Updated: Apr 18, 2020
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein is a hallmark of my life. Yet, today as the Lord brought me again to a familiar place in its pages, I am challenged. Particularly challenging is the overwhelming love that we see in the book given by the tree to an undeserving, simple, and precious child.
In a 2014 article entitled The Apple Isn’t the Only Biblical Reference: 50 Years of the Giving Tree one sees a key point. The author states,
“I’ve heard people can die from giving of themselves so freely. The idea that someone could be wholeheartedly committed to the undeserving other is counter-intuitive and scandalous, and it’s not like a divine-tree changes that either.”
This point changed things for me. I began to contemplate the true depth of what was being alluded to. I repeatedly thought “it’s not like a divine-tree changes that either.” An eloquent and impactful perspective to say the least.
As a child I saw The Giving Tree as a hopeful, even happy story? Yet, now as I have grown older (and I imagine you have too) the very thought of this book can bring tears to my eyes.
The story of a child; climbing, eating, playing. A teen; loving, shirking, being selfish. A young man; wanting, wanting, wanting. A “boomer” longing, longing, longing. Finally, an elder-- bittered, needing, and tired. Needing desperately to rest again in the shade of some ancient and beautiful tree. Needing something permanent-- Something solid.
It is with this in mind that I find myself thinking on the nature of that, “divine tree”. Specifically, I find myself thinking on it in terms of the “old commandment” which we see the Apostle John pointing out to us in the 1 John. You may disagree, yet it is here that I recognize the greatest reality. The truth found in the tree of Christ. The tree of the cross.
One reads in the book of Galatians an interesting point concerning the death of Christ. Paul writes there,
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”.
As I have gotten older I have become (I’d like to think) a bit wiser. That wisdom seems to have opened my eyes concerning the conceited nature of the relationship that we see in The Giving Tree. It is likely that you could get angry along with me at the selfish man, who by the way ultimately kills the tree--scaring it with an image, an image which encapsulates his love for the world. He carves with a knife and encloses with a heart, “Me + YL”. (The name of the girl the boy loved.)
This I think is the epitome of the commandment of this world… Love things more than anything or anyone else. In fact that is the flaw so greatly blaring in the life of the boy. From apples to money, and boats. The “Me +” stayed the same. Yet, always the things that his heart desired were fleeting, leaving him listless, and always coming back to the “tree” or whatever was left of it.
“I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the Word that you have heard.”
Into this I come again to John. Did you catch that? The commandment is the Word. And what is that Word? That word is Jesus. The commandment from Old to New Testament has always been and (always) will be the same-- Jesus.
How can I say this? I can say it because of what John writes in his Gospel. It is there that we read in Chapter 1:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John proclaims triumphantly, “In the beginning was the Word.” and later states, “He was in the beginning with God.” John is pointing to us that the Word is a He. John even goes further to point us to one overwhelming truth. John proclaims to us that this Word is life and light.
So, as we all go about this world, carving “Me +” whatever into anything we see, I think we should be thinking instead about the ultimate “giving tree” of the cross. It is there that, like the tired old man we will find rest. It is there that we will find the true law of life… and of giving.
“Come, boy, sit down.
Sit down and rest.”
And the boy did.
And the tree was happy.”