I wonder if my neighbors know their tree is an evangelist, albeit one who uses no words. Their oak tree across the street is again fully garbed in rich light green – I feel proprietary, though, for every day it is in my line of vision when I look up from my desk. In winter, it is black and bare – to all appearances, dead, but it is especially lovely now, in late March, because its verdant leaves portend new beginnings. In two weeks, it has gone from death to life, and I have seen its testimony that the loss of last year’s foliage isn’t the whole story – but another chapter in a bigger book: a hopeful story to one in the autumn of her life.
Disability and – loss – death do not seem as menacing on this spring morning – their imminence recedes, but their reality remains. I check myself: I may be in a wide place for a spell; many, many are not:
· A daughter mourns the loss of her mom;
· A mother, the death of her child.
· A friend endures the unstoppable decline of a merciless disease, and
· Age finally hobbles a woman whose life has been service.
Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15 argued that death no longer stings, he and we know that too often our life before death deeply hurts! (Lamentations 3) Suffering abounds, multiplies -- the daily smashing of human life appalls. Where is God? People, especially children, who suffer – why does the God whose power reaches into the grave not stop suffering, giving everyone a fresh start?
The Bible explains that death and suffering is what we got when the first couple disobeyed God’s warning about their choices. One woman decided the fruit of a beautiful tree looked tasty, and being wise as God sounded like such a good thing. And God’s warning did sound bizarre: that death would be the end of taking even a bite. (Genesis 3:6) So, we learned God tells the truth -- through Eve and Adam’s disobedience, we lost peace with God, our world and ourselves. (Romans 5:12)
“And all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put [it] right again.”
Thus, a child’s nursery rhyme, Humpty-Dumpty , becomes a portrait of the universal brokenness and individual calamity of daily life. As we can’t reconstruct a broken egg, we can’t reverse the damage our parents’ disobedience wrought.
Yet, Christians believe the King is doing what the men and horses could never do: restoring one broken soul at a time, by grace through faith that Christ paid the price for all the sins of those who come to Him. (Titus 2:11-14) We don’t believe He mends groups, but rescues some from every tribe and nation. And we believe He has the right as our Maker, (Jeremiah 18-19) and that He earned the right as our Redeemer. (Isaiah 53)
For skeptics, the Christian’s view of God’s new and unfailing compassions may not resolve the conundrum of suffering. For example, Chuck Templeton, a fellow-evangelist of Billy Graham in the 1950’s and ‘60’s turned from Christ because he couldn’t reconcile the apparent dichotomy of a loving God and the horror in the lives of too many of His creatures. (Walking Away from Faith: Living with Doubt and Unbelief by Ruth Tucker.)
And even as I say I believe – even as I study the Scriptures that confirm faith-- I falter when I see how pervasive evil – suffering and death is. I want to see God and know Him real, even amidst ruin.
That’s why I am glad my oak tree shows me life can come from death – a tiny acorn perishes – but wow! For perhaps half a century, the resulting oak has been a faithful witness of unwritten true expressions of order in a world growing more chaotic and cruel.
Today, my life is beautiful – an Ebenezer to remember when cold winds and dark skies overwhelm the sunshine and color. (For the Beauty of the Earth) Let me make this realization into purposeful prayer for those who are still inundated by winter – let me rejoice and be glad today that God hears and answers prayers. And may I remember this evangelist's bright beauty when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death with my Friend. (John 15:15 )