Columnists > Voices

Vacation worldview

Don't get trapped in a false dichotomy about the world's beauty

Issue: "Don't run, Newt," April 14, 2007

You may not put it exactly in these terms, but as you and your family finish laying your vacation plans for this summer, you have a choice: Broadly speaking, you can spend your time admiring and enjoying what humans have done-or you can focus on what God the Creator has spread out in "nature."

It might be the difference between Disney World and Glacier National Park. It might be the distance between the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago and Niagara Falls on the U.S.-Canadian border. On a much bigger budget, it might be deciding between the Taj Mahal in India and the Galapagos Islands off the western coast of Ecuador.

But, of course, it's not nearly that simple. To portray things as I just laid them out is to offer a false dichotomy. You might well enjoy some of both on the same trip. You might include a ride to the top of the Arch in St. Louis and a drive up Pike's Peak in Colorado-and marvel at both experiences.

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But my first proposal was a false dichotomy on another front as well. For every man-made attraction typically depends profoundly on God's creation order. And the most breathtaking of the world's "natural wonders" usually depend on human stewardship to show them off to their best advantage-or maybe even to allow them to be seen in the first place.

I have been pondering all that since spending a few days last week on the upper western coast of Italy. What particularly grabbed my attention was a tourist brochure billing the Cinque Terre national park as "a man-made park" covering tens of thousands of acres. An audacious claim indeed, I thought; this I must see for myself.

My wife Carol Esther and I had already chosen to spend a few vacation days in northern Italy, focusing not so much on cathedrals and museums as on God's spectacular scenery. Our choice was not as pious or sanctimonious as it sounds; it was just a matter of personal preference. And one of our daughters had greatly enjoyed hiking through Cinque Terre's rugged mountains.

But I'm not sure there's another spot on the globe where God's creation and human stewardship come together more pointedly or spectacularly. No man could ever have developed a park here without the raw materials provided by the mountains that rise straight up from the bright aqua waters of the Mediterranean. But neither would most people ever see it all without the railroad tunnels and underground stations bored deep through the mountain stone, and the endless trails and rock stairways perched on those same mountains' highest edges. You'll need both to achieve the views that will make you marvel and gasp at the same time.

And while the environmentalists are fond of Cinque Terre (it's part of the UN's World Monument Fund), you need to know this is no virgin forest. The whole place is ultradeveloped. For centuries, most of these steep mountain slopes have been terraced from top to bottom and planted with grape vineyards, lemon groves, and olive trees. Pocket-size gardens are everywhere. You can only puzzle at how workers get to such sites every day and how the produce they grow gets out.

Near the bottom of this coastal stretch, five ancient villages cling precariously to the mountainsides just above the sea. Minimal vehicular traffic is allowed; you walk from place to place. Some aspects are a little touristy, and may chase you either back to the trails above or down to splash your feet in the colder-than-expected Mediterranean.

Mostly, Cinque Terre is a reminder of a sound biblical worldview-reveling in and protecting God's creation while at the very same time developing His handiwork to the fullest. It's a picturesque cue that God's people are on a journey through history from the Garden of Eden to the Celestial City. The builder and maker of both is God. You don't have to choose.

On your own vacation this summer, keep all that in mind. Don't get trapped in a false dichotomy. And when you see good examples of faithful human stewardship of God's original creation, sing the Doxology just that much more robustly.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.


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