The sin of the Bark Beetle

By David A. Liapis

In 2018 the Roosevelt fire ravaged nearly 62,000 acres of the Bridger-Teton National Forest, which is otherwise some of the most stunning mountain country in the U.S. If you drive along Wyoming Highway 189 near the tiny town of Bondurant, you’ll encounter the huge burn scar where the wildfire tore through the region. Yet, right in in the midst of all the devastation and the countless gray skeletons of trees there are, seemingly inexplicably, full-sized, flourishing evergreens that somehow escaped the flames like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego escaped Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace. Sometimes it was one lone pine that stood full of solitary life, and in some cases is was a small stand of trees that survived the inferno. Regardless of how the trees managed to survive, one verse stood out to me as I drove through – Psalm 1:3 speaking of the righteous person: “They are like a tree planted by streams of water.”

I am by no means an expert in dendrology, but it seems a tree’s resistance to fire has something to do with where it’s located, such as in a ravine and/or near a water source. Obviously a well-watered tree has a better chance of surviving the flames; but, there’s more to being “planted by streams of water” than just that first-order effect.

All throughout the un-burned sections of the forest you can see the telltale signs of Bark Beetle activity – thousands upon thousands of dead trees that have succumb to beetle’s lethal infestation and are now prime fuel for future blazes. It was very clear the trees that remained after the fire were not numbered among these “beetle kill” trees, which means in order to survive the day of fire, they had to withstand months and years of beetle attacks.

The Bark Beetle is not an invasive species that has recently been introduced to our forests. Rather, it has always been a part of the forest ecosystem, helping to thin the forest by killing sick and unhealthy trees, making more room for good trees to grow. However, when drought occurs, such as it has in the Western U.S. for many years, thirsty, and therefore unhealthy trees are unable to kill the invading beetle the way it should – by encasing the larvae in sap and preventing not only its own demise, but also the spread of the beetle to other trees.

In this natural analogy, the Bark Beetle is sin. It’s an ever-present nuisance that must be fought off; and, just like the trees, we can only do so if we are adequately watered. If we are like the tree in Psalm 1 – drinking from the living water of Christ and His word – then we are prepared to ward off attacks; but, just like the drought-stricken trees, if we are not well-watered, then the “sin beetle” can make a home and begin its deadly assault. Like Paul the Apostle says, “For the wages of sin is death…” in Romans 6:23.

The scariest part of this analogy is actually not having the beetle come in and bring slow and almost certain death to the tree. The scariest part is the threat of fire coming and completely destroying what little remains of the tree. In the same way, literal fire of judgment is coming and only “trees” who are healthy from being soaked in the Living Water of Jesus Christ (John 4) will be able to endure it. The question then is whether you are truly like the tree in Psalm 1 that is planted by streams of Living Water and thus able to withstand the flames, or are you the dry, unhealthy tree being slowly killed by the “sin beetle” and thus unable to avoid destruction from the fire of judgment that is sure to come?

If you have either never trusted in Jesus Christ as your Savior, or if you’re a professing Christian who is not abiding in Christ and His Word, then cry out to Him today and ask Him to plant you by streams that do not run dry where your roots can dig down deep in the soil of the Gospel and His Word, the Bible. It’s only there you will find what’s needed to be like those sparse remnants of trees – alive and thriving in spite of the consuming fire that came that destroyed everything else around them.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” – 1 Peter 1:3-9 (ESV)

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