Scarred Yet Enduring

This week we join Jasmine Timm next to gnarly, twisted trees in Bryce Canyon, Utah, where God shows through His creation how harsh conditions and suffering produce the best growth and endurance in one type of tree — and in the lives of His children.

By Jasmine Timm

If you were to walk through a forest of small, twisted, burnt trees, I doubt you’d be impressed. Most of us would rather gaze upon lush, green giants, unscathed by fire or decay. But there’s something amazing about these scorched trees. They are actually better equipped to survive than the beautiful giants.

I’ve been traveling through America’s national parks this summer with my husband, and one of the most impressive things I have seen is this fire-bitten tree called the bristlecone pine. Aesthetically these trees are not as impressive as the giant sequoia trees, or even as beautiful as the Douglas fir, but they possess a quality which makes them impressive in their own right. Here’s a description provided by the National Park Service about these trees: 

Bristlecones are masters of longevity, enduring not centuries but millennia. On rocky slopes, you’ll walk among trees 2,000 to 3,000 years old. Not all bristlecones live that long. Ironically, the oldest grow near tree lines where survival is the most difficult. Adversity seems to foster long life. They grow slowly, a branch at a time, their needles living up to 40 years. Often, a tree looks nearly dead — a thin strip of living tissue clinging to the gnarled, naked trunk. Most species decay under such conditions, but bristlecone wood’s high resin content prevents rot.

These trees are remarkable for their great age and their ability to survive adverse growing conditions. In fact, it seems one secret to their longevity is the harsh environment in which most bristlecone pines grow. Bristlecone pines grow more rapidly in more “favorable” environments at lower elevations; however, they do not achieve their legendary age or fascinating twisted shapes.

This may seem like a put-you-to-sleep botany lesson on trees you could care less about, but when we consider the fact that God has created all things and His creation tells us something about Him, these trees are truly fascinating. God has created trees designed to endure only under harsh growing conditions. Their roots cling to the edge of cliffs, their trunks are licked by fire upon fire, water is hard to come by, and their bark has been chipped away over time, leaving only scarred trunks and gnarled, twisted branches. God’s creation of this resilient tree in many ways reflects His intended design for His children.

Throughout our study of I Peter this past year, we learned that the Christian life is one of suffering. If we are to partake in Christ’s glory, we will also partake in His sufferings. Yet when this suffering hits, we often feel as if something has gone terribly wrong. We long for the more favorable growing conditions, the seasons where Bible reading feels easy and fruitful, where sharing our faith is easy, and where we are accepted as Christians. But keep in mind God’s example of the bristlecone pine. The trees may grow rapidly in favorable growing conditions, but they do not last. The trees that last are those which endure hardship and seemingly impossible growing conditions. As Christians, we endure to the end simply because God places us in harsh growing conditions, where He demonstrates His saving power most fully. I Peter 4:12-19 puts it this way:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

It is not a strange thing when we find ourselves in harsh growing conditions, with our toes to the fire and our hearts put through the ringer. Rather, it is our glory to endure such harsh growing conditions because our Savior has Himself endured the harshest of conditions in order to secure our position of glory as children of the Faithful Creator of the universe. We do not undergo the salvation process with ease, but with much difficulty and pain and tears. Yet this is for our good — the one who endures much suffering is participating in God’s grand demonstration of His powerful grip on His children whom He has called and whom He will ensure endure until the end.

Like much of the natural world around us, the bristlecone pine is an example and an encouragement to us. No matter what season you find yourself in, no matter the heartache, no matter the suffering, God loves to prove Himself faithful through our suffering. It may feel like decay now, but we can trust our whole selves to our Faithful Creator, who is surely making something beautiful out of twisted, gnarled, and scorched roots. Under harsh growing conditions, we can say with James, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (1:12).