Plant With Purpose is eagerly looking forward to the upcoming book release from our friend Matthew Sleeth. Matthew is a medical doctor who came to faith partly through noticing how trees constantly resurfaced in Scripture and in our world. His book Reforesting Faith will arrive in bookstores in April 2019. Enjoy an excerpt from the book below!
What God thinks about trees
The two years following my conversion to Christianity were not easy.
I had been practicing medicine for fifteen years. But I finally answered Nancy’s second question from our trip to Florida: “What are you going to do about a world that’s dying?” I told her I wanted to quit my job as chief of staff and head of the emergency department and spend the rest of my life serving God and helping to save the planet. Concerned about putting food on the table, let alone paying for college for our two teenage kids, Nancy replied, “Honey, are you sure we need to do that much?”
We sold our home, gave away half our possessions, and moved to a house the size of our former garage. Soon after, we started going to a church where the congregation became like family and remain so to this day. The debt of gratitude we owe them is incalculable. The church is a conservative one. It believes that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. That’s why we went there. But when I volunteered to plant trees around the church’s grounds, one of the pastors said I had the theology of a tree hugger. This was not a compliment. My first reaction to the pastor’s comment was, “Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe God doesn’t care about trees.”
Back then our whole family was new to Christianity. My daughter hadn’t yet married a pastor. My son wasn’t a missionary pediatrician in Africa, and I’d yet to write books on applied theology or preach at more than a thousand colleges and churches around the world. What did I know about the theology of trees?
God's Trail of Trees
But ever since I encountered the gospel for the first time in my forties, the Bible has been my compass. So when I was called a tree hugger, I turned to Scripture to get my bearings. I read from Genesis to Revelation, underlining everything the Bible has to say about trees.
And here’s what I found: God has an astounding fondness for trees.
Other than God and people, the Bible mentions trees more than any other living thing. There is a tree on the first page of Genesis, in the first psalm, on the first page of the New Testament, and on the last page of Revelation. Every significant theological event in the Bible is marked by a tree. Whether it is the Fall, the Flood, or the overthrow of Pharaoh, every major event in the Bible has a tree, branch, fruit, seed, or some part of a tree marking the spot.
Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser” (John 15:1). The wisdom of the Bible is a tree of life (Proverbs 3:18).
We are told to be “like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season” (Psalm 1:3, nrsv).
Every major character in the Bible appears in conjunction with a tree.
In the Old Testament, Noah received the olive leaf (Genesis 8:11), Abraham sat under “the oaks of Mamre” (18:1), and Moses stood barefoot in front of the burning bush (Exodus 3:2–5).
At first glance Joseph might appear to be an exception, but the Bible tells us that Joseph simply is a tree (Genesis 49:22). The same pattern holds true in the New Testament. Think of Zacchaeus climbing the sycamore fig (Luke 19:1–4), the blind man seeing people as if they were trees walking (Mark 8:24), and the disciples gathering on the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:39). The apostle Paul asserted that if we have gone for a walk in the woods, we are without excuse for knowing God (Romans 1:20). Paul also wrote that Christians are like branches grafted into Israel’s tree trunk, with roots that help us stand fast and firm no matter what troubles come our way (11:17–18).
The Kingdom of Heaven
Jesus himself declared that the kingdom of heaven is like a tree (Matthew 13:31–32). The only thing that Jesus ever harmed was a tree (Mark 11:12–14, 20–21), and the only thing that could kill him was a tree. After Jesus was resurrected, he was mistaken for a gardener (John 20:15). This was not mistake. Jesus is the new Adam who has come to redeem all of creation. Heaven is a place where the leaves of a tree heal all the nations.
(Revelation 22:1–2). As if to underscore this forest of metaphors, Jesus’s last “I am” statement is “I am the root and the descendant of David” (Revelation 22:16).
From Genesis to Revelation God has blazed a trail of trees through the Bible. The reason so many people love trees is because we are created in God’s image. God loves trees, and so should we.
Reforesting Faith arrives on bookshelves in April 2019! To place a pre-order visit the publisher's website here. All proceeds from book sales will go toward helping Plant With Purpose with reforestation efforts in communities around the world.