Redwood Time and the Kingdom of God

canstockphoto0021174The Coast Redwood is the world’s tallest living organism, with the tallest towering 35 to 38 stories high. From a distance a tree that tall looks long and slender like a basketball player, but in fact the Coast Redwood is massive. At eye-level the trunk can be 27 feet in diameter, the length of two VW Beetles. Some of its branches are larger than the trunk of the largest oak.

They are also among the oldest living organisms, with the tallest trees estimated to be two to three thousand years old. Redwoods are among the fastest growing organisms in the world, growing fifty feet tall in just twenty years.

By its 600th birthday it is already a giant, but it is just in the middle of its adolescence and doesn’t reach young adulthood until it is 800 years old. Time is measured differently when you are a redwood. So is speed.

Most of the trunk of a mature tree is composed of heartwood, the hard, dead inner wood at the center moving outward. Its main purpose is to support the tree. Under the bark are three extremely thin layers, the inner bark, the cambium, and the sapwood.

The cambium is the part of the tree that produces new cells and causes the tree to increase in diameter. It is extremely thin, sometimes as thin as a single layer of cells, visible under only a microscope.

If that sounds small, consider this: if you were to lay out the entire layer of cambium of a typical Coast Redwood it would cover an area close to forty thousand square feet, more than two football fields.

A redwood that grows just one or two millimeters in diameter each year is therefore producing an enormous amount of new wood and is among the fastest growing of all organisms.

The only reason the redwood seems to be growing slowly is because our lives by comparison are only a blink in time.

In the time that we are alive it seems that nothing has happened. A redwood when we are born looks the same as it will when we die; the Grand Canyon will appear unchanged in our lifetimes, as will the positions of the stars and the course of a river.

We are an impatient species. We like to make things happen, and we get frustrated when things take too long. What we like to call saving time is in fact us trying to make everything go faster so we don’t have to wait so much.

Jesus inaugurated the kingdom of God 2,000 years ago, at the time some of today’s Coast Redwoods were just pushing up through the ground. He said that it was beginning, small as a mustard seed, and would one day grow into a massive living organism covering the entire earth.

He said it would be a kingdom of peace, of equality, a kingdom in which the things that unite people would overwhelm the things that divide them.

But, lo, we are so impatient. We want to see the growth of the kingdom now, in our brief lifetimes, and we despair when we don’t see it.

Paul wrote about the dividing wall of ethnic hostility being torn down in Christ (Eph. 2:14), but around the world—including but certainly not limited to the U.S.—it seems the walls are as strong as ever.

We find better and better ways to turn plowshares into swords, and we are learning more and more about the art of war (Isa. 2:4; Micah 4:3).

The wolves still eat the sheep, and lions still refuse to eat straw (Isa. 65:25).

So it seems; but that’s just because we are humans, not redwoods. And the life of a redwood is just an instant in God’s sight (Psalm 90:4).

God is bringing his kingdom into being, and he is doing it faster than we realize. It’s a massive undertaking, adding perhaps a millimeter or two a year to its thickness, but enough to cover a good bit of the world.

One day it will cover the entire world.

Don’t ever doubt that it’s not happening and that it won’t come to full maturity.

God is pretty strong-willed; in the end he always gets what he sets out to do.

The inspiration for this post came as I was reading an utterly fascinating book, The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring, by Richard Preston. Do yourself a favor and read it.

Photo by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / jwolf29

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