Note: This is a third installment in seeking a deeper knowledge between faith and suffering. It is my belief that faith is often sidelined during suffering due to a weak theology. This is an attempt to strengthen my theology so that my faith will remain strong when I go through suffering. Please refer to the two earlier posts for the definition of suffering, types, and how a proper theology of creation gives us hope in our pain.
In this installment I would like to examine two trees. The Bible is bookended by two trees, but it’s the same tree. In Genesis chapter 2 we learn of the tree of life. “The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground- trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” Genesis 2:9 (NIV 84)
Then in Revelation 22 we see the tree of life once again, but it’s not in the middle of a garden, but the city. “Then the angel showed the river of 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. No longer will there be any curse.” Revelation 22:1-3 (NIV 84)
The tree of life is mentioned sparsely in the scriptures. In Ezekiel 31:1-12, there is mention of a grove of trees that gives by reproducing food and medicine. In Proverbs 3:18 it is associated with wisdom and in 11:30 it says the fruit of the righteous is a tree of life to others. Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” So the tree of life is associated with health, strength, reproduction, and healing.
The tree of life only exists in a world without sin, without the curse. It appears in the garden before Adam and Eve sins and vanishes afterwards. It does not appear again until Jesus has returned and established a new world free of sin.
What I want to point out is we live between the two trees. We do not live before the fall or in the New Jerusalem. We live in a fallen world, a messed up world, a disease infested, and cruel, selfish world.
God could have remained outside of our world, but he didn’t. He is a personal God that cares for us. He sent his Son into this world. Jesus was known as a man of sorrows. When he looks upon us he had gut deep compassion for us. Because of this we know Jesus can sympathize with us. He is not ignorant inexperienced of our suffering. If the cross says anything it screams God cares for you.
This is why I find Jesus words to the disciples just before he died on the cross fascinating. They were troubled and Jesus said to them, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world!” John 16:33 (NIV 84)
When I hear those words I interpret them in light of his crucifixion and resurrection. I always took that to mean that Jesus overcame the world by shedding his blood for our sins and by resurrecting from the dead. Therefore, by our faith in him we achieve the same victory. Because of Christ we look forward to the day we get to see the tree of life in the city of God.
But Jesus said this before he died on the cross. He said a declarative statement. When Jesus says “I have” the Greek there is a perfect active indicative. What does that mean? Perfect means it is a completed action. Indicative means it has been expressed with certainty. And active means an action that has been to done on another.
So when Jesus says, “I have overcome the world” he is saying as of right now, before I go to the cross, before I resurrect from the dead, I have overcome this world. He says this with complete confidence and he says He is giving this confidence, this ability to overcome the world to us. Now.
So Jesus, living in between the trees right along with us, says that we can overcome the world, this sinful, pain stricken, disease filled world, by simply receiving what he gives us.
How? He tells the disciples to “Take heart!” This is a command. This is a directive. Take heart in what? In Christ! We as Christians know the final victory will come. We know the tree of life one day will reappear and the curse will be lifted. We think of our Messiah coming in the future.
But our Messiah had already come and has already inaugurated the triumph over this world. The Kingdom of God, heaven on earth, has already begun to spread across the globe. So, just as Jesus could declare that he had overcome the world before his death and resurrection you can declare you are an overcomer of the world before your death and resurrection, even in the midst of your suffering. You can have the mindset of a victor when you take heart in Christ.
This is why the disciplines of the faith, prayer, meditation, reading God’s word, fasting, church attendance, are so important. It is these disciplines that will help you “take heart” in Christ.