In a World Changed Beyond Recognition: Now What?

This still shot from video doesn't tell the whole story — you don't see how completely the crown of the tree changed the landscape — but it gives you a hint, anyway.

By Tom Gilson Published on January 27, 2023

It was the most disorienting moment I can remember my whole life long. I knew exactly where I was — and yet I was utterly, completely lost. Lost on a trail where getting lost should have been impossible. I was standing in exactly the same place I’d been just five minutes earlier. The park was familiar, the path wide and well marked, so there was no chance I’d gone off the trail. Yet nothing looked right. Nothing even looked familiar.

It should have been easy enough, returning there to the edge of the creek I’d crossed a few minutes earlier, with its water running low enough to reveal a gravelly sort of beach on the other side of water. I’d walked that beach just minutes ago — but it was nowhere in sight. Rangers had placed flat boulders in the creek so hikers could continue on the path across the water. I could still see boulders there, all right, but they led nowhere. There was no path to be seen.

It might have been just a minute or two before I got my bearings, but it seemed longer. Even my sense of time was distorted. I started recovering at last when I connected that strange experience to another one I’d just had. It happened a minute or so after I’d crossed that creek the first time. There had been five or ten seconds of incredibly loud series of snapping, cracking, shooting sounds, as loud as rifle fire, which is exactly what I thought it was.

The Tree Across the Path: Changed Beyond Recognition

Slowly I realized it wasn’t gunfire, it was a tree falling. I looked again — with different eyes this time, you might say — and this time I saw it. It was about 12 to 16 inches across at the base, and it had been standing just five feet off the path. Now it lay right across the trail, with its crown completely covering that gravelly beach.

I have no idea what caused it to fall. Obviously I’m glad I wasn’t there at the exact moment it happened. I might have been able to jump out of its way. I don’t know. As loud as it was, I almost wonder if I’d have had ear damage anyway.

I shimmied my way over that fallen tree trunk and continued on the path back to the trailhead. Somehow, though nothing else had changed, the whole walk seemed strange after that. I thought, “This is what it’s like when your world changes in an instant.”

Our Whole World Has Changed Beyond Recognition

Something a lot bigger than that tree has fallen across the world we all live in. We thought we knew where we were, and in a way we still do, except now everything has turned unrecognizable on us.

I thought I was living in a free country, where church attendance could never be made illegal, where elections could be trusted, where restaurants wouldn’t evict diners for talking about their faith, where “science” couldn’t possibly be confused about how many sexes there are. Above all I never thought that sexual libertinism would ascend from the status of a sin, to a “lifestyle” to be tolerated, then to a choice to be celebrated, and now finally a right that far outweighs free speech or religious freedom.

That tree in the woods fell in a mere moment, and suddenly nothing looked the same there. These societal changes happened in mere moments, too, historically speaking, and now for anyone born in my generation, nothing anywhere looks the same. The disorientation I felt on that path is nothing by comparison. We’re living in world I can hardly begin to recognize.

Almost scarier than that is the fact that for Gen-X, Gen-Z, and probably some Millennials, this is normal. They know their way in the forest, but they have no idea what their home should look like.

Home Isn’t What It Used to Be

If we think now that our home should look the way it used to, we’re setting ourselves up for a hard brush against reality. I was able to climb over the tree trunk and find my way back out of the woods and back home again, but here my parallelism with life today begins to run out of steam. I’m not saying there’s no way out of these socio-cultural woods. I am saying that the trees are crashing down everywhere around us, and just about every conceivable pathway is getting crushed underneath.

I don’t expect we’ll ever find a “home” now that looks the way it used to look. I’m not entirely sure we’ll even make it out of the forest. Realistically, we’re going to have to find a new place for ourselves, right here in the middle of these dark and eerie woods. With more trees falling around us every day.

So if you feel disoriented and lost, it’s probably not because your navigation has gone awry. Far more likely it’s because the landscape has changed around you. And no one is going to wrest things back into familiar shape any time soon, so you’d better find a way to live where you are.

I know it can feel like you’re settling into a tent in the dark forest, when you’d rather be back at your nice house on your quiet street. So be it. If we have to change our expectations, then we’d better change them. Better to live in reality than in a dream of a world that is no more.

It’s Still About Hope

This is no counsel of despair, though. What we used to call “home” may not be so easy to find. It may not even be there anymore, but that was never really home anyway. Hebrews 11 tells us of Abraham dwelling in tents, seeking a new country by faith, waiting “for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” The same chapter speaks of men and women “of whom the world was not worthy,” who “wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.” The key is in verses 13-16:

[They] confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, because He has prepared a city for them.

That familiar world we yearn for — the world that will never again be the way it once was — was never our home anyway. That’s okay. If others could live in deserts and mountains, we can live in the woods.

What Now?

We’re not just surviving here, though. We’re not even out camping in the woods, fun as that might seem to some of us (for a while, anyway). Those same saints in Hebrews 11 made a difference in the world. Their pursuit of God and their world-changing ways were often the actual reason they were bivouacking out in the dens and the caves. They “obtained a good testimony through faith” for it (Heb. 11:39). We have even more than they did. In Christ we have the fulfillment of the great promise they could only look forward to.

So how do we live in this strange new world? Some of us are ready for that question. If you are, you’re undoubtedly working on it already. But I’m more concerned right now for those who haven’t yet come to grips with the disorientation. I’m talking to those who want to go back to your old comfortable home, a free and sane world like the one you once knew. Or maybe you wish you knew what that kind of comfortable home might look like.

Please Support The Stream: Equipping Christians to Think Clearly About the Political, Economic, and Moral Issues of Our Day.

Some would say there never was any such home, due to an ugly history of American injustices. Some of that “injustice” is the falsely amplified noise of trees crashing around us, but not all of it. There’s plenty of debate to be had elsewhere over how much is true and how much isn’t. Either way, it’s still looking backward to a world that is no more.

Seek God. And Rescue Someone Along the Way.

The one thing we all must do is to quit looking back that way. Not one of us will find a path back to the home we thought left behind.

We can working on clearing out damaged pathways, and we certainly should. We must do it together: Community is crucial in these days. But we also need to accept the fact that some of this change is for keeps. We need not accept it as right or good, but we must accept it as real. It will free us to start seeking the right path, the one that leads you to our true home, the way that has always been the right way to go.

Perhaps you can see that more clearly now. And when you hear another tree starting to fall, repair what you can of it. Rescue someone out from under it. And bring them home with you.


Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the highly acclaimed Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Like the article? Share it with your friends! And use our social media pages to join or start the conversation! Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, MeWe and Gab.

Military Photo of the Day: Stealth Bomber Fuel
Tom Sileo
More from The Stream
Connect with Us