For a while, I’ve had this interest in the tree of life that appears in Genesis. I never really connected it to the pair of trees of life that occur in Revelation. Interpretations of Revelations are so hard to understand, and so divisive, and frankly, in my opinion, have given rise to so much silliness that I probably don’t pay it the attention it deserves.
But it’s a pretty interesting thing, the way it’s described in Revelations”a pure river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, coursing down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were medicine to heal the nations.” (22: 1-2)
I’m open to the possibility that these “trees” aren’t actual trees. There’s certainly lots of fodder for symbolism here. The number 12 seems to represent, through out the Bible, people who are supposed to be doing God’s work in the world. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the Jewish people trace their ancestory through the 12 tribes to the original 12 ancestors. In the New Testament, Jesus has 12 disciples. Through out both testaments, but particularly from Jesus, crops, fruit and the like are also a symbol for mantaining a connection to God.
At the bare minimum, the trees could be understood to mean that Christ-followers are the crop which healed the world.
I think there’s a lot more going on than this.
I’ve been noticing a theme lately. This theme is that the New Earth is what Eden was meant to become. It’s easy for me to think, somehow, that the New Earth is a bit of a consolation prize. Perhaps it’s easier for me to wrap my brain around a God who wants to punish us. Maybe it seems like there are so many things that are just ruined forever and the best we can do is cope with the aftermath. It’s possible that I am not fully adressing how very much God loves us, and how indomimatable his spirit is.
Whatever the reason, it’s not my natural tendency to think that what we will end up with is what was supposed to happen. It’s not easy to recognize that the whole of human history was just this temporary diversion, this speed bump. The more I read and pray and think the more I recognize that God won’t be thwarted. The end that will happen will be the end that was meant to be.
The scriptures give a variety of instructions around offering the first fruits to God and around people not eating the fruit of young trees. I wonder if God started Eden with only one tree of life expecting that it would be left alone. I wonder if he thought that the right naturally processes were underway for the second one to pop up without his direct intervention, the same way that other fruit trees spread. (Fruit falls, is eaten by a wild animal, seed is excreted with a bunch of natural fertilizer from the animal, wind covers the seed, seed grows.)
I can’t say for sure that the reason stated above is the reason we’re told not to eat the fruit of young trees. And of course, the instruction to do this hadn’t been handed down to Adam and Eve. I suppose that the whole point of the fall is that sometimes God isn’t going to give us all the details. If we want to live in harmony with God we need to be o.k. with this. He certainly didn’t owe Adam and Eve and explanation for why they shouldn’t eat from the tree. Genesis says that one reason for this is that they would live forever. Ultimately, it is of course the principal of the thing. But I wonder if there was more. On a pragmatic, and perhaps trivial level, I’m wondering if the issue of original sin was about interfering with God’s forestry plans.
The statement around what the trees can do is pretty interesting stuff to. In Genesis, the tree of life leads to eternal life. In revalations, it leads to healing. These two uses aren’t particularly contradictory. In fact, on the New Earth, we’re already eternal.
This leads to all sorts of questions, some gory, some quite practical, about what that eternal life will be like. We’ll be capeable of getting sick or hurt. Otherwise, the medicines from the tree would be quite irrelevant. But we also live forever… This leads me to wonder what if the fruit wasn’t around? What if we used the whole crop and we had somebody who suffered some sort of horrible accident: an explosion, hideous burn, etc. The New Earth is supposed to be a place where all our tears are wiped away. But I think I’d shed a few tears if I was crushed or blown to pieces or burned all over my body and I had to heal up.
I suppose this is part of a wider question about how it all will work… Can we have excitement without tears? With an eternity that stretches out before us, will we be motivated to do anything?