One of the highlights of our vacation last week was visiting Yosemite National Park with family friends. Here in this pocket of God’s vast Creation are some of the most impressive sights nature affords – the towering granite wall of El Capitan, the stately Half Dome glowing orange in the sun’s last rays, and the crystalline Tenaya Lake nestled among the high mountains.
But for me, most magnificent of all were the Giant Sequoias. These are the largest trees in the world, with trunks big enough to encircle a small house and tops high enough to surpass a 26-story building. To stand before one of these absurdly huge, arboreal wonders is to feel humble and small. They must inspire in even the most shallow or jaded heart some sense of awe.
The author John Steinbeck wrote this about the Coast Redwoods, the Giant Sequoias’ taller and slenderer cousins: “The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. … The vainest, most slap-happy and irreverent of men, in the presence of redwoods, goes under a spell of wonder and respect.”
The cones of a Giant Sequoia are no bigger than an egg, and its seeds the size of oatmeal flakes. What a marvel, that such an immense creature could grow from a tiny seed! One cannot help but think of Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed, that from the smallest of all seeds grows the largest of garden plants.
And on the topic of Scripture, after seeing these forest behemoths I wondered how incredulous their description would sound to someone who lived in a place where only small trees grew. They would not believe a tree could be so large. And I thought about the account of Goliath in the Bible, how he measured almost 10 feet in height (1 Samuel 17:4). We find that hard to believe, but why should we? If God can make a giant tree, can he not make a giant man?
The Giant Sequoias (with their apt Latin moniker, Sequoiadendron giganteum) not only humble us by their mammoth size, but also by their nearly unfathomable longevity. Some of them alive today are over 3,000 years old.
I don’t know the age of the sequoia in the picture above. But let’s say it’s just over 2,000 years old. The tree would have been a sapling when Jesus was born. Since then, empires have risen and fallen, wars have been fought and forgotten, new lands have been discovered, and generation after generation of men and women have been born and have died. All the while here in this remote forest grove, this same tree stood, undisturbed by the sound and fury of the world and untouched by the passing ages. While history ran its tumultuous course, there it stood in its noble silence, growing taller and bigger each year.
Standing before one of these ancient giants, one is also struck by the silence of the tree – so massive but so hushed. But are they silent after all? Do they not proclaim a message, if only we have ears to hear?
These magnificent giants declare the glory of their Creator. Their overwhelming size speaks of the infinite immensity of God, that he fills the heavens and earth. Their ancient lifespan tells us that God is eternal; he is from everlasting to everlasting. Their power to humble us as though in the presence of some numinous force, declares to us that we live and die in the presence of a God who is majestic in holiness.
We didn’t just see some enormous trees in that forest grove. We heard a sermon on the greatness and glory of God.
Soli Deo Gloria!