The Tree Has Fallen
Dear Church Family,
I’ve been praying much for you this week, that God would enable you to find your encouragement in the Lord (1. Sam 30:6).
We’ve had an incredible amount of rain this week, haven’t we? In the almost six years that I’ve lived in Corona, I can’t recall experiencing this much precipitation. In fact, the downpour was so intense that, at one point, we had to put sandbags around the doors to the church kitchen, lest our stainless steel appliances end up floating down Ontario Ave.
The seemingly constant showers reminded me of one of my favorite sayings from one of my most cherished books: Ecclesiastes. In it, the Sage expounds, “If the clouds are full of rain, they empty themselves on the earth, and if a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie.” (Ecclesiastes 11:3-4).
When the clouds are weighed down with water, Solomon says, they will indeed produce rain. A deluge is destined to happen. But that doesn’t seem to mesh with our experience as Southern Californians. The first five months after I moved here, it didn’t rain one time. And many a dark cloud passed by. So this illustration may not make a whole lot of sense to us (clouds that always bring rain?), but what the preacher is telling us is this: There are plenty of things that happen in life that we cannot control. They’re inevitable.
If a cloud is full of rain, it’s going to rain. And if the clouds are really full of rain, you’ll get six straight days of rain that will cause flooding and mudslides and storms. These things just happen. That’s the way it is in nature.
Similarly, if a tree falls in a forest, it’s going to lie in the exact place where it fell. That’s how things work. The tree could fall to the north, south, east, or west—it doesn’t matter. The point is: It’s not going to get up. A fallen tree will not move unless someone (or something) moves it. There are no exceptions. We could spend countless hours pontificating on its location and how it got to where it is, but that will not change the reality.
And there’s a lesson here that is helpful for us in our spiritual journeys (and Kingdom ventures):
We cannot change what’s been done, but we can adjust for the future.
The life of the Christ-follower is an adventure. Difficulty is inescapable. Sometimes we experience suffering that we bring upon ourselves because of thoughtless comments or foolish actions—and I’ve experienced plenty of that. While other times it’s because there are forces at work in the world—principalities and powers—that do not want to see our God exalted or His followers thrive.
Plus, we live in a sin-cursed world so we’re going to suffer. We’re going to have heartbreak and disappointments. People we love are going to get sick. We’ll have automobile accidents, unexpected illnesses, and untimely deaths. These things are inevitable. But we can’t live in the past. We can’t continue to ask, “Why did that happen? Why did the tree fall to the east?” Sometimes we simply have to say, “The tree has fallen. I can’t change it. It’s time for me to prepare for what’s next.”
Old Testament scholar Derek Kidner says about Ecclesiastes 11: “The clouds which follow their own laws and times, not ours, and the fallen tree which has consulted no-one’s convenience, may start us thinking of may-be’s and might-have-beens; but our business is to grapple with what actually is, and what lies within reach.”
This doesn’t mean that we don’t grieve when we suffer loss or tragedy. Of course we do. Nor does this mean we just get over things in an instant. Not at all.
Even though God has promised us in Romans 8 that there is no such thing as pointless suffering, and that He is working all things for our good and His glory, that doesn’t mean that we simply grin and bear it through difficult times. The Bible actually gives us permission (the Psalms in particular) to complain to the Almighty. To cry out in despair to a God who hears us. But there comes a time when, even in the midst of our lamenting, that we, in the words of the great 4th century theologian, Augustine, “Trust the past to the mercy of God, the present to his love, and the future to his Providence.”
Are there things in your life that you refuse to put behind you? Are there hurts or disappointments in your past that you will not let go? What events in your life should prompt you to conclude: “The tree has fallen … by God’s grace it’s time for me to move forward”?
In His Grace,