Both in the natural world and in the church, new life often arises when things have come to an end.
By Louis Lotz
When I walk through my woods I always pause to inspect the remains of an ash tree that I cut down about ten years ago. The tree was dying, riddled with emerald ash borers. I didn’t want the tree to come down in a storm and clip a nearby sugar maple, so one winter day I trudged out through the snow and felled it. The plan was to saw the tree into fireplace logs and haul them up to the barn. But it was cold and getting dark, and I was tired. I’ll do it tomorrow, I thought. Ten years later, the tree is still lying there.
When a tree dies, life ends. But new life also begins. The first species to colonize the log were slugs and wood lice, centipedes and spiders. A few years later, the log, still recognizable, although sagging with decay, was covered with mosses and lichens and perforated with the holes of wood-boring insects. There were beetles and liverworts and a brown fungi that looked like a lopsided stack of pancakes. Today, a decade later, the log is all but disappeared. You can pulverize the wood just by rubbing it between your fingers. It smells yeasty in the summertime, and there are skeins of wild strawberries growing out of it. Another few years and the log will be gone.
How considerate of the Almighty to arrange the world in such a way that death, however sad, can become the catalyst for life. The death of a marriage, for example, is heartbreaking. Yet in the void that once was married life, new truths are realized and new relationships formed, and they grow like seedlings reaching up to capture the sunlight that penetrates where the tree once stood. A dream, a business, a partnership—when such things die, life ends. But by God’s grace, life also begins.
After decades of decline, a church near me eventually died. What a sad sight: a church with a “FOR SALE” sign on the lawn. But a few years later, a Hispanic congregation purchased the building—for a song, I’m told—and now the place is hopping. The parking lot is packed. One day last summer the new congregation had a picnic on the lawn, children running all around, dozens of picnic tables crowded with people. The picnic tables were decorated with red helium balloons, and it looked like a skein of wild strawberries.
“Signs of the Kingdom” is written by and reflects the opinions of Louis Lotz, a retired RCA pastor who lives in Hudsonville, Michigan.