The Story of the Pine Cone

A few months ago I was asked a question by a Japanese student who was interested in Christianity and who had heard that God sent His Son to bear His judgment in our place. Hearing that God judged Christ on the cross, he asked in simplicity, why does God judge?

In Romans 1:20 Paul says that God’s invisible things, both His eternal power and divine characteristics have been clearly seen since the creation of the world. One item of creation I’ve been observing lately is the Redwood forest and its growth. Aspects of the invisible God’s majesty and severity are manifest in this grand setting.

Among the things we said in response to the curious Japanese student was the story of the pine cone. The pine cones of the coastal redwood forest, or any conifer forest, exhibit this characteristic: often there must be fire before there can be new growth. Every so many years there will be a storm, and lightning will strike a tree and start a forest fire. The fire, while it consumes one generation of trees, actually initiates the growth of the next. Pine cones often do not germinate until their outer layers are burned off. Further, without a fire, there may not be enough light on the forest floor under a dense canopy of trees for a new seedling to compete. So the fire consumes everything that blocks the way for new life to grow, including other underbrush. In the smoldering ashes of a forest fire are hundreds of newly germinated seed cones preparing to sprout forth into a forest. It’s a natural cycle of growth, consuming fire, and new germination.

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Burnt trunks of some Redwoods and new trees growing right beside them.

Hebrews 12:29 says that our God is also a consuming fire. He does not have a mean streak that makes Him delight in harming men, rather He is holy and consumes everything unholy. The footnote of the Recovery version says

“God is holy, holiness is His nature. Whatever does not correspond with His holy nature, He, as the consuming fire, will consume…to meet the demands of His holiness we need to be sanctified, to be made holy by the heavenly, present, and loving Christ. Romans stresses more the matter of justification for God’s righteousness, whereas Hebrews stresses more the matter of sanctification for God’s holiness (2:11; 10:10, 14, 29; 13:12, 14).”

God’s judgment is pictured in the Bible by fire

…And His eyes were like a flame of fire; and His feet were like shining bronze, as having been fired in a furnace. Rev 1:14-15

Yet what is inspiring is that judgment issues in new life. On the cross Christ bore the judgment, the wrath of God. He was burned by God on our behalf, and was consumed by the fire (Exo 12:8).

Isaiah 53:4, 5, 6, 10
4 Surely He has borne our sicknesses, And carried our sorrows; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God and afflicted.
5 But He was wounded because of our transgressions; He was crushed because of our iniquities; The chastening for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we have been healed.
6 We all like sheep have gone astray; Each of us has turned to his own way, And Jehovah has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.
10 But Jehovah was pleased to crush Him, to afflict Him with grief. When He makes Himself an offering for sin, He will see a seed, He will extend His days, And the pleasure of Jehovah will prosper in His hand.

But new life rose from the ground in resurrection. He became the life-giving Spirit in resurrection to impart that Divine life into many others, like a seed becoming a fruit producing plant (John 12:24).

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We need God’s judgment to begin with us. 1 Peter 4:17 says that it is time for judgment to begin from the house of God. Then new life can spring up. Some things, habits, and thoughts I used to have God has judged. While I feel burned I also sense there is new life in me and those around me.

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New growth on leaves.

References:
http://www.nps.gov/yose/parkmgmt/rx_fire.htm

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