Okay, I’ll admit it: the idea of abandoning your nice, comfortable homes with well-stocked fridges and wireless Internet to tromp around in the wilderness and sleep under a tarp zipped over a frame is a little odd. But not only is camping fun, it is also biblical. Here are four reasons why Christians should go camping.
Reason One: Character
I will start, as I usually do, with Calvin and Hobbes. The title character’s wise and extremely longsuffering father has this to say about camping:
This is much like the apostle Paul, who says in Romans 5:3-4, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character.” He and Calvin’s dad would be great friends. And who wouldn’t want to develop more character?
Reason Two: Community
But you might say, “I get plenty of chances to develop character without seeking it out intentionally. Book me a room at Comfort Inn.” So, let me go on to talk about the second benefit of camping: togetherness.
Modern life, even entertainment, seems to be designed more to keep us apart than bring us together. Watch a movie, you’re looking at a screen and not each other. Go to an amusement park, you’re jerked around through all kinds of sensory overload. And so on and so forth.
Camping forces you away from the chaos and noise for a little while, and you have pretty much just…each other for entertainment. And rocks and trees and dirt, but no matter how irritating my friends and family members can occasionally be, they are more interesting than plant matter. (I’m sure they’re quite flattered.)
Seriously, though, camping gives you a chance to focus on what matters most. (People, not hot dogs, in case you needed clarification.) You usually end up with way too many people huddled around a fire or crammed in an undersized tent instead of separated into different rooms, different houses, different states. For a few days, you are really together, and that doesn’t happen often.
Reason Three: Example of the Old Testament
But, you might say, “If I make a good effort to spend time with people in other ways, I’ll get the same benefit. You still haven’t convinced me this is biblical.”
Is there a passage in the Bible that says, “Thou shalt go camping”? No. Not exactly. But there is the command to observe the feast of booths.
Okay, so this is not exactly common practice in evangelical Christianity. It goes back to Leviticus 23. During this festival, the Israelites were supposed to make temporary shelters to live in for seven days.
What was the point of this strange little holiday tradition? God tells us in verse 43: “that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
Remember. Do this thing, this inconvenient and slightly strange thing, so that you won’t ever forget where you came from.
So, camping. Temporary shelters that are probably the most similar structures we have to the booths the Israelites would have constructed. I think the parallels are obvious.
Reason Four: Symbolism
But you might say, “That was under the Old Covenant. What, do you want us to go sacrifice goats on the pulpit every Sunday too?” (For the record, no. That would be disgusting.)
But let’s talk a little bit about symbols, about physical items and practices that teach us something. Let’s talk about baptism, and how being lowered down and raised up mirrors the death and resurrection of Jesus in a beautiful and memorable way. Let’s talk about communion, the body and blood of Christ represented by broken bread and wine. Let’s talk about setting out a nativity scene and writing lists of blessings and looking up at the stained glass dove that means something even though the Holy Spirit is not, in fact, a bird.
I don’t think we’re required to observe the feast of booths anymore. But I sometimes I think traditions and symbols have the ability to remind us of things we might otherwise miss.
Hebrews 11 says: “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.”
Just like the ancient Israelites, we, too, are strangers and exiles. Some days, we feel it more than others. Camping, to me, is a really cool picture of a truth about our future home that’s easy to forget when we’re lounging on a recliner in air-conditioned, overscheduled, Netflix-binging comfort. It’s easy, I think to forget some really important truths.
We are not meant to be permanent. This world is not home. Don’t put out the welcome mat and settle down—we’ll be moving on soon. We are not meant to be comfortable, which is something absolutely no one in our culture is going to agree with. We are not meant to be separated from each other.
I remember these things best when there’s hard ground beneath me and stars above me. When I feel sore all over from exploring the wild beauty of God’s creation. When I don’t check my phone for hours because I’m surrounded by people I love who are closer than they usually are.
This post was supposed to be satire, starting out as a joke I made to a few less-than-enthusiastic family members. And it still isn’t meant to be taken seriously, not really.
But something happened: I realized that camping is not biblical…but it is beautiful. And everything that brings joy, every sunset and hiking trail and perfectly turned pancake, is a testimony to the goodness of God and the glory of the new creation that will be all of those things without the messed-up parts—without the mosquitos and sunburn and occasional bear attacks. (Kidding. This has never happened to me.)
So, in summary, camping: temporary, uncomfortable community out in God’s creation. Basically the best analogy for the Christian life outside of Pilgrim’s Progress, backed up with a complex history of tent-dwelling wanderers and the God they served. Eating s’mores is worship. Waking up stiff and cold is spiritual discipline. That leaky tent is the hand of God in your life to develop your character.