The Tree of Life and the Life of Trees

Large Cedar Trees Grove of Patriarchs Mt Rainier Lower Res July 9 2012“It is what it is.” We often use those words to express angst, frustration, or exasperation about circumstances that we cannot control. Do you ever wonder what “what is” would be if Adam and Eve had not eaten from the forbidden tree, but instead eaten from the tree of life? In that defining moment of disobedience mortality became the destiny of all living things.

Though the number of years in a human life varies, the Bible provides a rule of thumb in Psalm 90:10, “The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.” (New King James Version) A quick Google search confirms that while nearly 30 countries can boast an average lifespan at birth of more than eighty years (, our planet’s average citizen comes closer to the longevity mentioned by the Psalmist, somewhere around sixty-seven years.

NPR featured a fascinating science story by Robert Krulwich recently about the lifespan of living things on planet earth ( The research seems to show a simple principle: Life is short for small creatures, longer for big ones. In fact, a paper done in 2007 showed a formula, that when applied to 700 different plants, correctly predicted lifespans. Krulwich states:

It’s hard to believe that creatures as different as jellyfish and cheetahs, daisies and bats, are governed by the same mathematical logic, but size seems to predict lifespan. The formula seems to be nature’s way to preserve larger creatures who need time to grow and prosper, and it not only operates in all living things, but even in the cells of living things. It tells animals for example, that there’s a universal limit to life, that though they come in different sizes, they have roughly a billion and a half heart beats; elephant hearts beat slowly, hummingbird hearts beat fast, but when your count is up, you are over. Plants pulse as well, moving nourishment through their veins. They obey the same commands of scale, and when the formula says “you’re done,” amazingly, the buttercup and the redwood tree obey. Why a specific mathematical formula should govern all of us, I don’t completely understand, but when the math says, “it’s time,” off we go …

It comes as no surprise that redwood trees live longer than ferns, but it is surprising that there is a pattern, a scientific formula if you will, that governs the span of all species of plant and animal life on planet earth. It’s almost as if someone planned it that way. Hmm, I wonder if it might have anything to do with a common Creator? Maybe “numbering our days” is more about theology than mathematics.

Old Maple Tree on Mox Chehalis Road near Malone WA 10-25-12Despite our constant human longing for a fountain of youth, we don’t seem to be able to change the formula and delay the inevitable aging process, or add more years to our life. Perhaps it should give us pause to consider the advice by the same Psalmist after pondering the brevity of our existence: “So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12 NKJV)

In the beginning, there was a garden. Adam and Eve had all the time in the world to tend it and reap the benefits of a weed and disease free environment. They must have been hoping for the promised knowledge when they ate the forbidden fruit. But they did not get what they expected. What they needed was wisdom to make a better choice. Had they known, they probably would have chosen to eat from the tree of life.

In the end, there will be another garden with the pristine environment Adam and Eve once enjoyed, and the fellowship with God that was broken by their act of disobedience. The Apostle John describes that future scene: “On 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. No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and His servants will worship Him.” (Revelation 22:2-3 New Living Translation) We will learn infinitely more from the tree of life than we will from the life of trees.

It is what it is. Our days are numbered. Yet if we apply our hearts to wisdom and learn to number our days we’ll discover that God has a plan to exchange our mortality for immortality as we trust in Christ’s sacrifice for our sin and disobedience. When we do, we’ll reserve a future opportunity to enjoy the fruit from the tree of life forever. Abraham Lincoln wisely said, “Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, but the life in the years.”

Both tree photos (c) by Don Detrick – the top photo shows cedar trees in The Grove of the Patriarchs in Mt. Rainier National Park. Lower photo an ancient maple tree on Mox Chehalis Road near Malone, WA.

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One thought on “The Tree of Life and the Life of Trees

  1. Terry

    Hey Don,

    Very interesting observation on the mathematical formula to the prediction of life expectancy.

    You seem to discover the coolest information!


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