It is always amazing to me how life contains so many parables. As Jesus’s preferred method of teaching, parables are truths told in story form that connect to daily life. Jesus, knowing his audience, made references about nature, traveling, and family. Wrapped in a package people understood, the kernel of truth was able to be delivered. In our lives, there are many things we can look around and observe to help us understand God’s truths. We can even look to the natural world.
A Natural Parable
Recently, I went on an ecotour at Florida Forever. As we drove through a property on a safari-type vehicle, we came across the pine ecosystem. Here the trees are spaced out, and saw-toothed palms litter the forest floor. Our guide explained that this ecosystem is dependent on fires to maintain itself, or else it becomes a hardwood forest.
She also mentioned that there are hundreds of gopher tortoises who thrive in this environment. In fact, this ecosystem needs these tortoises as over 350 species of animals are dependent on these tortoises for survival. The reason is because gopher tortoises are hole diggers. When the needed fires rage, animals will take refuge in the tortoise holes–snakes, owls, and others will hide out together in the hole until the fire passes. Once the fire passes, the animals all emerge unscathed. For some reason, the animals all understand that there is to be no hunting of each other during these perilous times.
The seemingly inconsequential nature of tortoises is striking. You would not look at them and think that an entire ecosystem exists because of them. On our tour, we even saw one. There was nothing beautiful or alluring about this animal with its dark, blotchy shell and scaly legs. Their provision of a safe place during the firestorm, though, keeps this ecosystem running.
The Church’s Purpose
Within this, I see a useful analogy of the function of the church. Though many do not recognize or even notice the church’s work, the church provides places of protection for many people. When the fire of the world rages, the church becomes a place filled with all kinds of different people. People who would have nothing in common unless they had come together for safety.
There is much to criticize about the church and its ineffectiveness. However, I would argue that this world would be a darker and more dangerous place if it weren’t for the digging of the church. The church provides homeless relief, rescues those being trafficked, creates schools for kids with no other way of getting an education, and counsels those who are hurting. And, you may not know it, but they give and give away millions of dollars to those who are in need.
The gopher tortoises’ effectiveness comes from its desire to dig, not from any inherent beauty that it or the holes might contain. The church’s effectiveness comes from its desire to love and not because of its attractiveness. As Christians, we must continue the dirty work of loving by creating places where people can come together in safety. The focus is not on the beauty of the environment but on its relevance in helping those in need.
As believers, we can learn from the faithfulness of the gopher tortoise upon whom the whole ecosystem depends. We might not know how important our work may be in the day-to-day work of life, but our world depends upon the havens of safety and truth that we provide. Be encouraged to persevere in our work, knowing it is needed.