Our family took a drive up the coast of California one summer. Out of all the beautiful scenery we saw, the most amazing was the Redwood Forests, home to the biggest trees in the world.
A redwood tree is quite a sight. The first giant we saw was a famous tree whose girth was wide enough to drive a truck through. As you can imagine, it was huge. But driving through a single tree doesn’t compare to the experience of driving into the redwood forests. Hundreds of towering trees with enormous, deep red trunks surrounded by beds of lush ferns created spectacular scenes that made us feel we had entered into a magical fairyland. We explored in and through the trees, enjoying the quietness, interrupted occasionally by the melodic click of an insect or frog. We marveled at how great and beautiful our God is. He spoke these majestic redwoods into being, along with the hawks that nest in their branches and the chipmunks that run at their feet. The beauty and wonder of the forests must pale in comparison to him.
In those enormous trees we couldn’t help but see some analogies to the life of faith. For one, redwoods start from an amazingly small seed about the size of the head of a matchstick. Faith also starts with the small seed of the gospel. The gospel is proclaimed, like seed being spread, and when that seed enters the soil and is watered by God, a sinner repents of her sins and believes the gospel—that Jesus gave his life as a substitute for her, taking the punishment she deserves for her sin (Luke 8:15). This seed grows by the means of grace, including reading Scripture, sitting under preaching and serving the church, into a huge tree that in turn spreads her seeds, spawning new saplings.
Second, redwoods are rugged trees. As we walked through the forests we saw many with deep grooves and bark rubbed raw. Some trees had been hit by lightening, some had been partially burned and some had been blown sideways by strong winds. Those trees had weathered many storms but they did not look weak or ugly for all their battering. On the contrary, walking among those mammoths we were in awe of their strength and majesty. Isn’t that like our faith? As we are beaten and bruised by the trials of this life, our faith becomes strong because we come to know by experience that nothing—not tribulation, not distress, not persecution, not famine, not nakedness, not danger, not sword—“nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39). And in the trials our faith is made beautiful and glorifying to God, “more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire” (1 Pet. 1:7).
Third, some trees had grown so old they had toppled over. Their roots were so huge they left craters where they were wrenched from the ground. These horizontal trees were natural playgrounds where the kids (and John and I) could climb, jump, tunnel, and seesaw in and over sturdy trunks and planks. Out of the middle of these dead trees, live new redwoods with green leaves on their branches would grow. The dead redwoods were still giving life to new redwoods. What a legacy! Just like the baby redwoods (which, incidentally, were about the size of a regular tree) get nutrients from their dead forefathers, we get nutrients from saints who have gone before us (Hebrews 13:7). Most importantly from the apostles through the scriptures but also from men in the history of the church who have written on doctrine and the Christian life and from saints we have known personally who have fed us wisdom from their lives. Don’t you want to leave a legacy? You don’t have to expire to enrich others with wisdom from the scriptures. You can teach your children. You can encourage other women in your church by reminding them of the gospel. You can reach out with the love of Christ to co-workers and neighbors.
The last analogy that struck us was the contrast between a lone redwood and a redwood forest. That lone redwood tree we drove through was impressive, but the forests were spectacular. Similarly, a lone Christian standing up for the faith in the workplace or her home can be impressive, but a whole church of people of different generations, colors, and cultural and religious backgrounds loving one another is a spectacular display of the glory of God. It is “through the church the manifold wisdom of God [is] made known” (Ephesians 3:10). As Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Your forest is your church. As we love one another in our local churches as Jesus has loved us, singing together, praying together, sitting under the preaching of God’s Word together, serving together and spending time together, we will, like the redwood forests, look spectacular to the outside world.
Faith is not just like a redwood, it’s like a whole redwood forest.
This blog is a slightly edited version of a 2013 blog by Keri on CBMW.org.