Reforesting Faith: What trees teach us about the nature of God and His love for us by Matthew Sleeth MD / Part 1

I first heard about this book, and Matthew Sleeth, from Annie F Downs’ podcast “That Sounds Fun” on Spotify. One day, she interviewed him and talked about tress. I LOVE TREES. I loved trees before this book, but this book gave Biblical reasons to be close to trees and love them so.

Sleeth’s book is already broken up into three parts. Since I like to post shorter posts, I will use that to layout here as well. Welcome to Part 1 Then! I hope that something in here sticks out to you and that you can see trees in a new way or maybe just learn something about God through His creation.

Before I get into the meat of the book though, I just wanted to point out that for the most part, Dr. Sleeth’s book was chronologically written, meaning it walks through the Bible pointing out important references. I thought it was amazing how it all wove together and each piece that pointed to a tree in some way shape or form was mentioned again at times later in the Word.

Part One is titled in Sleeth’s book as “Laying the Groundwork” which begins, of course, in Genesis, where the groundwork of God laying His Creation out began.

Trees & Teaching

Without going any further, stop and think about what YOU think trees would teach us? Maybe you’d say it teaches us generally how our air is produced and circulated. Let me tell you, after reading this whole book, and maybe doing some additional research on these amazing THINGS God created before US… you’ll see that trees are more than just air generators.

In the verses of Genesis 2:15-17, God placed the man, Adam, in the Garden of Eden. Adam was told by God not to eat of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or he will surely die. As a child I was like… but he didn’t even die. What in the world is going on? Basically. I just didn’t understand and it made it seem like in that moment that God lied. ADAM DIDN’T DIE. He didn’t but the life he hoped to have perhaps DID die. We later learn more about this and how death is promised for those who do not believe. Death is promised on this earth but life is eternal in heaven. This instance with Adam was a precursor for what was to come. What was at the center? A tree.

Every important character and every major event has a tree marking the spot.

page 5, Chapter 1, Matthew Sleeth

What can trees teach us about the nature of God and his love for us? How would you answer this one right now?

For those with ears to hear and eyes to see, the enormity of the gift of trees impresses itself upon us anew each day. Only God can make a tree.

page 4-5, Chapter 1, Matthew Sleeth

A nonbeliever was changed by the Bible and what he found. That nonbeliever was Dr. Sleeth. If you don’t know anything about Dr. Sleeth, I would encourage you to read more on your own about the man! He shares some of his testimony in bits of his book here. I enjoyed listening to him on Annie’s podcast and was blown away by his passion. Many years ago, I’m sure that passion for God’s Word was non-existent. God truly transforms, and sometimes that transformation comes in unexpected ways, for sure.

For the majority of my life, I did not believe in God. That’s not the case anymore. In fact, the trees in the Bible are a crucial part of what brought me to faith.

page 5, Chapter 1, Matthew Sleet

The word tree refers in the bible to many aspects of the living tree. Spoiler: we are also trees.

To all who mourn in Israel,

he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,

a joyous blessing instead of mourning,

festive praise instead of despair,

in their righteousness, they will be like great oaks

that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

Isaiah 61:3
Trees, Our Environment, Our Duty – Upcoming Thoughts

Over a year ago I began a thought process of researching and gathering information via survey and the internet for a post about the environment. What is in the realm of our duties as Christians to save the planet – something that environmentalists believe needs to happen, save the planet because it’s DYING.

Sleeth mentions that he and his wife talked about the world dying, more so that there were no more trees on this or that street. We, or at least I do, see that a lot of concrete and “growth” in a city is associated with dying. We destroy land and uproot trees to put in parking lots, buildings and more pollution basically. Growth in a city is great, but at what cost is it if we are not also planting trees? We talk more about this later and I will probably use this to fall back on in my future (maybe late future at this rate…) blog post about the environment. 🙂

An education in science had given me purpose, freedom, and the ability to help people. But now, with Nancy struggling and tragedy pounding at us from every side, science was failing me…. Science, as powerful as it is, can’t even define evil, much less distinguish between right and wrong.

page 14, Chapter 2, Matthew Sleeth

He didn’t have patients one time and he went looking for something to read. There sat a Bible. He took and started reading in the book of Matthew. This was how God began to work in Matthew Sleeth’s life. Science doesn’t save people. A Savior does. His name is Jesus.

Although my coming to faith was a process – more like Peter’s than Paul’s – it soon began transforming every area of my life.

page 15, Chapter 2, Matthew Sleeth
God’s Trail of Trees

This time the dove returned to him in the evening with a fresh olive leaf in its beak. Then Noah knew that the floodwaters were almost gone.

Genesis 8:11

The Lord appeared again to Abraham near the oak grove belonging to Mamre. One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day.

Genesis 18:1

Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; his branches run over the wall.

Genesis 49:22 ESV

There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. “This is amazing,” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.”

When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

“Here I am!” Moses replied.

“Do not come any closer,” the Lord warned, “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground.”

Exodus 3:2-5

They are like trees planted along the riverbank,

bearing fruit each season.

Their leaves never wither,

and they prosper in all they do.

Psalm 1:3

Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her;

happy are those who hold her tightly.

Proverbs 3:18

Here is another illustration, Jesus said: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.

Matthew 13:31-31

The man looked around. “Yes,” he said, “I see people, but I can’t see them very clearly. They look like trees walking around.”

Mark 8:24

The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit. Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it.

….

The next morning as they passed by the fig tree he had cursed, the disciples noticed it had withered from the roots up. Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree on the previous day and exclaimed, “Look, Rabbi! The fig tree you cursed has withered and died!”

Mark 11:12-14, 20-21

Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was to pass that way.

Luke 19:1-4

The, accompanied by the disciples, Jesus left the upstairs room and went as usual to the Mount of Olives.

Luke 22;39

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener.”

John 15:1

“Dear woman,why are you crying? Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

John 20:15

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

Romans 1:20

But some of these branches from Abraham’s tree – some of the people of Israel – have been broken off. And you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in. So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree. But you must not brag about being grafted in to replace the branches that were broken off. You are just a branch, not the root.

Romans 11:17-18

Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flowed down the center of the main street. One each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.

Revelation 22:1-2

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

Revelation 22:16 ESV

Did any of these verses stick out to you today? Has any made you want to learn more about how trees have been the very root of all creation since the God set out on creating us?

From Genesis to Revelation God has blazed a trail of trees through the BIble. The reason so many people love trees is because we are created in God’s image. God loves trees, and so should we.

page 18, Chapter 2, Matthew Sleeth
Missing the Trees for the Forest

One does not have to be a systematic theologian to ask this: “If the spiritual is superior to the material, why did God love the earth so much that he sent his only Son to save it?” The most dangerous consequence of this heresy is that it prevents us from hearing God speak to us through our everyday interactions with his creation.

page 20-21, Chapter 2, Matthew Sleeth

Trees are not randomly placed in Scripture. They mark the most important events, including the Creation, the Fall, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. This is not a coincidence. The Bible is one interwoven book, written by one God.

page 21, Chapter 2, Matthew Sleeth
The Fruit that Changed Everything

Is it any wonder that fruit, being from a tree and all, was worked into God’s plan that changed the trajectory of all mankind? Nah, didn’t think so.

The the Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east, and there he placed the man he had made. The Lord God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground – trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit. In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Genesis 2:8-9

The largest and longest-lived form of life on the earth is a tree.

page 24, Chapter 3, Matthew Sleeth

Dr. Sleeth noted an exercise in which you highlight each sentence in your Bible between Genesis 1:11 to the end of Genesis 3 with anything to do with a tree – seed or fruit. He says this equals about a third. I tried this as well and got the same result (of course). God was serious about trees, fam.

A God-sized View of Time

Do you take the time intervals of Genesis literally?

But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.

2 Peter 3:8

God lives outside of time.

Trees point toward who God is, who we are, how the world works, and why evil exists.

page 26, Chapter 3, Matthew Sleeth
Trees Make God’s Ways Tangible

Reading Genesis 1:11-12, botanists will pick up on two broad categories of plants: gymnosperms and angiosperms.

Throughout the Bible (just as in biology classes today), the categorization of trees into fruit-bearing and non-fruit-bearing is maintained. This distinction is upheld in the Old Testament, and later we’ll see that Christ was well aware of it too.

page 27, Chapter 3, Matthew Sleeth

There are several attributes God assigns to trees straightaway in Genesis, and that’s just in the first two chapters! I’ve listed below what Sleeth mentions in his book.

  • Tree/chlorophyll provide all the energy for animals (1:29-30)
  • God planted a garden filled with trees as a place in which humans could live (2:8)
  • Trees are “pleasant to the sight” (2:9)
  • The tree of life is a symbol of human access to God (2:9)
  • Humanity’s first job was to dress (take care of) and keep (preserve) the trees (2:15)
  • Humanity is given moral agency through the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:16)

Within the first two chapters of the Bible, life, death, human agency, respiration, food, aesthetics, human purpose, and a connection to God all are tied to trees.

page 29, Chapter 3, Matthew Sleeth

Sometimes I read this quote over and over again and I’m like… WOW. Okay, God, had to get all scientifically real with us. OOF. We are so fragile, yet we tear trees down like nothing. They could wipe us out if they all disappeared.

Without humans, trees would manage just fine. Without trees, people would perish.

page 29, Chapter 3, Matthew Sleeth

This interesting to look at if you look this up:

A bronchogram, or a cast, of our respiratory “tree” is indistinguishable from the shape of a bare oak tree.

page 31, Chapter 3, Matthew Sleeth
Two Trees in Paradise

So why is this tree called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Why include the wood good in the name? I believe it’s to underscore the fact that evil exists in contrast to good. All sin is really a perversion of something good. In the language of today, we might just as easily have called it the tree of right and wrong.

page 34, Chapter 3, Matthew Sleeth

Beside every bad decision in life, there is a good alternative.

page 34, Chapter 3, Matthew Sleeth

Off topic (I have to be at least once, right??), but the above quote from Sleeth is an approach to addicts. They are encouraged to make a new habit, another alternative to their addiction. When they feel like they want to take a drink or smoke or shoot up, they should turn toward this other thing (which should in theory, be a good thing).

Latin word for apple, malum, is also Latin word for evil. I’ve heard that really, the term apple is just a placeholder and a visual for us of the fruit that Eve took, but for all we know, it wasn’t really an apple.

The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord among the trees. The the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

Genesis 3:6-9

How are we responding to our sin? With excuses? Lies? Coverup? Denial? Do we blame someone else?

No one is truly wise;

no one is seeking God.

Romans 3:11

At the time of the fall, Adam and Eve hid from God. They felt ashamed and clothed themselves, suddenly aware of their nakedness. No one can hide from God, but that’s our reflex. Our first instinct isn’t to go out and seek attention to our sin, is it? We want to either hide the sin or hide ourselves. If only we knew completely, in those moments, that hiding does no good with God. He knows.

Human greed knows no limits, so God gave us an inescapable one: death.

page 38, Chapter 3, Matthew Sleeth
The Bible’s Wisdom is a Tree of Life

Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her;

happy are those who hold her tightly.

Proverbs 3:18

Part 1 has come to a close. I hope you saw something her that inspires, encourages, or comforts you. Let me know you thoughts in the comments!

Thank you for reading! I know it was long… but you made it!! (I really tried to make it shorter… haha) Part 2 and 3 coming soon 🙂

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Perth Girl says:

    I have never thought about how much trees are mentioned in scripture. And so many times in just the first couple of chapters of the bible. I am intrigued. Than you for sharing this and I look forward to what more you share in the next two parts.

    1. Summer says:

      I hadn’t either until I read the book! Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts! ✨

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