It is a wonder that I didn’t break my leg as a child.
In our backyard there stood three trees, all of which parted near the ground. For a hyperactive child like myself, this was nothing less than a sign from God that these trees were created for the sole purpose of being climbed. Much of my childhood was thus spent perched upon the branches, and while I never actually fell out, I certainly jumped quite a few times. Now that I am in my thirties, I reflect back on those childhood decisions as I rub my knees with a sigh. There, perched in those branches, I flirted with injury and death… but oh, how alive it made me feel.
In the Genesis narrative we have been reflecting on, the metaphor of the trees bears a similar distinction. The garden was resplendent in the orchards of trees which covered its face, aptly described as both pleasing to the eye and good for food (2:9). In the midst of all this, however, two trees stood above the rest: the tree of life, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From the outset, Adam (‘adam’ means ‘mankind’ in the hebrew) was given warning: the tree of life will let you live, but do not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, or you shall surely die.
There, in the center of the garden, stood a deciduous reminder of the fact that we who bear dominion in the midst of creation, still rest under the authority of a King.
It is important to pause for a moment and reflect on this anomaly. After all, what type of father places an instrument of death in front of his child, says ‘don’t play with that,’ and then leaves him to his own devices? Furthermore, why is it that, in a place where we are supposed to be free, humanity begins their existence with the imposition of rules and restrictions? What does the combination of these things say about the character of God?
I don’t think there was anything magical about that tree, even in terms of linguistic metaphor. The text supports a different understanding… the tree of knowledge of good and evil marked an important distinction, that though we are in the image of God, and reflections of His glory, we are not God. There, in the center of the garden, stood a deciduous reminder of the fact that we who bear dominion in the midst of creation, still rest under the authority of a King. In fact, this is what the temptation was all about: the desire to be ‘as god.’ Sin operates the same way now as it did in the beginning. It moves us away from dependence on the Father, and into autonomy and willful rebellion.
Furthermore, freedom is never found in the absence of restriction. This is why governments have laws. Laws create order, and only in proper order can freedom be enjoyed.
Furthermore, freedom is never found in the absence of restriction. This is why governments have laws. Laws create order, and only in proper order can freedom be enjoyed. In the presence of anarchy, freedom gives way to survival. The shattering of order bring suffering and evil. Thus it is that, by choosing to rebel, a creation previously defined by its goodness comes to know evil. Eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and you shall surely die.
So, the archetypal family faced a crucial decision. Choose the tree of life, or choose the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which results in death. It is a choice which continues to echo throughout the pages of scripture: the choice between life and death.
Unfortunately, the man and his wife chose poorly. The result was the incursion of evil upon creation, the intrusion of death, exile from paradise, and being cut off forever from the tree of life.
Well, almost forever. There is still one more tree. This tree does not appear until much later in the story, but it is perhaps the most vital of all. It was upon this tree that death was met, and through this tree that the way was opened once again to the source of life. It was upon this tree that Jesus was crucified.
We stand in the shoes of Adam and Eve now, the crossroads laid out before us, and the words of Deuteronomy ring in our ears…
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.” (Deut 30:19)
- Idols (…As They Were Meant To Be) (ofdustandkings.com)
- Oh Blessed Nudity (ofdustandkings.com)
- The Bible: Understanding the “Work in Progress” God (ofdustandkings.com)