FALL SPLENDOR, THE CYCLE OF DECAY--AND MORE

As I look out my study window of a two-bedroom apartment in our retirement community, I see gorgeous beauty. The woods just outside is  ablaze with fall splendor. Large patches of green mix with brown, yellow and red. For a short time, the green leaves remain stubbornly attached to the trees. But there is a constant flutter of brown, yellow and red leaves that float on the wind as they twist and turn on their way to the ground. They cover my grassy green yard with their multicolored beauty.

One cannot help but be impressed with the beauty of the fall. A woods that last winter was just a collection of gray trees turned, last spring, to a pervasive wall of green. And now as fall arrives, it is transformed into a multicolored woods where I love to walk with my wife Arbutus.

All this makes me ponder the amazing complexity and beauty of the natural world. For half of the year, from March to October, a constant procession of different flowers springs up in the woods. I love the gorgeous daffodils that emerged out of the snow in early spring. But different wildflowers keep coming all year until early fall.

And my little woods outside my study is just one tiny window on an astounding, complex, beautiful world. Whether one thinks of the soaring Rocky Mountains, the complex world of the Amazon River basin, or the rugged beauty of the American Southwest, splendor is everywhere.

The beauty of the fall leaves, however, compels a more sober thought. They are dying. In a few more weeks, they will all lie on the ground – – dead. And that is true of everything else we see in our amazing universe. Multicolored butterflies, beautiful goldfinches, leaping deer and crouching jaguars live for a year or 30 – – then grow old and die, decay, and disappear forever. It’s true, they produce a new generation before they disappear, but disappear they do. And that is the pattern everywhere in this amazing universe.

I must confess that watching the gorgeous fall leaves flutter down only to decay brings mixed feelings, especially when one is 82 – – affected by a myriad of small but increasing inadequacies that one knows will only increase. As a very close friend, a few years older than I am, said recently, we “dwindle.” And then die.

Is that all there is to our lives? As the great philosopher Bertrand Russell said, we die, we rot, and we disappear. No big deal. That is certainly the pattern we see everywhere throughout the material world around us. And that is at least a bit depressing when one is 82.

Except for one thing. The resurrection! Jesus rose from the dead. (For the historical evidence, see N.T. Wright’s superb eight hundred page book, The Resurrection of the Son of God.)  And Jesus promises that all who believe in him will live with him forever. That changes everything.

I am part of the physical world with its cycle of spring, summer fall and decay. I may live one or two or twenty more years, but I also will die and decay.  But Jesus promises that, at the moment of death, I will pass on to eternal life in the presence of my Lord.

That certain promise does not remove the twinge of sadness as the colored leaves that flutter down remind me of my mortality. But the resurrection promises that death is just a momentary transition to an eternal future whose splendor we cannot even begin to imagine. Thank you, Jesus, for the beauty of the fall. But thank you even more for the assurance that the natural cycle of birth, life, decay, and disappearance are not the final word for those who trust in you.

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