Can Death Valley Be Simply Defined?

Chuck and I enjoyed our visit to Death Valley last week. This is a huge park. It is the largest national park in the U.S. outside of Alaska. Because Death Valley is so open, you can see long distances. You can drive for a while and not see much of a change because of these distances. Chuck gave me a hard time because I kept talking about how big it seemed. I had to wonder what it had been like when early prospectors and settlers came through here with horses and wagons. Those distances must have seemed immense.

But what exactly is Death Valley? Is it just a place of vast space? No. As we spent time in the park, we visited many places. Is Death Valley the mountains around it? Certainly they help define the place, but they are not the place. Is Death Valley the dried lake beds with mud patterns? Part of the place, but not the place. Is Death Valley the strange salt deposits and the patterns they make? Definitely something of the place, but not the place. Is Death Valley the Salt Creek  pupfish who have remarkably adapted to the heat and salt of limited water? Amazing creatures that add to the place, but they are not the place.

Death Valley is all of this and more. It is a place that is far greater than its parts.

This made me think a bit about how we see God. Over the years, God has meant many things to me: Christ the Savior, creator of our world, a moral guide, a God of comfort, a God of compassion, a God of guidance, a God who affects my life, and this list could go on and on. All of these things are of God, but none are God. Like Death Valley, God is difficult to comprehend and fully understand.

David says in Psalm 145:3, Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. And in Isaiah 55:8-9, it is written, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

I think that we often try to contain God in small, understandable bits. I know that I have done that over the years. Yet God cannot be contained in any human-based thoughts. Just as Death Valley is not contained in any one thing, so God is not contained in any one thing, too. I enjoyed Death Valley even though my mind wanted to define it and contain it. When I let go of that idea, the place became bigger in a better way. I was still awed by the space, but I was not as overwhelmed and intimidated by it. I accepted that it was truly beyond my full understanding.

For me, that is also important about how I see God. My scientifically trained mind wants to define and contain God, but when I let go of doing that and simply accept that God is awesome and much more than anything I will ever be able to conceive, I actually find my relationship to God is stronger and more peaceful. My prayer is to simply accept God as God, something far beyond my understanding, but still a key part of my life.

— Rob