A number of years ago, I was told I had the “theology of a treehugger.” This was not said in a kind tone. So, I read through the Bible, to see what God had to say about trees. It turns out that, except for humans, trees are the most frequently mentioned living thing in the Bible.
In the first chapters of Genesis, we see a relationship that will continue throughout the pages of history: God, humans, and trees. In Genesis, we learn that trees have a purpose beyond prosaic utilitarianism. They are “pleasant to the sight.” Trees are beautiful—it is a biblical truth.
Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and omega is the last. If something is an Alpha and Omega in the Bible, it is worth paying attention to. This is the case with trees. We have encountered the Alpha of trees—the Tree of Life—in Genesis and the Omega tree in Revelation 22: 1-2.
Noah is handed an olive branch. Abraham meets angels and the Lord while sitting in the shade of oaks. Isaac is spurred by a sheep caught in branches. Joseph is a fruitful tree. Moses hears God in a bush, parts the sea with a stick (Genesis 49:22), and makes the waters of Marah drinkable with bark (Ex 15:24).
What of you and I? What if we find favor in the eyes of the Lord? Then we will be “like trees planted by streams of water.” (Psalm 1) Wisdom too is “a tree of life to those who lay hold of her. (Proverbs 3:18)
Considering the importance of trees to us, and to God, it is not by chance that the most important events in the Bible are framed by trees. Jesus is one of only two named carpenters in the Bible. He describes the kingdom of heaven as a mustard tree that grows into a tree where birds can nest. He is the true vine and describes his followers as fruit bearing orchards. Palm leaves are spread before him. In the end, he will stretch out his strong calloused carpenter’s hand and die on a tree.
When Jesus of Nazareth arose from his grave, the first person to see him was Mary of Magdala. It is no accident that at first she mistook him for the gardener. Jesus is the gardener, arisen to redeem all of creation.
Christ the gardener has returned. This is the good news: God’s plan for redemption of the earth is no less bold or powerful than his original, creative one. The difference is that although we were not part of his original creative team, we are invited onto the redemptive one.
A “treehugger theology?” You bet. I hug trees for Jesus, because He died on a tree for me.
Adapted from Matthew Sleeth’s Introduction to The Green Bible (HarperOne).
Dr. Sleeth is the executive director of Blessed Earth