You’d have thought there was little hope for the mostly brown tree in my backyard.
Bag worms had killed much of the lovely Arbor Vitae, leaving the tree with a pathetic look.
I planned to wait until this summer to have that pine tree — and another that died — dug up and hauled out of my yard.
Then it rained, snowed and rained again.
And as time has passed, I noticed bits of green appearing on the tips of otherwise brown branches.
More green kept appearing.
Now, the tree is starting to look beautiful again. Granted, there’s a place near the bottom where the tree’s spindly, brown branches may never be green.
But I think they might just disappear in the midst of other healthy, growing branches.
Meanwhile, this tree has become a metaphor for hope.
My family and I have had some extremely hard losses in the last few years.
And after recent flooding, I believe people throughout the county have suffered so much.
I’ve written stories about some of these losses and it doesn’t seem fair that people should go through this.
I’ll bet there have been times when they felt as dried up as my tree after the insects all but decimated it.
Yet that’s where I believe God has given me — and can give others hope — in the picture of that tree in my backyard.
And through a man named, Job, in the Bible.
His story is in the Old Testament.
It begins with a God-fearing, well-respected man, who has thousands of head of livestock and lots of servants. He’s a dad with seven sons and three daughters.
He could have been president of the school board and the Hebrew Livestock Association.
Job is a good man, who cares for widows, orphans, foreigners and the poor.
If he were alive today, he’d probably be mentoring kids; building children’s hospitals and helping old ladies across the street. He could have earned a nice plaque for his philanthropy.
But Job will experience the rougher side of life when — in a short period of time — he loses all his livestock and nearly all his servants in some terrible situations.
After that, his 10 children are killed when a big wind causes the roof of a house to cave in on his kids.
Then Job is stricken with sores from head to foot.
The poor guy looks so bad that three of his close friends don’t recognize him at first.
For seven days, these men say nothing as they sit with the deeply suffering man.
And when they do talk, they make the situation worse, because they think Job must have done something wrong to have all this bad stuff happen.
So they try to give advice that just adds to his pain. They say if he repents and starts doing the right thing — then his life will turn wonderful again.
Job rails against their words, because the guy — who’s spent his life helping others — can’t figure out what he’s done wrong.
In his misery, Job bemoans the human condition — saying people have just a few days on this earth and those days are full of trouble.
He compares a man’s life to a flower that comes out and then withers.
And Job talks about a tree.
“At least there is hope for a tree,” Job says. “If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail.
“Its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant. But a man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more.” (Job 14:7-10)
I think it’s safe to say Job is depressed.
And who wouldn’t be after all that?
Yet while he acts like a tree has it better than a man, Job seems to express hope in God and eternal life.
“If a man dies, shall he live again?” Job asks God. “All the days of my service I would wait, till my renewal should come. You would call and I would answer you; you would long for the work of your hands.”
Eventually, Job says something that’s comforted Christians for centuries: “For I know that my Redeemer lives and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.” (Job 19:25-26).
What does this mean?
Job is saying he knows he’ll be physically raised from death to life and see God, his redeemer.
But what about the time until then?
What hope did Job have when he was going through all the pain?
First, he seemed to know the agony wouldn’t last forever.
He also knew God was with him on this journey and would bring good out of it.
And Job even says so with these words: “(God) knows the way that I take and when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.” (Job 23:10)
We’ve lived in a fallen, sin-filled world ever since Adam and Eve munched on the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.
Tough times are part of our existence and bad things happen to good people.
Yet God can use these rough times to shape and mold us, helping us to be the strong, compassionate, faith-filled folks we never dreamed we could become.
Now, if you’re like me, you’ve probably reached a point where you think you’ve had enough molding.
During a low moment, I remember angrily wondering:
“When did I get to be Job’s little sister?”
No, I don’t know if Job had a little sister.
And actually, it would be an honor to be related to this man.
Because Job is the picture of perseverance. It’s true he was miserable, angry, frustrated and bewildered.
But he never walked away from God.
The Lord then showed up in a big way, letting Job know there are mysteries we’re not going to understand on this earth.
And Job saw God.
“I’ve heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you,” Job says.
That’s the thing about suffering. It can help us see God in a way we’ve never seen him before, gaining new insights, inner strength and peace.
As a widow, who’s also lost other precious family members, I’ve learned this: God is faithful; he knows what he’s doing; and he’s a God of wonderful surprises. He’s the God who works things out and helps me at every turn — whether I always recognize it immediately or not.
He has my best interest at heart.
These declarations of faith didn’t come without pain and tears, but they have become more firmly rooted as the days pass.
Roots are important.
As it says in Jeremiah 17:7-8: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is* the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
Job proved to be a man of deep roots and God blessed the latter part of Job’s life with twice as much livestock as he had before and gave him 10 more children.
And the guy who moaned that a man’s days are few and full of trouble — would live to see his descendants to the fourth generation and die an old man, full of days.
After his life began growing good again, did Job ever see a tree the same way?
In the meantime, I love looking at that pine tree — that symbol of hope — in my backyard.