288) The Limits of Experiencing God in Nature

By C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, 1952

     I remember once when I had been giving a talk to the R.A.F., an old, hard-bitten officer got up and said, “I’ve no use for all that stuff.  But, mind you, I’m a religious man too. I know there’s a God. I’ve felt Him:  out alone in the desert at night: the tremendous mystery.  And that’s just why I don’t believe all your neat little dogmas and formulas about Him.  To anyone who’s met the real thing they all seem so petty and pedantic and unreal!”

     Now in a sense I quite agreed with that man.  I think he had probably had a real experience of God in the desert.  And when he turned from that experience to the Christian creeds, I think he really was turning from something real to something less real.  In the same way, if a man has once looked at the Atlantic from the beach, and then goes and looks at a map of the Atlantic, he also will be turning from something real to something less real:  turning from real waves to a bit of colored paper.  But here comes the point.  The map is admittedly only colored paper, but there are two things you have to remember about it.  In the first place, it is based on what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic. In that way it has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while yours would be a single glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together.  In the second place, if you want to go anywhere, the map is absolutely necessary.  As long as you are content with walks on the beach, your own glimpses are far more fun than looking at a map.  But the map is going to be more use than walks on the beach if you want to get to America.

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Psalm 19:1-4  —  The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.  They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.  Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.

Psalm 119:105  —  Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.

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A PSALM OF PRAISE

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  You have set your glory in the heavens.

Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.

When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

 You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.

You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:

 all flocks and herds,
    and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

–Psalm 8