In my last post I shared some thoughts about the fall—not the season, mind you, the event—when way back in the perfect Garden of Eden man’s rebellious nature, inspired downwardly by another fallen creature, sparked into a full-grown ego and got him evicted, cursed and sentenced to death. It was a noteworthy-but-not-red-letter day for humanity, and indeed a significant day for all the rest of us who would ever take our first breaths under the same consequential curse. There’s a mountain of theology there, but let’s save it for another day, say, sometime in the bleak mid-winter. It seems to fit better there, and Mondays never find me really in the mood for too much theology anyway…
I woke up today grateful that it’s November. It was thundering and wet outside as a cold front began snaking its way into the Panhandle. Rain is always a marvelous thing in this part of the world, but in the grip of an evil drought the smell of moisture is heavenly. I hear we’ll be paying for today’s lovely mild weather tomorrow, when the backside of the cold front reminds us why it’s called, after all, a COLD front! But today has been lovely, one that I’d replay, given the chance. It’s not too cold, not too cloudy, not too rainy, not too sunny, not too windy—just perfect! After the almost insufferably hot and dry summer, this fall season has been balm to my soul, and it seems to have improved just about everyone’s mood.
I’m a nature person. One of the ways I worship is simply through seeing God’s hand in the beauty he has created all around us. I pity those who can’t see it. Around town, even though some of the trees gave up without a fight (like the million battle-weary Elm trees whose leaves just sort of caved in at the first sign of a frost) there are some beautiful works of God-art in progress. Some of the trees are braver than the Elms; oh, they know they can’t win this battle. But they refuse to go out with a whimper. Near the church is a large Bradford pear tree, its typical lush green now surrendering in waves of more shades of red than even Sherwin-Williams might imagine. Oak trees (the lucky ones that don’t just turn brown) begin a subtle shift from green to red of their own, many of their leaves a marvelous mingling of the two colors that not even Picasso could have pulled-off. Locust’s delicate fronds shift almost overnight to a fragile burnt-orange that glimmers and glows like fire in the sunset. And the Cottonwood’s tough, leathery leaves are slowly morphing to the brightest gold, shimmering in the wind, clicking against each other like an army of castanets. Driving south on I-27 last week I came across a stand of old Cottonwoods—their brilliant rank standing sentry near the outskirts of Canyon in full dress uniform. I do love the fall!
You realize I imagine, that one of the things that makes fall special is that it doesn’t last very long. Around here, it may only be a day! If the trees sported these dazzling colors all year, we wouldn’t notice them. Yet here they are, being dressed in their most splendorous gowns, debutantes dancing and swaying beautifully in the breeze for just a few days and nights each year, then shedding their finery onto the ground where it blows in all directions and finally turns into dirt as they themselves sleep naked into the winter, blissfully oblivious to the cold. Somehow it all seems very extravagant to me, that God would spend so much effort in painting each leaf of a tree—when that leaf is only going to shine for a few days then succumb to gravity and spend its winter sleep becoming compost. Why would God do such a thing? Why not just make all trees with leaves that never fall, never change, never require raking? Why not make a mulch-proof “one size and color fits all” leaf, and put them on every tree, which would also be identical, to save time and effort? Why does God go to such extravagant lengths for something that will end up rotting in a landfill or burning up in my fireplace?
I have a couple of thoughts on this. (Aren’t you surprised?) First, I think He does it because He can. He’s God, after all. He has enough time to make every tree different, and a thousand species of trees, every single species with its own unique color and shape of leaf. I sense God loves variety; it would get pretty boring making about a billion trees all the same, so he makes them all different–just like every sunrise, and every sunset, and every smile and the face attached to it. He does it because He can. That’s part of why He gets to be God! A second reason, I think, for God’s extravagance in the beauty of nature is because He made us “amaze-able”—He made us to be able to see this exquisite beauty and recognize its magnificence. And knowing our ability, because it is also His ability, He made it so we could enjoy it, and stand in awe of Him. He built us with a “Wow!” inside, built things around us that trigger the “Wow!” within; then He stands back and waits for it. And every time we see the beauty of nature, and thank Him through our acknowledgment of His talent and skill and glory—He smiles back at us, and reminds us, “You know, I made this because I knew you’d like it!”
As I wonder at God’s extravagance with flowers and trees and bumblebees—it dawns on me that we are no different. We are (although practical reality might point to the contrary) the pinnacle of His creation, the only creatures in fact made in His likeness. As glorious as the fall leaves are, they will never have the Glory of an immortal soul which in some way beyond my understanding “looks like” the Creator who made it. Oh, my outside was once pretty glorious, too. I have pictures that prove it! But because of the fall (the other one we’re not talking about today) we are all moving inexorably toward a fall season in our lives where gravity and the beckoning of winter will begin to thin our leaves and loosen our bark. We, the pinnacle of creation given exquisite and sublime bodies driven by incomprehensible brains—we are all on a forced march to becoming compost ourselves. That might seem both an ignominious dead end and an extravagant waste, also, until we realize that these bodies are given us simply to house something much grander, something more exquisite and more complex that will last into eternity. You see, not everything about us was made for the dirt.
I hear writers and speakers talk of the “prodigal” God. The word means excessive and extravagant, and we usually reserve it for good for nothing slackers who waste resources and potential. (Some probably come to mind, but let’s not go there!) It’s a word with a loaded meaning, but it’s a wonderful word for God, too, Who in every way is excessive and extravagant in His provision for us—and nowhere more prodigal than in his provision of grace.
At its heart, that’s what grace is, after all—excessive abundant riches given to those with nothing to give back. Grace is His everything—given freely toward our nothing—because it pleases Him to do so. So I love the fall, because in a way it is a reminder of God’s extravagance, which is but one more echo of His grace. Like grace, the fall hints toward and hopes for better things ahead, a chance to begin again and be amazed by God. All I can say is, “Wow!”