Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sky and Earth (part 1): The Tree of Life

The waning leaves of fall inspire mystery. My camera craves to capture these moments, especially when the quaint historic neighborhoods of my home town play backdrop.

Trees haunt when listened to, like an echo of a past image. Sturdy limbs thicken through storms and graciously allow squirrels to bury treasure among the roots. Bark toughens through adversity and blossoms intoxicate the senses. But the glorious ending of a tree’s seasonal cycle fulfills the mission of the tree. Like the last tragedy of an opera or the quiet release of a loved one, the drama of autumn stirs deeply in my heart.

The Tree of Life centered the Garden of Eden in the beginning. It sat in direct contrast to the Tree-of-Knowledge-of-Good-
and-evil, whose fruit represented humans judging God. When thinking of the Genesis account, I often only examine the knowledge tree, greatly aided by my mental picture of the illustrated children’s Bible version of the story. The artist did a clever rendition where a green squiggly snake dangles an apple from the tree for the fashionably fig leaf draped Eve.

But what of the Tree of Life? Surely this center of the Garden reflected eternal life through plunging anchor roots and golden life divine flowing through branches and leaves. The tree stood as God’s heart for humans — relationship and fruitful dependency on eternal substances. One taste of pride and judgment produced banishment. This swift cut off of communion with God was like a loss of deep breath.

The tree of life haunts the prophets in the Old Testament. Those in exile dreamed of the new Jerusalem, God’s city, with rivers of life and a tree of healing. And even though God’s people repeatedly abandoned His love, chose the lust of this world over the Kingdom and rejected His overtures for relationship, God boldly promised and fulfilled the Tree-of-Life mandate.

This tree punctured reality with redemption on the road to Calvary through Jesus. The tree of life was revived by His blood, love and sacrifice. This is why the bruised and battered gentiles will walk in the light of the Holy City.

In the glorious end, the Tree of Life makes a triumphant return.

“Then he showed me the river of the water of life clear as crystal coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb in the middle of the street. On either side of the river was the tree of life bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month, and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse and the throne of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him, they will see His face and His home and His name will be on their foreheads... He will illume them.”
Revelation 22:1-5

Pure flesh and spirit can again fulfill each other, fully recovered from the greatest divorce case in history. The Tree of Life offers unfailing light and truth. Destruction makes way for transformation in the end. That which caused damage will be no more, irradicating all doubts that God’s Kingdom life is a gimmick or another hope that will fail.

This Tree of Life blazes with gold refined by fire, its truth offering healing to all nations and atrocities, and humanity redeemed will never abuse the power of freedom again. The water flowing under its canopy is without cost, covered by grace.

Most of the time I see these images through half open eyes, only sort of registering the transforming power of redemption. God desires to plant us like trees by His river, rooted in His flowing life. And this Revelation song was written during dire crisis, encouraging receivers to look at the Big Picture — Jesus. His love and care are unfailing, ready to sustain when evil is certain.

May autumn leaves stir the eternal strength of the Tree of Life in your heart.

“I often say to myself that, in our religion, God must feel very much alone: for is there anyone besides God who believes in the Salvation of the world? God seeks among us sons and daughters who resemble Him enough, who love the world enough so that He could send them into the world to save it.”
— Louis Evely, In the Christian Spirit

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