Until I was 32 I'd been deeply certain of my place in God's world. But then, for a decade, I wandered away from my faith. No one event or thought started this: I'd moved to a new city and just neglected to find a church. I stopped reading the Bible. I forgot to pray.
After six months the universe seemed to me a mechanical apparatus without mercy, with randomness all we could expect. I came to believe that existence ended with the death of the body, and it was up to us, as individuals, to shape our lives.
Then I saw sugar maples for the first time.
The desert is my home. I was on vacation in Vermont in October when I saw the masses of leaves in crimson, orange and amber. I absorbed the glory. And I began to wonder what purpose it served in forest ecology.
Spring flowers are beautiful, but I know their beauty is for the purpose of reproduction. But the fall foliage? Why are leaves transformed into glowing jewels just before they die? Did the color change signal winter's approach to animals? Not likely, because most see a grayed vision of the world. Perhaps as the chlorophyll goes from the leaves down to the roots the trees give off a different odor? But that wouldn't explain the color change.
Then it came to me. It's for us--God's gift to bring us delight.
When I told a pastor about my experience, he had a different answer: The color change was to show us that there is beauty in death. And, yes, I can see beauty in death. But more importantly, I see in the glorious autumn leaves the go-to-any-limit love of God the creator.
From that day nine Octobers ago, I've never again questioned that God designed this world. Or that God does glorious work to enable us to know the greatness of his love. And during the time I left God, I know he never left me.
© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers