When I was a backpacking guide at Sky Ranch, I often read from Deuteronomy to help my campers prepare themselves physically and spiritually for life in the backcountry. You see, it is important for a Christian to understand when to read scripture literally and when to read it as a spiritual metaphor. Take Matthew 5:29, for example (If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away). As a spiritual metaphor, it is good advice – cut out that which leads you to sinning. But please, do not take this literally.
On the other hand, Deuteronomy 23:12-14 is excellent advice when taken literally, especially when one is backpacking. “12 You shall have a designated area outside the camp to which you shall go. 13 With your utensils you shall have a trowel; when you relieve yourself outside, you shall dig a hole with it and then cover up your excrement. 14 Because the Lord your God travels along with your camp, to save you and to hand over your enemies to you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you.”
Trust me on this– relieving yourself in a hole far away from your tent is absolutely what you should do – both to take care of your own health and to care for your fellow backpacking companions. Literal reading applies here. But to take the instructions in Deuteronomy 23 as spiritual advice leads to all kinds of trouble. Look at verse 14. The reason the author gives for digging your potty hole far from your camp is not for health or safety. He really thinks that God does not want to see your s***. He took his own disgust at the bathroom functions of his fellow Israelites and assumed God shared his repugnance.
That isn’t the God that I know and love. That isn’t the God who became incarnate in Jesus Christ, so as to fully experience the awe and terror of our earthly life. The God I know loves us so much that not only is God willing to see how sh**ty life can be at times, God was willing to live and die in the midst of it.
You may feel alone when you walk into the woods and dig a hole and relieve yourself, but you are not alone. There is no place you can go apart from the love of God–not even the toilet. This is one of the greatest gifts that camp has offered me and my students at church, the radical insistence that we are never alone.
This devotion was written for Common Ground Campus Ministry, for their summer 2017 wilderness backpacking journey.