Wednesday, October 02, 2019


Whenever you read a story about a tree in the Bible, you’re reading a story about the people of God.

There’s the story about the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—of being a life-giving presence, and teaching how to recognise what is right from wrong—and the bigger story-arc in which humanity are separated from these trees, and how, eventually, they are reunited.

There’s the story of God turning up in a bush that is not consumed by the fire of pure holiness, pure ontological otherness, that points to God living in the midst of the people, in their journey through the wilderness.

There’s the story about how the trees of the field demanded a king, and found a fickle one in the bramble.

There’s the strange account, in time of civil war among God’s people, of a battle in which the trees of the forest killed more warriors than the sword (guns don’t kill people, people; people with guns kill people).

There’s the song that opens the songbook of Israel, about a tree whose roots anchor it deeply in the ground, from where it draws life-giving water even in seasons of drought (the land standing for the promises of God).

And the song of the trees of the field clapping their hands at the coming of the Lord’s anointed one.

There’s the story of the tree that is plucked and carried away by an eagle; of the tree cut down to a stump—a remnant—from which a new shoot will emerge. Of empire, and exile, and a new hope.

There’s the fig tree, that speaks of peace. And the vine, that speaks of fruitfulness, and of the wine of judgement and of celebration.

There’s the story of the olive tree, branches raised in worship, whose oil makes for light shining in the darkness. A rebuilt temple in turbulent times.

There’s the story of the mustard tree, in whose branches the birds of the air find shelter. And of the medicinal mulberry tree, uprooted and planted in the sea, bringing healing to chaos. Stories Jesus told his disciples.

There’s the story of a tree whose leaves are for the healing of the nations, in the kingdom of heaven made manifest on earth through the Church.

Whenever you read a story about a tree in the Bible, you’re reading a story about the people of God.

Trees are brilliant. They suck in carbon dioxide, and breath out oxygen. They filter out toxin, and pump out life. They prevent soil erosion. Prevent the loss of knowledge of the promises of God, and the benefits of that knowledge. They provide nutrition and shelter. They have adapted to a huge variety of environments, albeit under intense pressure in many today.

Trees are brilliant. And topical. If we are to stop, and then turn around, the rising temperature of our atmosphere, which is on course to create chaos beyond our ability to engage, we must do two things, we are told. Firstly, we must stop burning fossil fuels. And secondly, we must plant more trees.

We must stop consuming God’s blessings with an unjust and insatiable greed. And we must restore the God-given solution to the challenge we face.

Plant a tree, yes. But, more than that, be a tree.

Better still, be part of a forest.

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