The tree is dead.
It was a pine tree that grew more than twelve feet before it succumbed.
It was planted in Los Angeles to honor the late Beatle George Harrison.
What killed the tree?
A bark beetle infestation, actually.
Irony. Life is filled with it. The dictionary defines irony as “a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result”. Irony is the most surprising outcome. It’s the unlikeliest choice or circumstance and the least expected result.
The Bible is saturated with irony.
It’s almost as if this is God’s modus operandi. He delights in it. The Creator revels in the surprise ending. If not for its amazing, come-from-behind irony, the Bible might be a rather dull book.
God chooses the tiniest, most inconspicuous nation to be his own and preserves it for centuries through suffering and exile, bringing it back to its ancient homeland where today it triumphs against all odds.
Through deeply flawed yet courageous men – and some noble and brave women – God delivers and leads his people. Who on earth would have chosen the likes of Abraham, Jacob, Moses or Gideon?
How colorless the biblical account would be without them.
How did a young Jewish boy named Joseph, sold into slavery by jealous brothers, rise to become the prince of Egypt who rescued that land from starvation? Who would have picked a lad tending sheep to be the mightiest king Israel ever had? And how could this ruler later lie and commit adultery and murder and still be a man after God’s own heart?
How ironic. How strange.
A mighty general is told to wash in the dirty Jordan River to find his cure for leprosy.
Five smooth stones and a slingshot slay a heavily-armored giant. Actually it only took one – and a brave young man who had come in from the fields with a lunch for his fear-struck older siblings. Now we see why none of them got the royal nod.
In human form God visits the world he made. He comes through a young virgin and her poor carpenter husband and is born in a stable in a little town called Bethlehem.
The Ruler of the universe is surrounded by animal dung. The hotels were all filled up. There was no room anywhere else.
Ordinary working stiffs – unknown and uneducated fishermen – become the disciples of Jesus and the first leaders of his church.
Five loaves of bread and two fish – a boy’s lunch – feed more than five thousand.
The fiercest persecutor of the church – a proud and stubborn Hebrew intent on strangling Christianity in its crib – becomes its most gifted and eloquent defender and spreads its message throughout much of the known world. He plants vibrant churches, writes nearly one third of the New Testament and becomes Christendom’s greatest theologian. He dies a martyr to the cause he once despised.
How ironic. How strange.
Over and over again God performs not only the miraculous – he does the improbable, the incredible, the shocking.
If humans did it, they’d be called foolish. But God has done it – and does it still – in the Bible, in the history of nations and in the history of the world.
He does it in our own lives. You know he does – you’ve seen him at work.
God is ironic for a reason.
Paul tells the Corinthians to remember that “few of you were wise in the world’s eyes, or powerful or wealthy when God called you” (I Corinthians 1: 26, NLT).
God makes unlikely choices.
“But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are.” (I Corinthians 1: 27-28, KJV, emphasis added).
Don’t you just love that? The God of the eleventh inning – and the eleventh hour.
Foolish, weak, base and despised things – “things counted as nothing at all” (NLT).
These are so often the instruments – the ways and the means – God chooses and uses.
Why? To what end; to what purpose?
“That no flesh should glory in his presence” (I Corinthians 1:29, KJV).
He does it to keep us humble. With his irony God punctures the smugness of man.
God’s irony is wrapped up in his sovereignty, reflects his majesty and displays his grace and glory.
If it were any other way, we’d be tempted to take the credit instead of praising him for his miracle.
William Cowper said it well in 1773:
“God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform. He plants His footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm”.
Paul – who must have marveled at his own improbable spiritual journey – exults in joyful wonder at the inscrutability of God:
“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33, KJV).
Yes, God often chooses “nothings” and uses them “to bring to nothing what the world considers important” (NLT).
Strange, isn’t it?
And so very comforting.