Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
In this mind-bending vision of God’s good future (Revelation 21:1 to 22:7) John the Seer speaks about the river of the water of life, cascading from the throne of God and the Lamb, right smack-dab through the middle of a heaven-on-earth city. Rekindling the vision of Ezekiel 47, John reminds us that wherever this sacred river flows, every living creature flourishes. On each side of the river is the tree of life, with twelve kinds of fruit, one for each month, sustenance all year long. No more hunger or famine. No more worry about if or when you will get the next meal.
"...wherever this sacred river flows, every living creature flourishes."
Can we even begin to imagine what this would be like? No more trees felled to make battering rams to lay violent siege to medieval cities. No more trees cut to make sailing masts for colonial slave ships. No more trees pulped to make paper propaganda to fuel the fires of ethnic cleansing and human hate.
In sharp contrast, this tree brings healing and wholeness to all. Medicinal uses of biochemical compounds extracted from leaves or bark. Beautiful wood used to make melodious guitars and sturdy garden hoes. Generous forest canopies that provide us shade and offer homes to warblers and bromeliads and tree frogs. Sinuous streams and life-filled lakes that provide habitats for crabs and trout and loons. The leaves of this tree are for the healing of the nations and the good of all creation.
An essential aspect of our faith is hope. And an integral feature of hope is imagining a good future. May this rarely read but powerful text infuse our imaginations with an earthy and earthly vision of all things as God intends them to be. Shalom. The reign of God. Creation justice.
Steven Bouma-Prediger (PhD, University of Chicago) is Leonard and Marjorie Maas Professor of Reformed Theology at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. He also oversees the Environmental Studies minor and chairs the Campus Sustainability Advisory Committee. In addition, Bouma-Prediger is adjunct professor of theology and ethics at Western Theological Seminary. He is the author or coauthor of numerous books, including For the Beauty of the Earth, is a former board member of the Au Sable Institute, and regularly writes and speaks on environmental issues.