At the center of Earth’s creation stands a tree. Picture the opening credits of a movie with me. The camera begins by panning up the gnarled tree trunk as the golden light of dawn begins to cloak the tree branches and the orchestra music swells. At the center of Earth’s opening act, there is a tree.
When the movie closes in Revelation, the camera focuses once more on a great gnarled tree sitting in the center of the final camera shot and then fades to black. When the movie closes (with a new beginning,) there is a tree as the centerpiece.
If the story told in the Bible begins with a tree at its center in Genesis 2, and ends with a tree at its center in Revelation 22, then we live between the trees.
In order to examine the concept of living between the trees, we’ll need to examine the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation and focus on the nature of reality, particularly as it relates to the space-time continuum. We’ll start off by taking a look at Genesis Chapter 2. Genesis is a book of origins, exploring the creation of the universe and the interactions between God and his first creatures.
One of the most fascinating things that occurs in Genesis 2 is that God gives man meaningful labor and tasks. The first job given to man is to name the animals. Up until this point, God has been infinitely creative and able to take care of everything on his own. I assume God would do just fine naming the animals on his own, but He decides to turn the task of naming animals over to man, and this interaction must have been interesting, to say the very least.
I picture God bringing in the animals and Adam kind of scratching his head and saying, “ummmm….hippopotamus.” And God kind of shrugs and looks at the angels, who just shrug and look back.
Then the next animal comes in and Adam says, “uhhhh, duckbilled platypus.” And God just shrugs and looks at the angels again, and the process continues.
By the end of the process Adam is just completely spent and his creative juices are tapped out. An animal comes in and Adam says, “uhhh, Dog.” And God says, “wait, that’s my name backwards!”
In any case, we see this pattern of God turning over meaningful tasks to his people, and partnering with them in creativity. Apparently since the beginning of time, God has been searching for people who desire to work with him to arrange and cultivate and help make the world the way God intended it to be.
Genesis continues with God causing the man to fall into a deep sleep (not too difficult), and creating woman. What’s interesting is that the creation of man gets one verse, whereas the creation of woman gets six verses. I assume this is because women are much more complex, intricate, and beautiful creatures then men, can I get an Amen? The interaction between men and women is described as the man being weak where the woman is strong, and strong where the woman is weak and vice versa. It also states that the man and woman are naked, and to the Hebrew mind this means much more than their lack of clothing. It shows that they are intimately, deeply connected with one another in an unconditional love relationship.
At the center of the story in Genesis 2, there is a tree.
If you turn to the end of the Bible in Revelation 22, the writer is telling us what will happen one day, and he states that God will make all things new. So the end of the story is kind of a strange new beginning. This story also focuses on God partnering with people to arrange, cultivate and manage the world, and in the middle of this story (Revelation 22), there is a tree.
At both the beginning and ending of the story, we see human beings and God partnering in meaningful labor. The world is full of wholeness and health, and everything is good.
If we’re currently living in the space between the trees, there are a number of fascinating questions, and questions behind the questions, we should ask.
First, we need to talk about time for a moment. The Bible continually portrays God as existing infinitely into the past, and infinitely into the future. This realm between the trees is temporary, it’s not how things were at the beginning, and it’s not how things will be after “the end.” This realm is temporary at best.
Our time system is set up on 24 hour days (sun rising and setting), 30-31 day months (based on lunar cycle of moon and its relationship to earth), and 365 day years (earth’s revolution around the sun). All of our notions of time are intimately connected with celestial bodies, which Genesis claims that God made at the beginning. Revelation says at the end there will be no more need for the sun or the moon because God himself will be their light. So we measure time generally as a half-dimensional linear function, and the current way we measure time is a momentary invention in the history of time, however that works.
When you are doing things you love the most, it usually seems like time moves fast. You find that several hours disappear in what seems like seconds. And the things that bore you the most, the time seems to slow down. Why is it that we experience time like this? Maybe these moments we love most are glimpses of eternity, and glimpses of forever. Will we be spending forever doing the things we love most?
My struggle is that I’m always moving too fast, and when I’m somewhere, I’m focused on being somewhere else. We are constantly so busy and caught up with work, school, etc. that we sometimes aren’t fully present with those around us.
When a Jewish Sage named Yeshua (Jesus) comes onto the scene in first century Israel, his understanding of reality and eternity is that eternal life begins right now. He teaches in parables about people who do good work with little responsibility, and in turn are given greater responsibility later on down the road. So it appears that the work we do here in this life has implications for what we will do forever. I myself hope that I get to teach and learn forever. There is a sense in some religions that when you die you will somehow know everything, but this might not be the case because if you knew everything you would be God, and have to tell him, “move over you’re in my seat,” and that might not work out too well. I imagine that eternity will be a time spent in constant learning and creativity with the people we love.
And maybe there is a single mom who’s just killing herself, has been deserted and feels like there is no hope. Maybe she wakes up every morning and doesn’t give up, and continues to fight to provide for herself and her child. Perhaps when she dies, God says, “it was awful down there and you were true and you were faithful, and given the worst circumstances, you never gave up hope and continued to do your best. You’re the kind of person I can trust with more, because with what you were given, you’ve shown you can be faithful with more.”
When people talk about miracles, they sometimes feel that a miracle is an invasion of something from another world or dimension into this world. But if wholeness and health were how things always were at the beginning in Genesis, and how they always will be at the ending in Revelation and into the future, maybe brokenness and suffering are an invasion of something else into this world? Maybe a miracle or something miraculous is an invasion of how things really are!
In this world God has allowed people to either choose to live the way he instructed, or choose not to. If He had forced people to love him, he would essentially be some type of divine stalker. In this world, God has given people their own range of effective will to act in.
God creates human beings because the very nature of love is joy and sharing that love with others. That’s why when you see a beautiful newborn baby you turn to someone else and say, “isn’t he/she beautiful?” Most people do this because they want to share your joy with the next person.
Some religious systems are based around a concept of hoping and waiting for another life. For me, I need a God who is right now, and teaches me how to live the best possible way in this life. Jesus seems to say over and over again, “change your life, live this way.” In the Torah (first five books of the Bible), people are continually given the opportunity to “choose life,” and live in the way God desires them to live.
Some people ask, “Where is God?” A better question is “Where Isn’t God?” His fingerprints appear to be all over this world, or maybe it’s His world and our fingerprints are on it. As Rob Bell once stated, “We live between the trees in a world that is drenched in God.” Is there anyone or anything you find beautiful or captivating in life? What is the source of that beauty and wonder?
The great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel points out that the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures were the first ever people to have a sense for the sublime. Sublime is defined as “of such excellence, grandeur or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe.”
There is an ancient Jewish saying that one’s good deeds were used to “plant the very trees of Eden.” My hope is that we will join each other in meaningful work to reshape, repair, and restore a broken world and plant the very trees of paradise together.
*** The content for this post came through notes I took when Rob Bell gave a message at Willow Creek Community Church in 2003, my readings of rabbinic literature, and my time studying in Israel, both at Jerusalem University College, and on a faith lessons tour through Turkey and Israel with Reverend Ray Vanderlaan, the creator of the Focus on the Family video series, “Faith Lessons.” For a great condensed version of this concept, take a look at Rob Bell’s Nooma video, “Trees.”