My daughter and son are part of a youth folk-dancing troupe that has been touring the upper Mid-Western United States into the Canadian Rockies. I was able to combine my sick leave and vacation time to travel with the group as a volunteer. We’ve been on the road for two weeks and we are into the home stretch, looking to arrive home by the end of this week. It’s been incredible! I’ve never traveled to Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Iowa, let alone Canada! We been able to visit some great places, such as Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota, the original site of the movie Field of Dreams in Iowa, the Banff National Park, and on and on and on.
As I was riding through Yellowstone National Park, I was struck by the amazing views, particularly the mountains covered with multitudes of evergreen trees. But as we rounded a certain curve I noticed that in one particular section of the park, quite a few evergreens had been burned from a forest fire many years ago. It looked pretty sad…sinister at first. Almost like a graveyard. Tall slender white trees still standing yet dead; charred; lifeless. But, then I noticed that all around those burned-up trees were smaller, newer evergreens springing up. I was puzzled by the dichotomy I was witnessing; how could such new life be surrounded by such death? As I was pondering the answer, my friend in the car who has traveled to Yellowstone many times interrupted my thoughts. He told me that the forest fires that burn the trees are horrible, but the intense heat from the fire causes the pine cones to open up and release the seed that will become the new trees. In fact, the only thing that opens up these particular pine cones is heat. And, for some reason, the fire doesn’t destroy the seed. For new life to come, death must come. New evergreen trees of that sort don’t come without fire; heat; death. It takes a long time, but the forest recovers from a fire with new growth, new saplings, new life.
This seems to be the pattern God has set forth in nature. Unless a seed dies, it cannot bear fruit. Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection is THE ultimate picture of death preceding life: death of one bringing life for many.
For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Romans 5:17, ESV
After my friend’s words, I couldn’t help but see it all differently. Was the forest fire bad because it destroyed the trees, or was it good because it brought about new life? Is this God’s way of always getting getting good out of a bad situation? Which is better: the mature evergreen trees or the new saplings? Can’t have growth without the mature ones dying and producing seed, but you can’t have a forest that lasts forever without new saplings. Maybe my definition of what is “good” or “bad” is off…. is God at work redefining what is good and what is bad by HIS standards, not my own?
If success for Jesus was death in order to redeem humanity, then what does success look like for me? Is it about being the tallest, greenest evergreen tree I can be, or producing “saplings” around me that will perpetuate the “forest” of God’s family on the earth? Or both? Yes, my friend’s words left me with more questions than answers as I looked at the scenario through the Gospel glasses of Jesus.
I don’t have all the answers; don’t understand everything. But, I know one thing for sure. When I see the picture of those dead trees, I am in awe of a God that has designed His creation to have perpetual life, even in the midst of death. If He truly has done that (and it appears from seeing what I saw at Yellowstone that He most truly has), then the implications for us are staggering! When my hopes and dreams have seemingly died, there’s still life to be found; life to be seen; life to be grasped. When I’ve suffered real loss, I can at the same time experience the life of God. I don’t have to only mourn the trees that have died…I can learn to celebrate the saplings. Even when I am drawing my last breath here on earth, there is still life; God’s everlasting life; the abundant life Jesus died to give me….Jesus, who died a horrible death. A violent, unwarranted death. Was murdered, really. But, His death has given life to millions and millions…to all who will come!
Praying tonight that God will continue to transform my perspectives to resemble His more closely. That I can learn to celebrate His life in every circumstance. In HIM is life! (John 1:4)