Jesus is Coming, So Go Plant a Tree!

Jesus is Coming, So Go Plant a Tree! June 16, 2014

What one believes about the future — kingdom, heaven, utopia — determines how one lives now. What one believes, say, about heaven and kingdom determines what one believes and does when it comes to ecology. Yes, ecology. Perhaps I could say it this way: Your backyard or garden reveals your eschatology. N.T. Wright, in Surprised by Scripture has an essay called “Jesus is coming — plant a tree!” There is a lot less about ecology in this chp than about eschatology, and we hear some well-worn paths by Tom, but he’s spot-on when it comes to connecting eschatology to ecology.

He sees two strong types, one at each end, stereotypes if you will — exaggerations if you’d like. At one end are those who think this world is bad or that it will be destroyed and annihilated and who therefore see little reason to work at this world and for whom the tree in the backyard matters little — except for the shade it might give while one ponders eternal subjects. At the other end, the postmillennialists, think the Christians’ efforts will evolve or ushering into the kingdom of God itself. For that reason alone they ought to be hard at work in this world, planting trees in fact, because all we do leads to what will be done in heaven.

At this point NT Wright moves into his narrative theology about how the Bible’s big themes work: and he finds Romans 8:12-27 to be crucial for understanding the relationship of eschatology to ecology, and so I’ll provide the whole passage for your reading:

Rom. 8:12    Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

Rom. 8:14    For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Rom. 8:18    I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

Rom. 8:22    We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Rom. 8:26    In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

His major conclusion is that God’s design all along has been a creation bringing glory to God and filled with his presence and governed under God by his Eikons, image-bearing humans. Which means that he thinks too much soteriology short-sells the whole: Yes, we need to be saved; Yes, we are saved by Christ; but Why? So we can bring glory to God as God’s Eikons ruling creation on God’s behalf.

Furthermore, the death, burial, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus has ushered in new creation. If new creation is ushered in, and if God’s design is the redemption of all creation, then new creation people are to be about living now into that new and redemptive creation.  Groaning comes from the world, the church, and the Spirit — the same reason for groaning: for all creation to be liberated from its slavery and for it to be liberated for the children of God. [I don’t think Wright has enough ecclesiology at work in his eschatological visions.]

The inheritance promised to us is not personal salvation, not heaven, and not Palestine but the whole creation.

The Second Coming is when Christ returns to establish that final rule when all creation is liberated, not when we will be taken from the scene.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Andrew Dowling

    Wright is right on here, although your view of eschatology shouldn’t even really matter. Even if you thought the world was going to end next week, why not work to relieve suffering and destruction before that happens? Not doing that is just being a selfish jerk.

  • Marc

    I bump into this “the world is going to be destroyed anyway” thing quite regularly, particularly (to my surprise) among our youth. I find it quite frustrating, I’m not quite sure how to address this issue gently without sounding so extreme that I’m simply tuned out… (and the relevant 2 Peter passage is not so easily dismissed as a passage in favour of destruction as Wright seems to try to do, as much is it’s clear that there are many more passages that show the value of creation).

  • Norman

    Well I agree with Wrights application but his theology of getting there is convoluted IMO. I don’t think he’s really grasping the Jewish mindset of the New Creation as envisioned by the earliest first century Christians. The breaking in of the New Creation as established by Christ is a new mode of relational existence with God not physical changes that so many YEC and Postmillennialist envision.

  • scotmcknight

    The solution to this one is the body of Jesus: pre resurrection and post resurrection. That becomes the model for our bodies and for resurrection life in the kingdom and this world’s redemption. Continuity into transformed reality of what we already know.

  • attytjj466

    Yes, what one believes about the future impacts (not determines) how one lives now. But is not the question really: how best to leverage whatever time and resources that we each have available to us (both on personal level as well as corporate Church level) to bring glory to God and participate in the liberating of people and creation from the bondage and suffering of sin? We can plant a tree, or a 1000 trees, but if some big corporation controlled by godless leaders are at the same time cutting down 1 million trees a day, then maybe we need to direct our efforts and focus in another direction (like trying to reach and evangelize those corporate leaders, or change laws, etc.) That is just one example, but it illustrates why Christians of good intention can and do go about what Wright is calling for here in different ways. I think God can give us different burdens and visions of how to best be those eikons and how to best bring glory to God, and liberate people and creation. Rather than judging what another is doing, I would say: Ok, pursue and do what God has put in your heart to do, with all your might, with integrity, and with the purest intention possible. But is not the real problem here the many Christians (far too many, from both theological sides of the above continuum), who are really only concerned and interested in building their own kingdom here and now, and fulfilling their own will and desires. That is the kind of mindset that really determines how many live now.

  • Robby Waddell

    a haiku

    When the lord returns
    To celebrate joy complete
    I will plant a tree

  • David

    I’ve found the following two talks on 2 Peter helpful:

    “Noah and the End of the World” by Michael D. Williams https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDCqBl6jTYk

    “Burn Up or Melt Down? The Future of the Cosmos According to Peter” by Al Wolters
    http://www.wysocs.org.uk/lifematters/downloads/WY235-Wolters.mp3

  • Not to sidetrack the conversation, but I’ve been meditating on the biblical symbolism of childbirth as a metaphor for trauma. Romans 8 plays a central role in the metanarrative of cosmic childbirth, all of creation going through the agonizing process of “producing” the new. I suppose that raises the question of whether the old will have to die to bring forth the new (as Rachel did in giving birth to Benjamin) or if there will be more continuity than that, as “the woman being saved through childbearing” seems to indicate. Any thoughts or extensions?

  • Andrew Dowling

    How does “relational existence” not in turn affect the physical world?

  • Norman

    Andrew, as I said up front, I agree with Wrights application. Just like to point out inconsistent logic when I see aspects of it that can detract from ones approach. Since I’m a full Preterist I obviously have a high degree of regard for being good stewards of the earth. Since I don’t believe Christ is returning for a do over or to destroy the earth or turn the animals away from eating each other then we have better get our act together because the good earth is our stewardship and may have to sustain us for untold eons.

  • waltydog

    Surely NT Wright must believe that his idea of Jesus’s second coming is not always the same thinking of other Christian’s idea of Jesus’ second coming. Therefore if NT Wright believes he is truly correct, he or others who think that way must not think bad of other Christians who think differently on this matter. In fact Jesus was resurrected in a such a different type of body in which He still has to this day, so different a body that He could walk through material doors and appear and disappear in such a way that what we know as “material matter” is not at all what might be when we Christians are resurrected (1 Cor 15). NT Wright might think that when Jesus returns, trees and such will be what he thinks they are today but that is just his and some others ideas but that doesn’t mean it is what actually will be.

  • waltydog

    Andrew, is your comment ” Not doing that is just being a selfish jerk” meant for Christians who don’t see your point of view?

  • Phil Miller

    In The Resurrection of the Son of God, Wright talks about there being a continuity and a discontinuity in Jesus’ resurrected body. Certainly it was different in the ways you mention, but there was also a similarity. He was both unrecognized and recognized by people. He walked through walls, but He also is depicted eating. The point is, I think, that His body was still physical even if it was a different type of physicality.

    As far as other Christian’s ideas of the second coming, I’d say that most people who are NT scholars are more in line with Wright’s ideas. As far as popular thinking, people have a lot of ill informed and plain wrong ideas. We should appreciate people like Wright for giving the Church resources in trying to correct these.

  • Andrew Dowling

    It’s meant for anyone who uses some sort of apocalyptic theology to discount environmental stewardship, be they Christian or not.

  • waltydog

    Phil, and the same can be said for Augustine, Calvin, Luther and J. Edwards in which they gave the church resources in trying to correct other ideas.

  • waltydog

    Andrew, so what you said is meant for those more concerned about spreading the gospel (Matt 28:19,20) than paying attention to the environment.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Loving the Earth and its creatures is following Jesus’s command to love God and neighbor. To juxtapose that against the ‘Gospel’ is foolishness.

  • waltydog

    Andrew, I’m sure true Christians have the love of God in them to be gentle towards all of creation, but what comes first and of more importance? Should planting of trees overshadow or be equal to the dispersing of the gospel according to the command of Jesus, our God, Lord and Savior (Matt28:19,20)? I have no Scripture commanding me to make equal, the importance of spreading the gospel and ecology. If Jesus says for Christians to “hate” mother and father (i.e. make more of importance towards others who might instead obey the gospel), then I believe that ecology comes underneath spreading the gospel and doesn’t equal the spreading of the gospel. Do you see that?

  • Phil Miller

    I’m not sure what you’re getting at, really. What I’m saying is that the ideas Wright is presenting are perfectly orthodox, and are in line with the historic Christian thinking about eschatology. Those who talk about the earth in the sense that “it’s all gonna burn” are a historical anomaly.

    Here’s an exert on what John Calvin had to say regarding eschatology.

    God will restoreto a perfect state the world, now fallen, together with mankind. But what that perfection will be, as to beasts as well as plants and metals, it is not meet nor right in us to inquire more curiously; for the chief effect of corruption is decay. Some subtle men, but hardly sober-minded, inquire whether all kinds of animals will be immortal; but if reins be given to speculation where will they at length lead us? Let us then be content with this simple doctrine,– that such will be the constitution and the complete order of things, that nothing will be deformed or fading (Comm. Rom. 305).

    I really think that our eschatology flows from our soteriology. The issue is that many people have tried to make the message of the NT all about “personal salvation”, and while not a completely foreign concept to Scripture, it definitely isn’t the focus. The focus is the Kingdom of God expressed as Christ’s rule and reign. So if we get that wrong, we’ll get a lot of other stuff wrong along the way.

  • waltydog

    Phil, I think what you posted about what Calvin wrote is more true than what NT Wright writes. If creation as we know it is “fallen” i.e. not what it is suppose but has the appearance of constant decay, than planting a tree is really not what a tree would be like before the fall, if you understand what things could have been like before the fall. Is God boxed in where He can only use in the “New World Creation” what exists today in the fallen world? As Calvin wrote – ” Let us then be content with this simple doctrine,– that such will be the constitution and the complete order of things, that nothing will be deformed or fading (Comm. Rom. 305).”…. What will be in the “New World Creation” is a surprise for all of us resurrected beings. If all living things in the world since the fall have the appearance of getting older which is “decay”, then in the New World Creation, things will be of appearance of never ever getting older which is a spiritual look, not the same look as material things are today, something we cannot really understand but only guess about.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Why do you keep juxtaposing the two? Jesus proclaimed the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, which has many components, including caring for creation. Your constructed hierarchy is like saying those who run soup kitchens should pack up shop and go to China to get more Christian “converts” . . .

  • Phil Miller

    I read that Calvin quote almost opposite the way you’re reading it. He’s saying that we can be assured that Creation will be renewed without being deformed or fading, so we shouldn’t speculate beyond that. What I take that to mean is that we shouldn’t expect a renewed Creation to look so different than the existing one that it will be unrecognizable.

    I think the point is, and to get back to what Wright is saying, is that the good we do now on the earth matters to God. It will somehow be remembered and kept by God in the future.

  • waltydog

    Andrew, Actually, running soup kitchens and converting people in China is obeying the Lord’s commandment in Matt 28:19,20. There is nothing saying that ecology is equal to or above that commandment. Let’s say that a person who is on their death bed calls you to talk about the gospel of Jesus Christ. He lives 5 miles from your house, but you notice that the flowers in your garden might die that same day because of a month long severe drought. It would take you the same amount of time to get water from the river, 2.5 miles away, to water the flowers so they might not die or the same amount of time to go and share the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to that person who wants to hear it before he or she dies. Of the two situations, which one is of more importance and will a true Christian do first? I don’t know of any true Christian or have heard of any true Christian who doesn’t care about God’s creation, but there are priorities.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Wow, because that’s such a realistic strawman you just constructed . . .

    Ecology affects human life. You can’t separate ecology and human well being into two neat and tidy compartments. Environmental destruction has contributed to droughts and floods which kill hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed the livelihoods of countless others.

  • waltydog

    Phil, You do know a tree that is a day old has already stated to decay. Does that mean in the “New World Creation” God will use something to look like that it has already started to decay?…..something to think about. I do understand and believe what you said ” the good we do now on the earth matters to God. It will somehow be remembered and kept by God in the future.”(end quote)…..I don’t know of any true Christian or have heard of any true Christian who doesn’t care about God’s creation, but there are priorities.

  • waltydog

    Andrew, I have given you an example of “priorities” concerning your argument. Would you save the dog or the child “first” from a burning home? Do you know of any true Christian who would rather, as a priority from their heart, preach ecology above and beyond the gospel?

  • Andrew Dowling

    They are not disconnected. One can be an ardent environmentalist and preach the Gospel and yes, in your ridiculous strawman hypothetical, if there was a dog or their child in a burning home, they’d go for the child . .so what? In the real world you don’t choose between only loving X or loving Y. You can love both. But you seem to be more intent on driving a wedge due to your own ideological biases.

  • waltydog

    Andrew, Nothing in God’s creation should be disconnected, but there are priorities in God’s creation. It would be a false assumption on your part that true Christians such as myself do not care about ecology. I have one of the most beautiful walking gardens in the neighborhood, where I let rabbits, chipmunks and a plethora of different birds have they way even when they eat out of my vegetable garden. I love nature as you can see at viewbug.com under the name waltydog or on my facebook page Walter Vogt from Schaghticoke, NY. But, being a true Christian, I cannot put ecology above humanity. God’s number one priority is where MAN is above and in charge of all things created(Gen 1-3). Priorities take precedent in God’s creation as Jesus taught when he withered a fig tree, not because it didn’t produce fruit, but because it produced bad fruit. He didn’t save that tree. There are priorities in God’s creation….side note – I have no idea when you say saving a child first before saving a dog from a burning building is a “ridiculous straw man hypothetical”. There have been many, many instances when that has occurred, that’s just God given common sense.

  • Andrew Dowling

    I don’t know what to say other than people can have multiple priorities. We are part of ecology . . you can’t separate ecology from humanity. Human beings don’t exist without a healthy planet to inhabit. You are trying to create false dilemmas.

  • waltydog

    Andrew, Actually I am living by what God said in Genesis – “Then God said. ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth”. Gen 1:26……Dominion doesn’t mean to be equal to but to be in charge of something. All men are created equal, but not all nature is created equal to man. This does not mean man isn’t to care about nature, but that man takes priority over nature because God gave dominion to man over and above nature. There is only one item in God’s creation that is made in the likeness of God, and that is MAN. Nature is not made in the likeness of God, but MAN is. Just as God is above man, so man is above nature. That is the priority given by God. Man is to take care of nature all the while man is “above” nature in God’s eyes. Man and nature are not equal in God’s mind.

  • Phil Miller

    Humans and nature aren’t completely discrete things. Mankind is part of nature and nature is part of mankind. The natural environment can have a profound effect on our ability to thrive and to live the kind of lives we were created for. There are all sorts of examples of humanity trying to ignore this connection, and usually it is the “least of these” who suffer the most when this happens. And it seems to me that Jesus had quite a lot to say about how we treat our neighbor.

    I’m not saying it’s impossible for some people to take it too far. There are people who actually worship nature in a sense. They, ironically, make the same mistake as some Christians do. They see humanity as something foreign to nature, as an invasive species, almost. The balance is in recognizing that the “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”

  • waltydog

    Phil, I agree with what you wrote. But what comes to my mind is did God create the earth for Man to live in it this way i.e. in the fallen world or did He create the earth for Man to live in it pre-fall? I see the reason why Jesus came to earth was to bring Man back to what the earth was before the fall came. The earth since the fall is full of sin, decay, and death. Jesus came to destroy “sin, decay and death” and one day the resurrected will live forever in what is “God’s Earth” i.e the Kingdom of God.

  • Andrew Dowling

    So how is any of what you said addressing Phil’s comment?

  • waltydog

    Andrew,
    We know that the earth is the Lord’s just by the fact that He created it, this is what we know from Scripture. And we know from Scripture that there was a FALL caused by sin.And then to say that disease that is now in the earth that causes decay and death because of the FALL, is part of God’s intentional desire would be a false statement. For example – what did the trees in the Garden of Eden look like before sin entered the world, sin which causes decay? Did they look like trees in our world? Or were they something man has never before experienced except by Adam and Eve? Could they have been something spiritual in nature? Remember, every living thing in creation since the FALL is under the rule of “decay and death”. A tree today that is one day old and what it looks like to us has already started to decay. It might take 120 years for that tree to die, but since it’s first day it started to decay. What the tree looks like, i.e. how we see a tree, the age old bark and limbs etc. was because of decay. Should we say that what we see in our earth today was just like what Adam and Eve saw in the world before the FALL….I don’t think so, because before the FALL there was no decay.

  • Andrew Dowling

    There was no literal Garden of Eden, or Adam or Eve, or ‘Fall’ event. You are reading the Bible way too literally and presupposing later theological ideas onto the text.

  • waltydog

    Andrew, Let’s wrap this up. Your interpretation and mine are quite different on how we appreciate the Lord, Savior and Creator of the universe and what He has done to reconcile those He has chosen for eternal fellowship with Himself based on His 100% mercy and our total undeserving of it. I can nowhere see in my new found being where one Christian calls another Christian a “selfish jerk” as you have because some Christians don’t agree with your interpretation. Jesus surly doesn’t agree with your interpretation seeing that He purposely withered a tree to explain a point about the human soul, where He, because of that one act, even showed there are priorities in Father’s creation. I would think, if you are not to be contradictory, you would say He’s a “selfish jerk” for doing that to God’s creation. And also when He let “Legion’s” unclean spirits go into the herd of pigs so that they can then go off the cliff to die, I would think you want to scold Jesus right here and now for letting that happen, that is if you do not want to contradict yourself. There are so called Christians like you who decide what they want to believe and not want to believe from the Bible for the only purpose to bolster their belief in something that really precedes their faith in God and His revelation to His creatures on earth. I am earnestly praying to God our Father that your demeanor changes to respect His Word and to respect His children and that your interpretation changes from calling others “selfish jerks” to “fellow Christians who might have a different view on things”. ……Peace from God our Father, the Lord God Jesus Christ and God the Holy Spirit………walter

  • Andrew Dowling

    Waltydog, its clear your whole intention on here was trying to find ways to supplant your conservative ideology onto the discussion, which is apparently anathema to any conception of environmental concern. You can have any interpretation you want . .you can believe in a literal Fall, literal Adam and Eve, that Jesus actually killed a fig tree with a magical curse . . believe what you want. But my point was that in people’s ACTIONS in this life, to use those beliefs as an excuse to not make efforts to be a good steward of the Earth . is just that . .an excuse for lazy, selfish people.