The Forest

A man woke up to find himself in the middle of nowhere. His head was throbbing, his hair stuck to blood that had dried on his forehead. He didn't know who he was or where he was, but as he looked around, all he saw were trees. Some sunlight poked through the tall pines, but it was mostly dark; not even smaller bushes could grow in this darkness. And it stretched on in every direction as far as he could see. This man was hopelessly lost. But he was also hungry, and he was thirsty. He didn't know anything, but he did know that if he didn't find food and water soon, he would die, and so he set out in search of these things.

After some time, he stumbled upon a watering hole. It was a beautiful little pond, at the base of tall cliff, sheltered from its surroundings--a great place to make shelter. As the man inspected the site, he noticed a small trickle of water coming down from the top of the cliff, just enough to make the rock wet. Now the man knew spring water would be more beneficial, a well of life that would never end, but in the end he decided it was too much work to find the spring. He truthfully didn't know if there was a spring, it could have just been runoff from rain or melting snow. And so the man decided to make camp at the base of the cliff in the middle of this forest.

It took time, but he eventually managed to get a fire going and make a lean-to, so he was protected for the time being. He then made some crude hunting weapons and snares out of fallen branches to try and catch some food, and after some time was successful in this too. He looked at all he had accomplished and was proud of what he had done: he had food and water, protection from the elements, and a beautiful view. He was alive--nay the man was thriving. But he wasn't happy. He knew something was missing, he just didn't know what.

After quite some time, the man noticed the air starting to warm up, and soon even the small trickle down the cliff became dry. His pond, too, began to shrink, until one day he woke up to find nothing but a small pool of mud. Suddenly, all he had done was gone. He could not continue to live in this paradise he had created for himself, and so he decided to seek out the only thing he knew: at the top of the cliff was a small stream that must lead to a bigger one, he need only find it. He gathered his tools and some extra food, strapped them on his back, and proceeded to attempt the treacherous climb to the top of the cliff. In his mind, he was about to die, and whether it was from thirst or by falling he was dead either way. This was his only chance.

The man barely reached the top of the cliff: several times rocks shifted, causing him to almost lose his grip, and arrived covered in scratches and bruises. He was surprised to see that the land around looked no different from the forest below, despite having climbed above its canopy, but he was relieved to see a small pool at the top of the cliff, the little bit of water that remained from the stream. The stream was not flowing, but the riverbed was damp, and so he decided to follow it to see where it led.

The man followed the stream all day, and it appeared to get slightly wetter the more he walked, giving him hope. It was getting dark and he was exhausted, so he decided to sleep right along the muddy streambed. But not long after he woke to water splashing on his face--rain! But even more, the water level in the stream was rising. Terrified that a flood was coming, he ran away from the stream a safe distance, and stayed awake all night in the darkness and the rain. And when dawn started to break, the rain stopped and the man slept.

When he woke up, he saw that all his gear had washed away, but in the distance he saw smoke rising, and decided to check it out: maybe it would be someone just like him. As he got closer, he saw what looked to be a well-established home by a small pond, much more than what he had. He also saw a beautiful woman tending to a garden. For several minutes he just stared at her: he could not believe that he wasn't alone in this place, and furthermore he was struck by her beauty. Then he called out to her.

She looked up at the man but didn't seem disturbed by his presence at all. She beckoned him over and gave him some food and water. He was amazed by her hospitality, and she seemed genuinely happy to have him in her presence. But when she asked his name, he told her he didn't remember, then showed her the scar that had formed on his forehead. She admitted that she too was lost, revealing a similar scar on her temple, but that a man once called her "friend," then told her a story about a woman named Ruth. She then explained that this stranger had no desire to stay here, that he was on a quest of his own, but that he named her Ruth and told her how to keep a garden before he left. The sincerity in her eyes told the man that she was not lying, and that she was forever grateful for what this stranger had done for her.

She finished this story, and the man asked her if he could stay for the night, and then he would leave in the morning. She was honored by the man's humility, and offered to let him stay as long as he pleased. She also gave him the name Paul, from another story this man told her. The man was overjoyed, and gladly accepted. Paul helped Ruth tend the gardens and hunt, and in time they fell in love. He had finally found what was missing from his life, and though he still did not know where he was or who he used to be, he was content to know that she had become a part of him, filling the holes once left.

Winter came, and it was tough on Ruth and Paul, but they made it through alive and stronger. Several winters passed, and Ruth conceived a child. But there was a problem, and Ruth passed away in labor, and without a mother's milk the child soon died too. Yet again, Paul was left alone in this world, and that which once filled his heart now left a hole so much larger than ever before. The life that he once loved, he now hated, and an anger filled his heart, one that he had no way of controlling. In his anger, he burned down the house, not wanting to remember any of it. When the rage faded, he was disgusted with himself, and wanted to die right then. But he couldn't bring himself to just let himself pass away, he felt like there was something more in this world, and he remembered the streambed, from all those years ago.

Paul arrived at the streambed to find it completely dry, but he decided to follow it anyway. Days passed, and the river stayed just as dry, and the thirst induced hallucinations in Paul. Just as he thought he couldn't take it anymore, just as he was ready to die, he saw a man approach him holding a spear, the very same one that had washed away. And behind this man flowed water--crisp and clear, but it never flowed past the man. Paul could not imagine such a thing being reality, and dismissed it as another hallucination, until the water surrounded his toes and the man had his arms around Paul.

The man bent down with a small cup and told Paul to drink. It was the most delicious water he had ever tasted, and at once he felt all his thirst and all his hunger be replaced by something entirely new. It was like a warm glow had taken residence in his chest, and it filled him with a joy that he could not contain, and it spilled out of him as laughter. The man seemed to expect this, as he just smiled at Paul until he was finished, then he told him to drink again. This time the water was cool, and it was sweet like fine wine. In his bliss, it took Paul a while to realize the water level was now above his waist, but he didn't care, the water felt great against his hot skin, and something told him that nothing would happen while the man was standing next to him.

Seeing the water rising still, Paul moved to leave the river, but the man grabbed him by the shoulder and asked him why he was leaving. Isn't this what you were looking for, asked the man. You wanted to find the source of the water; here I am. I am the spring, a well that will never run dry. But Paul didn't understand what the man was saying, and as the water reached his shoulders he began to panic and struggled to the shore.

On the bank of the river, Paul sat down and watched the water levels recede rapidly, until it looked to be at a normal depth, water right up to the edge of the mud. The man sat down next to him and introduced himself as Elijah, then asked Paul who he was. Paul explained how Ruth had given him his name, but he really did not know who he was. Elijah told him that his real name is Michael, and then he asked him where he was. Again Paul, now Michael, said that he did not know, that he woke up with a cut on his forehead and no memory of anything, and then he showed the man his scar. He then explained how Ruth has one just like it.

Elijah told Paul that he was once a part of a kingdom, but was cast out. The scar marked him as a criminal, and to ensure the safety and prosperity of the kingdom Michael had to be removed. He explained that Michael was a murderer, and that Ruth was but a petty thief, trying to provide food for her twin daughters. The law demands that any lawbreaker be cast out, for the protection of the rest of them. And then Elijah explained that Michael and Ruth were not the only ones in the forest, but that there are people all over. In fact, had Michael just allowed himself to see look beyond his own hope of a better life, he would have seen others in the same situation. And sure enough as he looked around he began to see them: men, women, even children, scattered around him, looking as lost as he was.

Michael asked Elijah if the others knew of him. He said that he revealed himself to all, but most were unwilling to see, or had forgotten him and continued on living the way they saw as best. He then handed the spear back to Michael, and asked him if he remembered how he got it. Michael shook his head, and Elijah told him of how he gave it to him back when he first found the pond. But since then Michael had what he needed to live well, and completely forgot even meeting this man before, and so he asked why he doesn't remember Elijah from before. Elijah told him that he reveals himself in many ways, and as Michael was about to die this time, he made himself fully known, with his physical presence.

So what about the others then. Will they find you?

Elijah answered by saying that those who seek him will find him, that Michael was seeking him, even though he did not yet know it. Michael had a hope of something greater than what he had, and this hope brought him to this moment.

Elijah then stood abruptly and began to walk off. Michael asked where he was going, and Elijah stopped and turned around to face him. He told him that a man had usurped the throne, and it was because of this man that had Michael and the others had been thrown out of the kingdom. He said it was time for him to take the throne back for himself, and he told Michael to tell the others that he would be back soon to bring them all home. He tried to protest, but Elijah just walked off slowly.

Michael was stricken. Why had this man come to him to save him, and now had left. And why did he want him back in the kingdom; he was a murderer, surely he deserved this. Michael wrestled with this for a while, when he found no answer, he decided the best thing would simply be to do as he was commanded. So Michael went about meeting these other men and women, sharing the news that this man who had saved his life was coming back. Some of those he told didn't want to talk, others dismissed what he had seen as a delusion from dehydration, but most of those he told wanted to go back to this kingdom they had once been a part of. They formed a small community, and they all helped each other find food and water, build homes, and care after the children.

Weeks passed, then months, and some of them began to doubt that Elijah had really been there, and they left. Then winter came, and food became scarce, and still more left, believing that they could better feed themselves alone. Then the spring rains came and the washed away several homes, ones that had been built on muddy ground as opposed to harder dirt, and even more left. After nearly a year had passed, only a small handful of people remained, but they had faith that this man Elijah was who he said he was and that he was coming back soon. But even greater, they knew that the life they had now in this community was far greater than that which they had before. But they didn't want to keep this community for themselves, they wanted to share it with others, and every once in awhile someone new would join, and they would celebrate and Michael would give them a new name.

But one day, a fire began to spread throughout the forest. It started as a cloud of smoke, and a fear spread through the community and throughout the whole forest. The fire got closer, destroying all in its path and killing many, as they were not quick enough to run from the flames or else had not prepared for this and died of starvation. But the small community had been able to gather plenty of food for themselves and sent out scouts to determine where the fire was so they could avoid it. Together, they were the only ones that survived the fire.

About the time the fire started, Elijah came back and revealed himself to the community. He told them that victory was here, that he had defeated the king and taken the throne back for himself. He told them that they were his chosen people, but he also saw all the food they had gathered and told them that they only had enough food to support themselves; from this time on no one else was permitted to join them. They knew their life wouldn’t last forever, they should have prepared themselves for such a day. And sure enough as the smoke grew thicker many of those who had once been part of the community came back, asking for forgiveness for leaving and wanting back in because they had no more food. But each one was turned away, repeating the words Elijah had left them with.

And when the fire had passed the whole forest lay desolate. The food that had been saved was enough to support the community for many days, and right when they finished their last, Elijah returned once more and told them all to follow him, that he had something incredible to show them. He led them out of the burned forest and into a city that had once been barren. Inside the city were the most beautiful trees and flowers and homes any of them had seen. They were given new clothes, clean and white, and more food than they would ever need. All the people rejoiced at this new place given to them, and Elijah smiled as he told them that this place was made new just for them. He went up to the castle and bowed to the man sitting on the throne. This man was his father, and he said, thank you Father, for giving this place to these people you love. Thank you for using me to redeem these people from the forest, and thank you for their faith in me. And he then sat down at his Father’s right hand, and together, they ruled over this place forever.

The people rejoiced at this life they had been given, though they knew they didn’t deserve it. They were murderers, thieves, prostitutes, some of the most vile people on earth. And yet they had been made new; their past selves forgiven and forgotten, and their new selves created to live in perfect community and joy with the rest. And together, all these people praised their redeemer and his Father, their King, for all eternity.