The witness of trees
One image often comes to my mind when I look up at naked tree limbs like these – Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam,” that part of his monumental Sistine Chapel ceiling painting where Adam lifts his hand to God, even as our Lord extends His mighty hand to that keeper of His garden.
Some people might think that’s silly, even at a symbolic level. Imagine, trees reaching out to God! But the Bible brings such imagery to mind through its calls to praise Him. Take Psalm 100, which starts with “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!”
While we may not think of trees rejoicing, most everyone realizes they serve God and His creation quite well. These titans improve our air, soil, and climate, they provide shelter and sustenance for all sorts of living things, and they conserve water. Trees also spread joy to all around them. They sing, clap, and whistle as the wind bends their limbs and brushes their leaves, making some of the most joyful noises I know.
I wish I could claim so many achievements.
Consider Psalm 150:6, which says, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!” If we equate breathing to taking in oxygen to live, then trees accomplish this, for they process oxygen inside their cells through what we call respiration. They also release oxygen to the atmosphere, helping us breathe.
That directs me to John 8:12, a famous quote of Christ – “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” That’s just one of many scripture verses tying our Lord to light… a subject trees know quite well. These chlorophyll producers detect and respond to light better than many others in God’s creation. In truth, they thrive on light, and yet they are not limited by that. With their deep roots, trees interact with elements and living creatures within the soil, which vividly illustrates Psalm 139:8 – “If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!”
I often marvel at trees for their strength, longevity, and beauty, but what I draw most from them is peace, one of the greatest attributes of creation and God. Psalm 34:14 tells us to “seek peace and pursue it.” When I walk among trees, I find such solace, and more. Second Corinthians 13:11 tells us to “aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”
I often feel the peace of our Lord – and more, His very presence – in the shelter of trees.
Let’s bring this home. Consider 1st Corinthians 15:58, where the apostle Paul tells us to “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” It’s hard to imagine something in creation that accomplishes those things better than a tree. Ponder that through the scope of Matthew 5:16 – “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
That’s one way you find God’s “invisible qualities,” as Paul noted in Romans 1:20… through the witness of trees.
For those who still scoff at all this, remember that it does not take a genius to recognize and praise God. It requires a heart that puts others before itself, seeking only what it needs and trusting the Lord for each day’s provision. It lives in peace with its world, finding happiness in each sunrise and sunset. It does not worry about storms or shadows, covet what it does not have, grouse over what it cannot do, demand what it does not need, or blame others for its deficiencies. It simply thanks God for the gift of life and takes joy in His grace.
The defiant might dismiss such thoughts as those of a child. They should remember the words of Christ in Matthew 19:14 – “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Or they may dwell on the opening of Psalm 1: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”