Trees of Life

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?


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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