Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—  therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.
(Genesis 3:22-23, ESV)
I know we are uncomfortable with the metaphysics implied here – that there was some weird mystical tree, and that if you ate it, you would live forever. But, there you have it. It’s the truth. It doesn’t sit well with modern sensibility, and it shouldn’t. Let everyone know: such a tree really stood, and maybe stands today, and not merely in some allegorical or symbolic sense.
Why insist on it as “fact”? The story is no fable, and our prejudice against the fabulous is wrong. Genesis can often sound like fantasy, yes. It’s the genre of fantastical non-fiction, in which a real story is written in such a way that it sounds less real to our modern ears. But, it’s a historical sort of report. It doesn’t say “once upon a time” to tell us we’re reading a fairy tale, so we insist on the tree on its own terms: scientific, historic, realistic, and mystic.
More than that, it has to be this real, because all of salvation and eternal life is also this real. Real in a tangible, tastable, and bite-able sense. If it isn’t, then our faith is a cheat. The tree of life is as real as a piece of wood. Why? Because the advent of our God had to be real. We are real sinners. What if the tree has an allegorical and symbolic truth? Good! That kind of truth doesn’t make physical truth less real. Advent is spiritual. Good! That doesn’t make the truth of God become flesh any less physical and real. We eat our sacrament of communion to remind us that the real bread and wine can and does hold not only the intangible but also the eternal and ineffable truth of God’s love.
The tree stands. Scientific doubt could not chop it down. The cherubim with his flaming sword stands, too, although I wonder if he sheathed it the day our Savior died. These are the physics of faith – as real as Einstein’s math. And because that tree had bark, and the snake had words that bite – we have a Savior that bled and died- on a tree, no less- and rose again from death. Fantastical non-fiction, indeed. Believe Him, trust in Him, plead with Him, and praise Him!