Isaac and I were doing his Grade 3 science. We had been studying the forest, and a question was posed: In what ways do trees help you? As I started to think myself, I was surprised at some of the unusual ways that came to mind.
“Well,” he answered, with his eyes looking up to the ceiling, “Trees give us wood for houses and furniture. They grow fruit to eat. The roots hold the soil down. Animals and bugs live in them. I think the bark gets eaten by some animals. They are pretty to look at, and you can climb up them. And they clean the air. Didn’t our chickens sleep in them?”
They also provide shade from the sun, and protection from the rain, in case you were planning a picnic anytime soon. Genesis does say to “rest yourselves under the tree.”
Something that we take for granted – we’re surrounded by them in B.C. after all – provides us with an amazing number of good things. How incredible that one tree serves so many purposes. I’m not sure I had thought about it quite like this before.
But one of Isaac’s answers was my favourite, and I was surprised that he came up with it on his own. I thought that I would be the clever one to surprise him with an unexpected but obvious philosophical answer: they are pretty to look at. (I also liked that you can climb them, but I’ll stick with the first.)
I was happy to see that he was able to look beyond the actual usage of a tree and think about what it means to be served. A tree’s service goes beyond the physical, and, miraculously, serves us mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Because it is beautiful, we are served by it. The tree has an amazing number of ways that it serves us practically, as I said, but its beauty is maybe more important. Beauty brings about joy, gratitude, and reflection. Without the tree’s wood or apples, a man might be cold and hungry, but without these other things we cease to be human.
In our utilitarian times, we look to the tree for the ways it can feed or house us. Then we might destroy it to get those things. But if we are able to remember our humanity, and what it is supposed to mean to be human, we should look at the tree and know God, simply because it pleases us. Because we are made in his image, all things that are beautiful speak to us of who we are, and who we are meant to be. We are not simply the work that we can achieve.
It is even more amazing that the work of a tree could be used to save our souls. Man’s attempt to destroy and use a tree brought about the most beautiful of all acts. A tree that once brought about the fall of man now brought about our salvation. When Christ died on the tree, a hideous and heinous act was transformed into a gift of love and offering.
Our redemption could have been accomplished in a very utilitarian way. It could have come in the practical form of a lightning bolt striking the snake in the garden before he even had a chance to tempt Eve. It could have come in the form of a majestic savior, descending on clouds, reaching out a hand and simply zapping our sin away. Easy. Clean. Simple. Sterile. Loveless.
Christ goes beyond what is absolutely necessary. He doesn’t only create, wash, feed, and clothe us. He loves us and gives us the choice to love him in return. His suffering turns a practical need into a beautiful offering. On a tree, Christ allowed man to destroy him. We are shown the value and beauty that we have in the eyes of God, and what he considers our worth. Christ becomes a lover who will give himself up to torment simply so we will know we are loved. That is superfluous love – overflowing, overwhelming love.
That kind of love deserves a response. When we celebrate the joy and promise of Easter, we would do well to ponder the beauty of a tree.
“Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth” 1 Chr 16:33.