What kinds of trees fascinate you? Do you prefer redwoods or palms, oaks or evergreens, birch trees or Christmas trees?
Abundant trees are a hallmark in the northern woods of Wisconsin where we live. This fall, amid a beautiful show of red, orange and yellow hardwoods, a friend and I hiked the Kettle Moraine Ice Age Trail which stretches across our state from north to south.
As we ventured around a bend, two divergent sights seemed remarkable and significant. We stopped to observe. Ahead was an enormous two-foot-in-diameter tree, together with its five-foot root ball, uprooted on its side, dead.
A short distance away, towered another. This was a similar tree - with a huge root structure completely exposed - standing straight and proud on the path beside the river, alive and thriving.
With the season being Fall, the obvious signs of nature, of death and dying, lay all around.
The visual images stimulated our conversation. These two trees recalled a beautiful place called Garden of Eden. The Genesis account recalls two trees playing a significant role in the history of our world.
Soon after Creation, a dreadful choice was made one day near the foot of the forbidden tree. With a single act of rebellion, Eve’s desire and Adam’s silence plunged a perfect world into the darkness of sin. Eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – against God’s command - cut the first humans off from the Tree of Life and God. Death entered the world, and its curses with it.
As I contemplated the unfolding scene from Genesis that Autumn day, the two trees created an analogy to be considered.
Which of the two trees – dead and uprooted, or alive and thriving - would represent the outcome of my life?
What had once been an impressive tree was now lying dead, due to a shallow root system.
Would my life reflect this slain giant riddled with a rotted foundation?
Would I someday fall like a goliath during an onslaught of deadly winds in the form of troubles and strife?
Yet the other tree stood tall, its roots thickly tangled and firmly imbedded near the water.
Would I be able to withstand the pressures and attacks of life?
Would I stay firmly rooted?
Next my thoughts focused on two different trees standing on either side of a third, a gory scene in Israel. My mind’s eye could see one tree holding a criminal, his pain causing him to curse and revile God. Another tree bears the second offender. His mouth opens, and the humble words tumble out to the man in between.
“Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Luke 23:42
Jesus’ words settle the question for all time. “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43
Today. With Jesus. In Paradise. The vile criminal would be there, in heaven, because Jesus said so.
A shiver runs through my body at this thought. And the cool breeze brings me back to Wisconsin. The musing ends.
But my question lingers – which tree? The dead or the living?
The trees in the Garden, at Calvary, and in the Kettle Moraine bring a solid answer. Though divergent and seemingly random connections, the thread that tethers them together points to only one theme and one tree – God’s Son, the Christ. Because God punished his son with our sins on that tree, also known as the cross, I can answer my wonderings with certainty.
The lives of God’s people will be rooted, alive and thriving. I will not die, but live.
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” John 5:24
You can know of your life’s outcome with certainty, too. Do you believe the words and promise of Jesus? By God’s grace, you can. You need not fear. Everyone who calls on Jesus will be saved. Even criminals like the thief on the cross.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9
As women, we might tend to feel small and weak, even powerless at times. But God’s Word tells us otherwise.
In His eyes, we are not small nor shallow.
We are not easily pushed over by the storms of life.
God’s chosen people have deep roots, and are strong and alive. Planted by the Spirit, we are grounded in him - kept alive by his Word. As a result, God gives us power to extend our branches as a kind of storm shelter for our families and friends.
“They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” Isaiah 61:3
What a stunning visual for God’s people! I hope to remember this great scripture picture during the musings on the next hike in the woods.
Thank you, Lord for rooting us in you.
Forgive us when we fall.
Bring us safely into your Paradise where we will be with you forever!
In Jesus, Amen.