I’m not a gardener. I like a good garden (which might take any number of forms – a formal garden with sculpted shrubs, a natural-looking haven for wildlife, or even a simple expanse of lawn where children can run and play), and I even like being out in the sunshine with secateurs, shears, spade or trowel. But I’m not a gardener. Other things tend to draw my attention first (e.g. making music).
Recently I was introduced to something that surprised me, though proper gardeners will almost certainly be familiar with this kind of thing; an orange tree which fruits at the same time as blossoming. It was a beautiful sight to behold. First of all the deep, but slightly varied shades of green in the leaves formed the perfect foil for the vibrant orange fruits just developing in the sunshine. Then there were the smaller fruits, still green in colour, dotted around the plant. And finally, the blossom still everywhere present; flowers producing a sweet and gentle fragrance which permeated the whole conservatory and which would, in turn, develop into fruit themselves as the petals faded and fell. Fruit and blossom present on the tree at the same time; I’d never heard of such a thing. (Told you I’m not a gardener!)
The very fact that I’m writing about it probably gives you an indication of how much of a surprise it was to me; though I have to confess I am one who likes to share good news and positive experiences when I come across them. Fruit and blossom all at once; this did seem to me to be a very good thing – a tree which produces fruit for a long season rather than all at once.
And so it reminded me of heaven. The Bible uses a variety of images in its description of heaven, all of them entirely positive and attractive. One of them is the presence of the Tree of Life. We first encounter the Tree of Life in the opening chapters of the Bible; it stands at the centre of the Garden of Eden (literally the “Garden of Delight”) where God placed Adam. After Adam’s decision to reject God’s rule and try to run things his own way, God banishes him from Eden to prevent him eating from the Tree of Life and living forever. Adam’s rebellion brings the consequence of death.
The Bible explains that Adam’s experience is also ours – like him, we live in exile from the perfection of Eden, cut off from eternal life in God’s loving presence by our own sin. But there is hope. We discover that the Tree of Life still thrives. The book of Revelation paints a picture of heaven in which the Tree of Life stands somehow on both banks of the river of the crystal clear water of life which flows from the very throne of God. We read that the tree has twelve kinds of fruit and yields its fruit each month. Each month! Not once a year, but continually! Even more than the orange tree I was shown, here is an image of abundance which resonates so well with the other things the Bible teaches us about the character of God; in His presence there is abundant life. So how do we lay hold of this for ourselves? It’s all about Jesus, who described His own life’s purpose by saying, “I have come that they might have life; life in all its fullness.” (John 10:10) Will we come to Him?