referenced, it’s in the city that we find the wickedness of the world.
The world is represented by towers, massive cities, “indestructible” armies, corrupt governments, and “that great and abominable church” discussed in First Nephi. The world is represented by the lounge chairs King Noah sets in his court to support the slothish weight of himself and his priests. The world is represented by Rameumptums built to put men above their brothers. In every instance, the world is symbolized by an institution or structure designed by prideful men and intended to sustain them. And in every instance, those “impenetrable” fortresses of the world are utterly destroyed by, you guessed it, natural forces, earthquakes, storms, and floods.
The Garden of Eden, that paradisaical first home for men on earth and THE place where men could see the Lord, was quickly replaced by structures and institutions created by the hands of men, grand cities built to host what the garden could not — intermingling of right and wrong, lavish and wasteful living, and wickedness. As we read both the Bible and the Book of Mormon, we watch as, one by one, cities are laid waste because of the influence of Satan within them. Sodom and Gomorrah, Jerusalem, Babylon, Egypt, the entire face of the land in the Americas…the list goes on. It is in cities that the Savior’s message and the beautiful sustainability of his love is most often snuffed out, and, tragically, it was in a city where he was judged and condemned to death.
What This Means For Us
When we study cities and the natural world in the scriptures, we find a pattern: the Lord is always getting his people out of one and into the other. Lot was told to get out of Sodom and into the hills before the Lord destroyed it. The Israelites were driven out of Egypt and into the wilderness for 40 years. Nephi and his family were told to leave Jerusalem and travel to a promised, untouched land. Even the early saints were told to move from the hub of civilization in the Eastern United States to the barren, mountainous state of Utah. That wasn’t because the Lord wanted to ruin their lives, but because he wanted them to find him. And only stripped of the artificiality and mortar and luxury of the city could they do so. I don’t think they were told to leave just to rebuild cities. I think they were told to leave so that they could find and rebuild themselves.
This message remains true for all of us. Spiritually, we need to get out of the chaos and pollution of the cities of our lives and flee to the quiet mountains of them. We need to seek sustenance from what is real, our Savior, rather than what is artificial, the world. We also need to protect and value the sacred creations the Lord has given us on this earth and support efforts to sustain them, not rip them apart and destroy them for no good purpose. It’s significant to me that once mankind moved from the wilderness to the towering walls of Titanic-esque cities, they lost sight of the Savior. Without enough quiet, natural places in our lives, I’m afraid we’ll do the same.
Our Savior holds a sacred place in his heart for the natural world. He taught his sacred message on seas and shorelines and mountains. He was resurrected in a garden tomb and he chose a garden to complete that most painful and sacred of tasks, the Atonement. Between gnarled, aged olive trees he chose to shed his blood for us, and nailed to a man-made cross of two wooden planks his persecutors made him bleed. The most awful of events have happened in cities, and the most sacred have happened in gardens and mountains.
Nature & Me
Nature holds a very significant place in my heart. It’s where I go when I’m afraid or hurting. It’s where I go when I want peace.
My challenge to you is to go take a hike. Literally. Get outside and love the trees and the sky and the mountains. Get to know the world that God has given you. Even though my message here is mainly to clear out the noise of the world, I think it’s just as important that we each learn to appreciate nature more. I imagine the Savior’s eyes crinkled with joy as he spoke about trees and animals and rocks and vines. He loves those things. Every one. And we can feel his love when we love those things, too.