I awoke before sunrise, as I always do when camping. My wife and I and two friends were camped at the base of one of the many mountain ranges in the western Utah desert. It was late spring, and sunrises came early, but the waiting adventures of the new day drew me from the warmth of my sleeping bag. Unable to coax anyone to join me, I walked alone a short distance from camp to the top of a rocky knoll. The area was remote: the nearest paved road was more than 20 miles away, the nearest settlement more than 50. From where I stood, all that was visible was untouched by human hands. Around me, sharp-edged white boulders were interspersed with juniper and occasional blossoms of cacti and globe mallow. Ahead of me, a serene shadowed valley gave way to ridge after purple ridge of mountains stretching toward the growing dawn. Directly behind me, a towering peak of white rock caught the orange blush of sunrise.
There was a certain timelessness to that moment—waiting for the sun to clear the distant crest of the Wasatch Plateau. I could imagine a time even more ancient—a time when no mortal eye had viewed that scene—when perhaps even the hosts of heaven surveyed the landscapes of the newly prepared earth with gratitude, wonderment, and awe. I thought of these words in Genesis: “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). I wondered if it might have been at such a time “when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7). As I reflected on those verses, my spirit confirmed that “all things which [God] had made were very good” (Moses 2:31).
That sunrise was, for me, an intensely religious experience. I was dressed only in blue jeans and a sweatshirt, covered with the dust of the previous day’s rockhounding and saturated with the smell of the previous night’s campfire—not the usual setting for a spiritual experience. But the feeling of wonder for the gift of this earth I derived from that experience is one I will never forget. Since that time I have tried to renew that feeling by reflecting again on those verses, on the beauties of our world, and on the kindness of its Creator.
Of course, we need not travel to the desert to gain such a perspective. As we read and discuss the Creation story, we may also experience feelings of reverent awe as we give thoughtful consideration to what the gift of the Creation means to us and to what the Creator would have us learn from it.
Many features found on earth give rise to powerful scriptural symbols. The wildernesses of Jared (see Ether 2:6), Moses (see Ex. 16), and Lehi (see 1 Ne. 2) symbolize the testing of faith. The thorns and thistles that came after the Fall (see Gen. 3:18) typify the trials of mortal life. These symbols teach us about the nature and purpose of mortality, but they do not teach us that we should think negatively of the earth. After all, the Lord Himself has declared the earth to be good. Features of the earth used symbolically need not detract from our appreciation of the reality of nature’s beauty. There can be appreciation for sunsets, snapdragons, and streams—and the joy we feel in experiencing them—alongside the thorns, thistles, and thunderstorms.
Testimony to a Creator
We can draw three lessons from nature’s grandeur: first, God exists; second, God is powerful; and third, God loves us. One way we can feel a surety of the Creator’s existence is to observe His handiwork. While it is the Holy Spirit that conveys such a testimony to our hearts, we may first prepare our hearts to receive it. A marvelous way to do this is to gaze into a star-filled sky on a moonless night or at the intricate patterns on the back of a single maple leaf. As Alma taught, “All things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator” (Alma 30:44).
The same things that prepare our hearts for the knowledge of God’s existence teach us of His power. The Lord Himself has stated:
“The earth rolls upon her wings, and the sun giveth his light by day, and the moon giveth her light by night, and the stars also give their light, as they roll upon their wings in their glory, in the midst of the power of God.
“Unto what shall I liken these kingdoms, that ye may understand?
“Behold, all these are kingdoms, and any man who hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God moving in his majesty and power” (D&C 88:45–47).
We are keenly aware of God’s majesty and power when we see His handiwork in motion. Next time you stand at the foot of a roaring waterfall or at the toe of a mighty glacier, reflect on the power of the Creator.
Along with teaching us that God exists and that He is powerful, the very existence of this earth impresses upon us the reality that God loves us. God’s manifest power in the universe leads us to say, as did David, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
“What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” (Ps. 8:3–4).
Our answer may be found in asking another question: how important must mankind be to God, seeing that He has created all of this for us? We are surrounded by signs of God’s love for us. The beauty of Creation itself is “love which from our birth over and around us lies” (“For the Beauty of the Earth,” Hymns, no. 92).
The teachings of the restored gospel heighten our realization of how the very Creation of the earth is a manifestation of God’s love for us. Modern revelation teaches that life is a blessing—an opportunity to prove ourselves, gain a physical body, and further our eternal progress. We were present at the Creation, singing with joy for the opportunities this earth would afford us. Though we don’t remember that event now, the beauty around us is a constant reminder of our Heavenly Father’s love and concern for His children.
There are other fundamental lessons to draw from the Creation—lessons of what the Creator might expect from us. It seems to me that by virtue of living upon the earth we shoulder two responsibilities. The first is to care for our beautiful home. At the Creation of the world God placed Adam and Eve as caretakers, with dominion over “every living thing that moveth upon the earth,” and gave them instructions to “replenish the earth, and subdue it” (Abr. 4:28). The earth, then, was created for us and given into our care. It is within our power to do with it what we like, but since it is God who entrusted it to us, it is to Him we shall answer for what we choose to do.
Words that come to mind from the story of the Creation in Genesis chapter 1 are dominion and subdue. Sometimes these words conjure up images of an ultimate rule over powerless subjects. But no gift or station granted to us by God comes without responsibilities and expectations. Proper dominion over nature requires us to use the earth’s resources wisely. They are here for our benefit, and it is pleasing to God when they are used well. “The earth is full,” the Lord tells us, “and there is enough and to spare” (D&C 104:17). Any shortcomings of earth’s resources needed to support mankind are not due to a lack of proper preparation of the earth. Consider how the verse concludes: “I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.” Thoughtful, righteous dominion is what God expects of us; any other kind of dominion is likely to cause shortages and suffering among mankind.
Humanity as a whole is doing a poor job of caring for the earth. Individually, we can do better. We can, of course, not litter. In fact, we can help pick up after those who do. We can practice conservation of resources where possible. All of our actions can display respect for the creations of God.
A second responsibility man owes, it seems to me, is gratitude. Gratitude is an essential ingredient in accepting any gift from God, and failing to show gratitude for the gift of the earth risks offense to its Creator. Indeed, our most well-known scripture commanding us to give thanks to God applies specifically to the Creation. After giving a description of the goodness of the earth in section 59 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord closes with these words:
“And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.
“And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments” (D&C 59:20–21).
When I was a teenager, a good brother in our ward whom I admired pronounced a blessing on his new baby daughter. This man had a tremendous appreciation for the creations of God. I remember that the blessing he gave was quite unusual, and several thoughts from it stuck in my mind. He blessed his infant with a sense of wonder for the natural beauty that would surround her in this life—to “find wisdom in the trident leaf of the sage.” Now, many years later, through experiences like the sunrise in the desert, I have come to appreciate the value of that blessing. That daughter is by now a young woman. I hope she treasures the gifts pronounced by her father in that blessing. I would wish the same blessing on us all: to find wisdom in the beauty of nature and to glean from each part of Creation that which it would teach us about its Creator.
Let’s Talk about It
Take a walk with family members and look for the beauty of nature. Invite them to describe how each creation blesses them. Discuss why God would create all of this for us. Read from this article the section “Testimony to a Creator.” Express your gratitude for God and His creations.
Read the section “Attendant Responsibilities.” Discuss ways we can care for our beautiful home on earth. Plan an activity, such as cleaning up a nearby park, that helps preserve the earth’s beauty.
Have family members take turns describing something in nature while the others try to guess what it is. Example: It falls from the sky and makes plants grow. Answer: Rain. Read and discuss Doctrine and Covenants 59:20–21 [D&C 59:20–21]. How can we show our appreciation for the beauty of nature?