“That fellow cannot see the forest for the trees!” Have you ever heard those or similar sentiments? The meaning? Well, for some reason people at times can get so focused on the things they see, that they fail to realize how the things they see are intended to fit into a bigger picture. It is as if they get lost in the particulars of a certain thing, and miss its place within the greater purpose.
Take boat people for instance! No, we are not talking about the people who live on boats, but the people who buy them. There are generally two types of people who buy boats. There are those who are dedicated to boating, and those who think it would be cool to have a boat. The occasional boater is the kind of fellow who drives across Buford Dam and looks out to see all the boats out on a sunny day and says, “I have got to get a boat!” You might say of that fellow, “Man, that fellow cannot see the forest for the trees.” In other words, when you buy a boat, you must realize all that is involved in owning them. Not all is glitter and gold! There is a reason why folks say the greatest two days of boat ownership is the day you buy it and the day you sell it.
Another example to consider, have you ever known people who, when looking for someone to date, they are most interested in what is on the outside rather than what is on the inside? This is the kind of person who is more interested in looks than likes. He is more interested in pretty than personality. How often have we heard of marriages failing because those who entered it failed to see God’s bigger forest-plan for marriage? Besides being a little flakey, you might say this kind of person cannot see the forest for the trees.
In Jesus’ day, the tree watcher was the old Pharisee who saw law keeping as paramount—above mercy. For him, as long as you dotted that “i” and crossed that “t,” of law keeping, you were all right in God’s eyes. For him, obedience was the preferred focus of the godly life. While obedience has always been important, the proper motive in so doing has always been paramount. When one sees lawkeeping as an end in and of itself, he could be said to be one who cannot see the forest for the trees.
Perhaps another way of looking at this is from the perspective of how many on the outside of the faith see the Christian life. Many non-Christians see the works of obedience as obstacles that prevent faith. They see religion as a place of do’s and don’ts, where freedoms are removed, giving place to law keeping. These are people who seem to be missing the forest in view of all the trees or ordinances that go along with a relationship with God.
What many fail to realize is that obedience has never been hard for the person who recognizes how blessed they are for all the things God has done for them. The forest of God’s love and mercy bequeaths the obedient spirit. The opportunity for salvation presented to an alien sinner whose soul is doomed to a devil’s hell is truly a blessing beyond compare. It is like the person who has been told that he has stage-four cancer only to find out that there is a guaranteed cure if they would take a certain kind of medicine. Medicine taking takes on a whole new meaning when cure is the end result. Similarly, obeying God who promises heaven through the blood of Jesus is a great thing. Under such circumstances, the trees of keeping the “perfect law of liberty,” (James 1:25) fade into the greater picture of the forest of God’s mercy.
To the work! To the work! We are servants of God!