The Strength of Trees and of the Righteous
Today we continue our series on the characteristics of trees. This series is built on the image found in Psalm 1 of the Righteous being like trees planted by streams of water. Yesterday we talked about the beauty of trees, and how we as the Church are called and created to be beautiful reminders of our Resplendent Father. Today, we focus on another obvious but far-to-often neglected feature of trees - strength.
Trees are strong - I think we could all agree with that. But strength comes in many different forms, as is demonstrated by the diversity of strength found among the trees of God's creation. For instance, have you ever heard of the last Tree of Tenere? The last Tree of Tenere sits alone on the vast planes of Niger, with no other trees (and scarcely any vegetation) for hundreds of miles in any direction. How in the world has this tree survived all by itself in such a savage and desolate location? Deep roots - with a root system plunging over 130 feet into the African sand. This tree's strength comes from its depth.
Other forms of strength are often measured by width and height and length of life. At 275 feet tall and over 100 feet in circumference, many believe the General Sherman tree to be the largest single living organism on the planet. Or how about the Mendocino Tree, at 367 feet tall, or the Eternal God tree, estimated to be between 7,000 and 12,000 years old. (By the way, I had no idea that so many trees had names!) These trees are all amazing images of towering strength and endurance. They also share one other important characteristic - they are all Redwood trees, and the reason why this is important is because, unlike the Tree of Tenere, these trees have astoundingly shallow roots. So how do trees this tall and this wide stay standing with a shallow root system?
Redwoods have a very unique root system in which, rather than sinking deep, their roots grow wide - often extending as far as 100 feet from the trunk. As they grow out, they begin to tangle and interlock with other trees near them. Redwoods thrive in thick groves where their root systems can intertwine and fuse together, giving them tremendous strength as they band together to withstand high winds, heavy rain and flash floods. Along with the Redwood, another type of tree thrives as a result of a united root system. In the Wasatch Mountains of Utah there exists an enormous stand of 47,000 quaking aspen trees, all growing from a single root system which covers more than 106 acres. In fact, while we see 47,000 unique, individual trees, this is
actually one living organism. This tree stand is so united that it even changes color in the fall and sheds its leaves all at the same time - all 47,000 trees turning gold at exactly the same time - wow! How absolutely astounding, that God could create something this beautiful, this intricate, this finely woven and tightly connected. How strong and powerful these groves of trees must be when bound together in such a way. I wonder, did God create them this way just to give us an example of how we ought to live with one another and support each other in the church? And I wonder if God is disappointed at how infrequently His lessons seem to make an impression on us.
Our Father has called us to be strong - but I fear that we have far to often chosen the lesson of the last Tree of Tenere, choosing to exist as rugged individualists, striving to live our lives with no help from others, clinging to the strength of our own deep roots and stubborn resistance to external forces. As strong a paragon of individuality it may be, I would venture to suggest that the last Tree of Tenere is no where near as powerful or hardy or resistant to the elements as the mighty Redwoods or even the elegant, shimmering white trunks of the quaking aspen of Utah. Together, they stand in absolute defiance of the forces that oppose them, whereas individually, they would surely wilt. Shouldn't this be the model of strength that we as the church most ardently seek to emulate? As we seek to embrace the quality of trees this week, wouldn't we be best served to model this picturesque image of interwoven roots? Below, I'm going to leave you a few passages to consider - take one or two of them and think carefully about them in light of this idea of living together in harmony. Read them slowly and consider how you might be a part of a community which could reflect the strength of the Redwoods and Aspen. I want to leave you with two verses which call us to this kind of life, one a command, the other a blessing. First, the command: 'I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1 Corinthians 1:10) And now, may I offer you this benediction/blessing? 'How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!' (Ps. 133.1) Amen, and may it be said of us in the days to come.
1 Cor 12:1-13