Oct 26 2011

The Tree of Life

Earlier this week I had to make a trip to Tennessee to preside at a funeral.  The road trip was an enjoyable one because the parkway and interstate I travelled were lined with beautiful trees showing off their fall foliage.  It truly was a marvelous sight to behold.  I found myself offering thanks for trees time and time again.  The trip also caused me to think of the important role trees play in the Bible.

Trees play an important part in many different places in the Scriptures.  This is certainly true in the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis.  In the first account of Creation (chapter 1) fruit bearing trees are created on the third day and after humans are created on the sixth day God says “I give you…every tree that has fruit with seed in it.  They will be yours for food.”  (v. 29)  In the second account of Creation (chapter 2) we read, “And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.”  (v. 9)  After this we are told “In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”  The first humans were prohibited to eat from the latter but in Genesis 3 we read that both Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit and sin became a part of man’s and earth’s story.  Because of the first couple’s rebellion they were expelled from the Garden of Eden.  Genesis 3:24 appears to indicate that one reason for this expulsion was to deny them access to the tree of life.

The “tree of life” reenters the Biblical story in the Book of Revelation.  In the last chapter of the Bible the tree of life is shown to be a part of the New Jerusalem that will come at the end of time.  John writes, “On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month.  And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  No longer will there be any curse.” (22:2-3)  It appears quite significant that the tree of life is part of the story of both “paradise lost” and “paradise found.”

Between the two appearances of the “tree of life” there is another very important tree mentioned.  It, too, might be called the “tree of life” for this is the “tree” upon which Jesus Christ was crucified.  I realize that most people do not associate the cross with a tree but the biblical writers and early Christians certainly did.  First Peter 2:24 says Jesus “himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”  The apostle Paul makes the same association in Galatians 3:13.  The Cross of Calvary is clearly seen to be the tree of life or salvation.

Several years ago Shel Silverstein wrote a delightful book called The Giving Tree.  It’s the story of how a tree gave and gave of itself.  As we look at the role of trees in the Bible it is clear that God really did make them for giving.  They provide us fruit and nuts.  They lend shade for us when it is hot and they also operate as nature’s pollution fighter.  Trees supply wood for buildings and fuel for heat.  They also furnish a feast for the eyes—something made especially manifest in autumn. 

As you get a chance to observe the trees around you I hope you’ll offer thanks to God for the gift of trees.  They truly are life giving.  I also hope you’ll allow the trees you see to remind you of the life giving tree found in the Cross of Jesus and of the “tree of life” that awaits his followers at the end of time.  When it comes to trees, we really do have a lot to be thankful for!


(I took the top and bottom images in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.  The middle picture was taken in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.)

Aug 5 2009

Shall We Gather at the River

Cascade-Creek-009Most people know that the Bible begins with a picture of a beautiful garden.  The opening chapters of the Book of Genesis remind us that God created a wonderful place marked by trees and rivers.  What many Christians are not as aware of is that a similar picture is painted in the very last chapter of the Bible.  I was reminded of this recently when I was in a service where we sang “Shall We Gather at the River.”

This hymn, penned in 1864, has been sung at countless baptisms.  I guess the imagery of water makes that appropriate but the hymn’s writer, Robert Lowry, was not thinking of a baptismal scene at all.  He was envisioning Christians gathering in heaven at “the beautiful river…that flows by the throne of God.”  The biblical basis for this vision is Revelation 22 where John writes:  Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

What a beautiful picture John records!  An unpolluted river—the river of life–flows through the heavenly realm and we find there, as in the original garden, “the tree of life.”  I have studied the Book of Revelation enough to know that the language used is typically symbolic in nature.  For that reason I’m not so sure that we can expect to see in heaven literal streets of gold, pearly gates, or even an actual river.  Still, there is for me something both comforting and encouraging about John’s imagery.  We have obviously made a mess of God’s original creation but here is a vision of creation restored, of a place where things are as God intended for them to be.

Sometimes I imagine heaven looking like the picture that appears above (taken at Yosemite National Park).  But regardless of what we shall actually see, I look forward to that day when we shall gather at the river and worship our Creator and God.  In the meantime, I plan to enjoy the rivers and trees we have here and strive to honor the Lord through my work and photography.