In the heart of Portland resides the largest urban forest in the USA, Forest Park. It is a place for hiking, photography, worship, and thinking. The stands of trees rise majestically, seemingly undaunted by the passage of time, although individual trees occasionally topple, adding complexity to the dense undergrowth.
Trails cross-cross the park, providing sufficient misdirection to confuse inexperienced or uncareful hikers. I suggest it is a metaphor for life. We make decisions daily. Some are inconsequential. Many prove life changing when viewed in retrospect through the lens of hindsight.
How might this apply to your life situation? Do you feel lost in the undergrowth of sin? Do the details of your life bog you down to such a degree that you would agree with the complaint of Solomon in Ecclesiastes, where he cried, “Meaningless, meaningless. Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless” (NIV Ecc 1:2. Substitute the words futility and futile for meaningless, and you will perceive another dimension to the author’s possible intent). A full reading of Ecclesiastes will provide the best context for understanding his lament.
When I walk through wooded realms such as Forest Park, I am reminded of the grand scale and minute detail of God’s creation. From a delicate fern leaf to a mighty tree which soars up into the heights, creation points to a Creator and a purpose. Yet, sin has encroached the territory. It poisons my heart and yours. From the rulers of the nations to the poorest of the poor, sin seeks points of entry and finds them, for we were all born into sin because of the first Adam (Genesis 3; Romans 5; Psalm 51:5).
But there is hope. In Jesus Christ. It is to that hope I cling. I cry out to Jesus in my distress, confused by my own propensity to turn from him, even though I know the right I should do. The Apostle spoke of this in Romans chapter 7. He wrote,
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do– this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God– through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. (NIV Rom 7:14-25)
So it is with the prayer of David in mind that I cry out, “Create in me a clean heart, Oh God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Ps 51:10). Remembering Jesus Christ, both his sacrifice on the cross and subsequent bodily resurrection, I place my hope and faith in him, trusting in his grace to heal and purify my heart, renew my mind, and conform my will to his own (1 Jn 1:9, Jas 4:8, Titus 2:14, Rom 12:2). As he does so, the undergrowth and confusing switchbacks on the trail give way to clarity. The grief and anger of hard-heartedness give way to liberating joy in Jesus Christ.
Will you join me on this hike? Ask of this hope that resounds in my heart and I will share it with you to the full. It is your turn. How will you respond?