Henry David Thoreau was one of the most famous lovers of nature. Many of his works highlight his appreciation for the beauty of nature and the ways that it shapes his life and teaches him how to live. Thoreau said, “I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.”  Thoreau believed that nature itself, or something unspoken in it, could lead us to a better life. C.S. Lewis, a famous Christian author, held a similar appreciation of nature yet he had more specific beliefs about how we learn from nature and what exactly it is that really might teach us:
“But nature gave the word glory a new meaning for me… and if nature had never awakened certain longings in me, huge areas of what I can now mean by the “love” of God would never, so far as I can see, have existed.” 
The grandness of nature can help reveal the grandness of God and His glory. Nature can also lead us to understand that there is life and a world beyond our own. It creates a deep “longing” for something more, something that Christians believe can only be properly fulfilled by the love of our God. As small, imperfect beings, our relation to the size and beauty of nature both helps us understand God while also bringing about new questions and deeper desires. These feelings may even transcend nature and extend to other experiences of beauty such as art, literature, or anything that we individually see as beautiful. But how can our experiences of beauty help us to understand our God and His character? While the greatness of God is beyond human understanding, we can use grand experiences to help us work towards a better understanding of it and learn how these seemingly temporal experiences can point to God.
Waves in the sea can show us just how all powerful He really is . The skies move us closer to understanding His glory  as well as remind us of our size as compared to His . The strong emotions we feel when looking at a beautiful work of art or seeing our favorite singer in concert can help us better grasp God’s goodness—even these common forms of beauty can spur our hearts toward a stronger desire for feeling His presence and knowing Him more. While these experiences can help inform our understanding, it’s important that they not become our first source for understanding of knowledge. These experiences cannot be the first things we look to for life or for answers to our big questions, but how can we make sure that we don’t place too high of a value on these experiences, causing them to become more important than our relationship with God, while still appreciating these moments that God has gifted to us?
“We must make a detour- leave the hills and woods and go back to our studies, to church, to our Bibles, to our knees. Otherwise the love of nature is beginning to turn into a nature religion.” 
At what point does appreciation turn into wrongful worship? This line and finding the balance likely varies from person to person and depending on the experience or situation but it is still important that we learn how to find it. Christians regularly turn to God through the Scriptures and prayer for answers to big questions, practices that become a wellspring of life. It is often tempting to look for life and answers through experiences with beauty, but Christians believe that true life can only be found through relationship with God. For those who do so, anything besides God that promises to give answers, that holds more say and power in one’s life than God, is likely an idol. The word of God becomes absolute truth and therefore holds the ultimate position in decision making. This truth can be found through reading the Bible or spending time in prayer and bringing our questions and desires before God. Any other functional “god” will never be able to fully give us the answers, comfort, or any other feeling we are seeking. As Christians, we believe that beauty in nature is fulfilling, but it is not ultimate. It is merely a stepping stone to deep and dependent relationship with God.
“Nature cannot satisfy the desires she arouses nor answer theological questions nor sanctify us.” 
Nature, as well as other experiences of beauty, can serve not only the purpose of helping us to understand God but also to draw us closer to God by giving us new questions and desires. As humans we are part of nature while also being set apart from nature by God when he gave us dominion over the Earth . This can make us long to connect deeper with, and better understand nature as an ultimate search of trying to get closer to God. But nature or our other experiences cannot fill these holes. While experiences of beauty can point to God, since they are created by and given as a gift from God, they cannot provide the answers we seek in the way that the Lord can. Most importantly, they cannot give the eternal salvation that comes from relationship with God. Only Christ can fill those holes and provide those answers.
So how can we make sure that all aspects of our life, whether experiences in nature, reading, viewing a concert, or any number of activities, ultimately point us back to the cross? This answer may be different for different people, but I think C.S. Lewis offers us an invaluable insight that we have to take a “detour” from nature and return to our spiritual practices that develop our relationship with God. Experiences of nature and beauty of this world are gifts from God, meant to be appreciated and enjoyed. Moments like those make life more vibrant, but are meant to point to God rather than become the main focus of life.
- Henry David Thoreau, Thoreau and the Art of Life: Precepts and Principles, p. 59.
- C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, p. 20.
- Luke 8:25 NIV
- Psalm 19:1 NIV
- Psalm 8:3-4 NIV
- C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, p. 20.
- Genesis 1:26-28 NIV