Pastor's Blog

Cut tree stump with plant growing out of it

Life Finds A Way

Several years ago on my birthday, friends gave me the kind of gift that truly keeps on giving —a dwarf Bearss lime tree. It came in a large, beautiful clay pot that has graced our patio and produced juicy limes, that for almost a decade have added zing and zest to a variety of drinks and meals.

Sadly, over the past year or so, likely due to my lack of gardening know-how, my Bearss lime tree seemed to be dead or dying. I tried pruning, fertilizing and watering, but alas, my efforts were fruitless. A couple of months ago, I finally gave up and cut the tree down to a bare stump in preparation for removing the plant from its pot and starting over with something else. However, within a few days of my drastic —should I say, fatal, action —a small green shoot appeared next to the dead stump. At first, I assumed it was a weed, but it now appears to be a new Bearss lime sapling. In a few weeks, the dead stump has disappeared behind a small, verdant forest of new growth. Whether my lime tree will recover and bear delicious limes again remains to be seen. But the sight of this luxurious new growth from something I had assumed was dead, has been a beautiful, humbling reminder—while death and decay are undeniable in this fallen world—life is at work too, often in ways not immediately obvious to my eyes or my intellect.

I’m reminded of a line from the original Jurassic Park movie when rockstar scientist, Ian Malcolm, played by Jeff Goldblum, voices his concern that the dinosaurs will reproduce and become uncontrollable. When the Jurassic Park scientists assure Dr. Malcolm that’s not possible as all the dinosaurs have been engineered to be females, Dr. Malcom responds bluntly, Life finds a way.

As followers of Jesus Christ, this is our hope. The life of God in Christ is the greatest force in the universe – the source and sustenance of everything and everyone. Yes, Death, with its partners, Destruction and Decay, are real and must be acknowledged and dealt with by all of us, but Life – the life force of the God of creation – finds a way and has the final word.

The gospel of John begins with a strong echo of Genesis:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. John 1:1–4 (NIV)

Further, the writer of Hebrews describes Jesus in these terms:

…one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry, but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. Hebrews 7:16 (NIV)

Finally, the Apostle Paul in the second letter to his young protégé, Timothy, says this about Jesus and death:

…but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 2 Timothy 1:10 (NIV)

While we profess our faith in Jesus, the truth is that we often find ourselves viewing our personal circumstances or looking at what we see going on in the world around us with the same despairing resignation with which I had approached my Bearss lime tree— accepting the finality of death and giving into despair because we see no signs of life and no way forward.

The German theologian and philosopher, Jürgen Moltmann, powerfully addresses the issues of despair and hope in his seminal, but rather heady book, Theology of Hope. Moltmann states that the sin of unbelief is manifestly grounded in hopelessness.1 Like the Israelites in the book of Exodus when they were confronted with various obstacles, we too see no escape from our own circumstances and doubt that God can help us.

Moltmann continues:

To be sure, it is usually said that sin in its original form is man’s wanting to be as God. But that is only one side of sin. The other side of such pride is hopelessness, resignation, inertia and melancholy...Temptation then consists not so much in the titanic desire to be as God, but in weakness, timidity, weariness, not wanting to be what God requires of us.2

Moltmann goes on to quote the great, ancient Greek theologian and pastor, John Chrysostom, who said, It is not so much sin that plunges us into disaster, as rather despair.3

So, according to Moltmann, as I understand him, despair is the other side of the sin of pride because arrogance says, I can do it myself, despair says, Because I cannot see a way forward, there must not be one. In both pride and despair, the focus of attention is on me – my ability, my knowledge, my experience, rather than on God’s presence, power and promises. This is idolatry – the worship of self.

This is not to say that we do not grieve deeply at times, and rightly so. And we all experience despair at some level in our lives and can and should give voice to our pain. Even Jesus, in his cry of dereliction on the cross, passionately expressed his feeling of being abandoned by his Father, (Matthew 27:46). However, it is crucial that we see in the example of Jesus that his cry of despair was not his dying declaration. Luke records the last words of Jesus on the cross as, Father, into your hands I commit my spirit, (Luke 23:46). In the end, Jesus entrusted himself into the loving, powerful hands of his Father, even while lacking a sense of His presence.

You may have seen a bumper sticker or tee shirt with the phrase, Life is hard, and then you die. This is true, to a point. Life is brutally hard for millions of people around the world. And life is especially hard for most if not all of us just now. We all die sooner or later, and if this were the end of the matter, despair would be an expected, even appropriate response. But if the gospel is true, if Jesus Christ really has defeated death and risen from the dead, we can say instead, Life is hard, then you die, but death is not the end, and there is always reason to hope.

Let me end again with the words of Paul to Timothy:

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind 2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV).

May God fill each of us anew with his love, power and perspective so that we might see saplings of new growth in places of death and despair so that we might be agents of hope in a hopeless world all for the Glory of God and the Good of our Neighbors near and far.

1. Moltmann, Jürgen, “Theology of Hope,” pp. 22-23

2. Ibid

3. Ibid