“Consider the lilies of the field. . . . even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” – Matthew 6:28-29
On April 12th of this year, I married my best friend, the gorgeous Emma Ramos. A few days later, we embarked on a two-week honeymoon to Europe. During our trip, we saw some of the most famous attractions Europe has to offer. I decided to write this article to share an observation I made years ago, but which I had confirmed and reinforced in a powerful way on this trip.
While in Europe, I saw many spectacular works of art and engineering prowess. I viewed Rome’s indomitable Colosseum, the extensive Vatican museums with their timeless treasures, the Sistine Chapel and numerous grand churches and cathedrals, Mussolini’s obelisk, the man-made island of Venice with its watery lanes and elegant gondolas, the Hohensalzburg Fortress in picturesque Austria, the iconic fairy-tale castle in Bavaria, and other incredible feats of human ingenuity, expertise, and imagination. However, the most exquisite, breathtaking, and awe-inspiring works of craftsmanship I witnessed were not those created by men, but those created by God.
As amazing as castles, cathedrals, and monuments are, nothing man has yet conceived compares with the simple grandeur of the earth our Lord organized for us. The majestic Alps of Switzerland, the turquoise rivers of Bavaria, and the perpetually green hills of central Italy eclipse in greatness, stature, and potency the towering stone walls, marble pillars, and painted ceilings of even the greatest of human inventions.
As I left behind the Romans’ grandest edifices and watched Italy’s green, hilly countryside fly passed my train window, I felt a greater stirring in my soul for nature’s loveliness than man’s cleverness. As I moved from the notable cities of Venice and Milan into the Swiss Alps, the stark contrast between human and Heavenly architecture became at once apparent. And as I hiked the mountain overlooking King Ludwig II’s stunning castles, what struck me most was not the stone and mortar below, but the Bavarian mountains, lakes, and forests stretching out in all directions in a peaceful panoramic with few equals.
In Switzerland, I experienced the peace and quiet I so thoroughly enjoyed while living in Alaska. Those who spend their whole lives living in sprawling cities cannot appreciate the life-giving nature of peace and quiet inherent in rural settings. You do not go to Rome, New York, or Tokyo to sit down in the street and imbibe the atmosphere. Yet, you are impelled, almost in spite of yourself, to sit down in a flower-bedecked field in the mountains and soak in the radiant peace, splendor, and pleasantness. You simply cannot buy or artificially simulate the peace and quiet of God’s outdoor sanctuaries. You must go there and experience it for yourself.
While palaces, shrines, and medieval fortresses fascinate me immensely, the feeling of wonder fades with time. However, the impressions I get while gazing at a snow-caped mountain, watching a river snake through a valley, or listening to birds sing while smelling the aroma of trees and flowers are deep and lasting. I greatly appreciate the centuries of history contained in the Egyptian museum in Vatican City, the surreal spectacles witnessed by the mighty walls of the Colosseum, and the meticulous planning required to construct the Neuschwanstein Castle in its awesome Alpine perch. Yet, what superior detail, planning, and thought must go into creating a single mountain! And that is to say nothing of an entire earth brimming with so much beauty that we can scarcely comprehend and which no mortal can ever experience in totality. What’s more, there are “worlds without number” (Moses 1:33) waiting to be explored in the future time of the Lord.
The human mind fails to comprehend the sheer majesty of the mountain ranges, forests, lakes, rivers, jungles, plains, deserts, and seas that beautify and give splendid variety to our world. And few recognize the eloquent sermons our Savior preaches to us every second of every day through His skies, stars, eclipses, auroras, sunsets, clouds, rainbows, mountains, streams, waterfalls, trees, flowers, and greenery. The greatest painters and photographers have tried but failed to capture even minuscule snapshots of this indescribable beauty. The best we can do is feebly imitate what the Lord has fashioned so skillfully for our satisfaction.
It is prideful and arrogant to suggest that this magnificent earth came into being through the fortuitous chance of some unfathomable “big bang.” It is still more incomprehensibly vain and arrogant to suggest that human beings evolved over billions of years through a cosmic role of the dice and that our little earth is the only one out of trillions of other planets we have observed with our relatively weak scientific instruments that has intelligent life. It is little more than ingratitude and ignorance to suggest that there is not a superintending power – an intelligent design – responsible for crafting our world, the beauty and order in it, and the ultimate masterpiece that is man to enjoy it.
An ancient prophet of our Lord Jesus Christ, an upright man named Alma, used the very existence of our earth to testify to an unbeliever that God exists. He said:
“And now what evidence have ye that there is no God, or that Christ cometh not? I say unto you that ye have none, save it be your word only.
“But, behold, I have all things as a testimony that these things are true; and ye also have all things as a testimony unto you that they are true; and will ye deny them? . . . .
“. . . The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and 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 30:40-41, 44).
The writer of Psalms used similar logic when he testified:
“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalm 19:1).
And Moses, having grown up surrounded by the worldly opulence of the pharaohs, marveled in these words after seeing the Lord’s creations in vision:
“Now, for this cause, I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed” (Moses 1:8-10).
Even though man and all his fancy inventions are “nothing” when compared to our God’s simple majesty and intrinsic glory, yet we are His most prized possessions – His greatest handiwork! We are His literal children. You are a literal son or daughter of your literal, living Father in Heaven. We belong to His family and He loves us and wants to share all He has and is with us (Romans 8:16-17). You and I are created in His holy image and possess a part of His attributes and nature (Genesis 1:26). Our physical form and natural abilities show, if only in small measure, what and who our Eternal Father really is.
Our Elder Brother, the Lord Jesus Christ, also showed what we may become if we walk the path outlined by God. The path is the Gospel of Jesus Christ with all of its empowering covenants, ordinances, and blessings. And this beautiful earth which we are so privileged to live on was designed for us as a grand tutorial and a staging ground for eternity. We are here to learn how to successfully walk the only path that leads to the abundant life here and hereafter (John 10:10).
From the beginning, God has declared that “this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). His assurance has been supported by the witness of the holy prophets. Nephi, for instance, declared:
“He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation. . . .
“. . . he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile” (2 Nephi 26:24, 33).
Yes, the Lord loves us! From the east to the west, and from the north to the south, the Lord has placed masterpieces of beauty for our edification and enjoyment. The majestic mountains of Switzerland, the tropical jungles of Panama, and the fruited plains of America continuously beckon to us, encouraging us to remember God and to recognize that we are His children. The spires of the mountains and tops of the trees point upward as if telling us to look up to Heaven and point our souls to eternity.
For all of man’s engineering marvels, and there are many which justifiably thrill us, the greatest artwork this world has to offer is not to be found in artificial cities and urban environments. Rather, the greatest sermons, masterpieces, and marvels are found in the simplicity and grandeur of nature. “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof” affirmed David (Psalm 24:1). It is my witness that this is true. And it is my plea that you will take every opportunity to unplug from the false reality of the internet, leave behind the concrete jungles, and soak in the majestic world God has provided for us. God bless you to appreciate whose son or daughter you are and to understand why you have the privilege of living on this expertly-crafted, endlessly inspiring, and infinitely beautiful globe we call home.
May 10, 2019.
So well said Zack. You know you have captured my sentiments exactly. I am so anxious to finally speak with you of all you saw and felt in Europe. This is another very well-written and heart-felt piece.
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