“There’s no fruit on your tree. Are you ok?” a man yells out the window of his beat-up truck, his face full of concern. He waves his arm to grab my attention. He points to the back of his pickup, laden with fruit trees. I stare at him dumbly, not sure what he means.
“What does your tree mean?” he asks again, pointing to his shoulder than mine, perhaps wondering if I wasn’t understanding his accent. I am caught unaware in a parking lot, pushing a cart full of home goods for another family, my mind thinking through design and budget—not about trees. It’s as if my mind squints in the sunlight wanting to see, but is temporarily blinded.
His question throws me. His concern for me is clear, his voice urgent, his arms waving. I wonder what is so important to him that he would stop his truck, roll down his window and yell out to me, a stranger. It hits me, he’s asking about my tattoo.
“It’s my hope tree,” I answer him, my mind still blinking to gain understanding.
His eyes squint, his mouth twists down, puzzled he repeats, “But it has no fruit on it. Why?”
I smile, touched by this strangers insistence to understand me. “Because I need to remember that growth happens even when nothing outside of me looks like it is. I need to remember that God works on the inside first. My tree looks dead, but it has strong roots. It’s how I remember Gods hope is alive.”
“Oh, so you know Jesus!” His tone moves from concern to joy, his face floods with relief.
“Yes,” I reply and smile again.
He drives off, satisfied because I know Jesus.
I think about this conversation on that warm afternoon on the asphalt. A stranger stopped his life for me because he recognized a broken person. He saw what appeared to be a dead tree and he knew what happens to dead trees, they get cut down—unless, unless they are rooted in Jesus. The man stopping his truck that day lived in light of the truth of all of Gods promises, the harsh and the good. He believed Gods word enough to stop his work and call out to me, a stranger, to make sure I knew the answer for deadness.
Psalm 1 speaks to the full circle of Gods promises to us: Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
There are promises of God that are dark, harsh sounding. ‘The wicked will perish. God is against the wicked. He does not hear those who do not fear Him when they cry out. Without the fear of God, it’s impossible to be faithful to Him.’ While the man who cried out to me could have driven on by, uncomfortable to address a seemingly broken, hopeless tree, he spoke light into the brokenness he saw, knowing where the dark promises lead without Jesus. He understood that there is mercy in these severe promises.
We often work so hard just to remind ourselves that Gods promises are always “yes and amen.” Yet, therein lies the catch for many of us—we are only thinking of the “acceptable” promises with our “yes”. Not all of Gods promises are pleasant, but they are all good. Not all of Gods promises are pronouncements of blessing, but they are all full of mercy. Do our hearts cling to His severe promises with hope as they do to His good ones?
Perhaps we wouldn’t have to work so hard to trust the fulfillment of His good promises if we wouldn’t soften the harshness of the severe. For it is in the contrast of these two where clarity is created, and we trust all the easier the depths of love pouring forth mercy from both.
For God doesn’t mess around with the darkness of sin and evil, but neither does He mess around with the lightness of the way of salvation from it. There is nothing fuzzy or grey we are left to wonder about when God promises what will happen to sin and evil, nor what happens in our salvation from it. His love is a high contrast love, making it clear for us—He has always had an answer of mercy to fulfill all His promises. This is why the gospel matters. This is why Jesus’ death and resurrection must remain forefront forever. For without the gospel we have no way to see the gift and kindness in the severe. Herein lies the spectacle of mercy. Mercy fulfills all of Gods promises. Without Jesus, there is no mercy.
Knowing these harsher promises of God are just as true as the ones that cradle our hearts in times of grief and pain, gives urgency to love the people around us by offering True Love as the only answer for them…just like the man in the truck. The God who does not change and cannot lie entreats us to be a tree rooted in Him. Planting ourselves by the Living Water is where sustaining, bountiful life happens— no matter what war is raging around us, no matter what scars sear our skin, no matter how twisted we must bend to battle for sight of our Champion. Rooted in Jesus is fearing Him, it is worshiping Him. These harsher promises are still good news because they make clear how our faithlessness can be changed to faithfulness.
My tree tattoo is twisted and bent, scarred and leafless. It represents a time of being fully alive within, of being formed and changed and green on the inside when by all outward appearances I should have been chopped down and left for dead. But I was fed and sustained and shaped by roots that dug deep into the hope of Jesus. I saw all too painfully the dark promises of God coming true and it turned my heart to him. Had I not known that wickedness will be cut down, that sin will end, that God is against those who worship darkness, I would not have known and trusted His promise of salvation to be true.
So I gladly bend and twist to the Light, no matter how misshapen it may make me look. I share my Living Hope for I no longer fear the brokenness I see, rather, I allow those around me to recognize the brokenness that was, for Jesus’ pursuit of goodness and mercy still reigns.