Illustration from childhood: When I was a kid one of my favorite shows we could watch on TV was called Wild America. If memory serves correctly, it was by filmmaker and nature enthusiast Marty Stouffer, an outdoorsy guy from Arkansas with a bushy beard and a passion for all things natural. He had a way with filming wildlife that captured the raw beauty and raw battles that characterize the natural world—birds swooping down to snatch fish from a lake; bears feasting upon salmon when the fish go upstream to spawn; does nursing spotted fawns in spring and early summer, etc.
I am fortunate to be able to enjoy many nature scenes of my own due to where we live. No salmon, of course, but I have seen eagles, varieties of fish, hawks, possums, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, innumerable squirrels, countless deer, and bears. We have a couple of bears that have grown quite comfortable around humans.
Connection to today: Yesterday morning as I was looking over my notes for teaching at church later that morning, I sensed movement in the woods outside of our kitchen window. Sure enough, there was one of the black bears with his nose to the wind, sniffing and moving, following the scents.
It is fascinating to watch bears. The inside of a bear’s nose is a hundred times greater than a man’s. A bear’s sense of smell is seven times greater than a bloodhound’s. A bear can literally smell you from miles away. Conservative estimates are that black bears can smell things 18-20 miles out. Amazing. He knows you’re there, believe me.
When I watch the bears at our place, I can see their nostrils flare, imbibing the smells that mostly elude humans. They like to come eat my sunflower seeds I put out for the birds. And the deer and squirrels like to feast on the seeds, too. Then at night, the coons come and get their share. In the mornings, persistent twitching squirrels watch from the oak boughs, then scurry down when our cat is snoozing in the sun, and snatch some seeds, then scamper back up the trees and munch away, their black eyes alive as fire, alert.
For the squirrels, it’s the height from which they survey potential predators. For the raccoons, it’s their agility at night. For the whitetails, it’s their sense of smell and those radar-like ears that enable them to skirt away in a flash. But with those bears, it’s that amazing nose. It alerts them. It serves as a means to discern, to distinguish. Friend or foe? Safe or dangerous? This way or that way? Their nose knows, if you will.
Connection to what’s unfolding: I love to watch nature, to appreciate it, and to steward it. In the biblical worldview, stewarding the world is part of the cultural mandate from God. God told us we are to “subdue it, and have dominion over … every living thing” (Genesis 1:28). We are to cultivate the creation wisely. The paradigm extends to the family. Husbands and wives are to raise children wisely in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). The sovereign God who authored all of the beautiful and sometimes terrifying animals and features and sounds and smells has given us a way to know, to discern, and to distinguish.
The squirrels have their speed and that amazing ability to be up and down the massive oaks in a split second. The deer have their keen smell, nimble legs, and radar-like ears to let them know. These bears have those sensitive noses to the wind, absorbing, discerning, and distinguishing. Wouldn’t it be something if folks would return to the Word for the world, would stop putting their noses to the winds of relativism of a pagan world system, would distinguish, discern, and flourish in the way the Lord intends for those he loves? It would almost be like, well, the creation was operating according to its design by the One who knows best, its Architect.