Select Page

Interpreting Interpreter
A Love for Trees

This post is a summary of the article “Trees and the Love of God” by David M. Belnap and Nalini M. Nadkarni in Volume 60 of Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. All of the Interpreting Interpreter articles may be seen at An introduction to the Interpreting Interpreter series is available at


The Takeaway

Belnap and Nadkarni provide a (nearly exhaustive) exploration of trees, and how their characteristics make them a more-than-appropriate metaphor for the love of God.


The Summary

In this article, David M. Belnap and Nalini M. Nadkarni explore the many characteristics of trees, and how those characteristics allow them to function as a fitting symbol of the love of God as exemplified by the life and sacrifice of Christ. With a tree featuring prominently in Lehi’s dream, along with Alma’s use of the planting of seeds as a metaphor for faith, trees (which they helpfully define) have the following attributes which lend themselves to sacred symbolism within a variety of scriptural texts:

According to the authors, these characteristics allow them to stand as prominent and poetic symbols of righteousness, standing in contrast with the pride of human-built structures, reminding us to put God first in our lives and treat him with love, awe, and reverence. The universal nature of these symbols across cultures can help connect us with other faiths that also treat trees with reverence, such as Buddhistic, Hindu and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Given the many tree types considered sacred in the ancient world, and the many biblical references to sacred trees, the authors conclude:

We can learn valuable correlations by studying ancient meanings of the tree of life and other sacred trees… they are] potent symbols of the love of God and our own spiritual development… Whenever we see a tree or eat fruit or nuts from a tree, we can be reminded of God’s love for us and to choose the Lord’s way above all else.


The Reflection

This article has excellent (and probably intentional) timing given our recent review of Lehi’s dream in this year’s Come Follow Me study, and it reminds me of my own biology professors at BYU, who always showed appropriate awe at the near-miraculous nature of plants and trees. One thing that came to mind during my study over the past couple of weeks is actually something that Belnap and Nadkarni seem to have overlooked. Trees (and other plants) have the remarkable ability to convert things humans can’t make much use of (i.e., light and soil-based nutrients) into things that we can. Fruit sustains in a way that water alone cannot, and as useful as light is, wood from a tree is a lot more versatile in its utility. The way I see it, though God has infinite light and truth, making use of that truth is a lot easier when I have Christ’s concrete example to show me how to apply it. As the authors note, that example and sacrifice can provide me with shelter and comfort from the burning heat of law and justice, and though I can find awe in God’s majesty and power, it’s the fruit of Christ’s gospel that ultimately brings enduring nourishment and joy.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This