Through the Bible: Life on the Wrong Side of the Garden Gate

Garden Gate

Choices have consequences and some choices have more consequences than others.

Dethroning God

As I wrote about in the last post, when Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they were doing more than just breaking a rule.  They were removing God from his throne and setting themselves in his place.  They were saying they had the right to determine good and evil for themselves instead of trusting God’s judgment.  The consequences to this decision were both immediate, long lasting, and even eternal.

Bad judges

Immediately after taking the fruit they begin to make their own judgments (Genesis 3:8-24).  They judge that being naked is a bad thing though it was the way God made them and they didn’t mind it before.  They judge that encountering God in the garden is a scary thing even though they had been made to live in and enjoy his presence.

 The really interesting thing is that their judgments aren’t all wrong.  They do have things to be ashamed of and they should be afraid of God.  What is so messed up is that even in the things they are correct about they are still wrong in how they are thinking.  Adam says they were hiding from God because they are naked.  Really?  That’s why?  Not because you did the one thing you were told not to do by the all-powerful God who made you and gave you everything you could possibly need ?!   No, it couldn’t possibly be because of that!  Evidently Adam felt the lack of appropriate clothing was a much bigger issue in this situation.

Do you see how their judgement is warped and twisted?  But it doesn’t stop there.  Adam judges that he is innocent because the whole situation is God’s fault for making Eve and Eve’s fault for giving him the fruit.  Eve judges that she is innocent because the situation is the serpent’s fault.  They aren’t exactly shining examples of determining right and wrong, good and evil, are they?

Twisted Purpose

But the consequences don’t stop there either.  Everything God made them for now is twisted.  God made them to increase, multiply, and fill the earth (Gen. 1:28).  God’s purpose will still be fulfilled, but now it will be at great pain for women (Gen. 3:16).  God put them in a garden where food was abundant and they were to rule over creation and to care for it (Gen. 2:15), but now instead of joy this will be a difficult labor and food will only be gained through difficulty (Gen. 2:14-19).  This is not God losing his cool and throwing a punishment at them – this is what they chose!  They wanted to be in control and when we take control from God the world becomes twisted and warped.  But there is one other consequence that is even worse.

Cast out of the Garden

Genesis 3:22-24 says:

And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

The Garden was a place for humanity to live in God’s presence.  The Tree of Life was a symbol of the life giving presence of God.  To be cast out of the Garden of Eden is to be removed from the experience of the presence of God that Adam and Eve (and all of us!) were created for.  They are now cut off from the one thing that was to be their greatest joy – living in God’s holy presence – and all of future humanity is born into this situation.  Why?  Wrath…judgment…punishment…  all of these words are used throughout Scripture for God’s perspective on sin and are certainly appropriate here, but I want to add one more…  MERCY.

Look at the passage.  God says Adam and Eve must not be allowed to eat from the Tree of Life and live forever.  Why?  Because for a sinful person to come into the presence of God is not joy, it is absolute misery.  For a sinful person to live in the presence of God forever and ever would be unending misery.  We cannot fully understand the power of God’s holy presence because we live on this side of the Garden Gate, but throughout the rest of Scripture and the rest of history, God shows us what it is like to be sinful people in relationship with a holy God.  The rest of human history is lived east of Eden, the wrong side of the Garden Gate, cut off from the full manifestation of the glory and the holiness of God because if God did not cast Adam and Eve out from the Garden they would have been immediately consumed by his holiness and killed.

God Comes through the Gate to Us

By casting us out of the full experience of his glory, God was being merciful and allowing time for him to come to us in ways we could experience and understand without being wiped out.  Ways like a tent that was set up as a meeting place between God and his people to teach us about sin and holiness.  Ways like a baby born as Immanuel – God with us – who lived and showed us who God is and died in our place to pay the price for our sin so that we could be restored in our relationship with God and have God dwell in us.  Ways like groups of people throughout the world and throughout the ages being a living temple of God as God’s presence dwells in them and they take the good news of salvation to a world living on the wrong side of the Garden Gate.  And all of this to give time for people to accept God’s way back through that gate – through Jesus Christ – before the full manifestation of his presence will come again which is exactly what the book of Revelation is about.

photo by Flickr user Bonnie Natko

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Through the Bible: A Tale of Two Trees


What is the meaning of the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?

Yesterday I wrote about some key themes we learn from Genesis 1 and 2, but I left out one key detail (actually two!).  Genesis 2:8-9 form a sort of summary section (of which there are several throughout these chapters) that highlight something really important:

“Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Genesis 2:8-9, NIV)

These two trees symbolize a major theme throughout Scripture.  By saying they are symbols does not necessarily mean they are not real.  God, as the great author of history, can make real things that have great symbolic value!  But whether they were actual trees or not (and I tend to believe they were) is not the real issue.  The real issue is why does God point them out in the creation story?  What are we supposed to learn from them?

The Tree of Life

If you have a tree that bears fruit consistently year in and year out, then you have a good source of fruit.  If that tree is bearing fruit that gives life then you have a constant source of life!  Throughout Scripture God is described as the source of and the one who sustains all life.  There are other metaphors for this as well, such as a river or (or water of) life (which is beautifully combined with the Tree of Life and God’s presence in Revelation 22:1-3).  In yesterday’s post I noted that the key theme in the Garden of Eden is the presence of God.  This is what the Tree of Life is about.  To be near the tree of life and to be able to eat of it’s fruit is to be in the presence of the creator and sustainer of life – God!

Before we move on to talk about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, there is one more very important aspect of the Tree of Life to note:  Adam and Eve were allowed to eat from it!  God does not give any restriction on eating from the Tree of Life until after Adam and Eve sin.  The removal of Adam and Eve from the presence of the Tree of life is significant and I will deal with this when we look at the Fall in Genesis 3, but for now it is enough to note that God’s action in keeping Adam and Eve from the Tree of Life after their sin is as much an act of grace as it is of judgment.  God knew that in their sinful state, to live forever in his presence would not be the wonderful plan he has for them, it would in fact be absolute and unending misery –  an eternal hell.

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was not bad.  If it was, then why would God, after creating all things – including the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – declare creation “very good” (Gen. 1:31)?  The problem was not that the fruit was bad, evil or even poison, as if God put it there to test them.  No, the point of this tree is that it was not for Adam and Eve.  This is a difficult point for us who believe the whole universe revolves around us to accept, but not everything is actually about us!  This tree was about authority – the authority to declare good and evil.  It is about the ability to set the definition of what is good and what is evil and to exercise proper judgement in setting that definition.  This authority, this ability, and this judgement IS NOT FOR US!  It is God’s job and he does it quite well.  We, on the other hand, do this quiet poorly – as all of  human history since Adam and Eve took the fruit has shown.  The problem in taking the fruit was more than simply breaking a command – though it was this.  When Adam and Eve (and yes I know Eve took it first, but Gen. 3:6 says Adam was with her and presumably could have stopped it at any time!) took the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they were making a choice to dethrone God and put themselves in his place.  This is the essence of all sin – it is the failure to recognize and submit to God’s authority and instead replace his wisdom with ours, his judgment with ours, his sense of right and wrong with our twisted, distorted, and extremely limited understanding.  This is why eating the fruit was so bad that it affects all of the human race – it was an act of rebellion against God.

One Tree Remains

As I write this blog series, I am preaching through the book of Revelation at the church where I pastor (Orchard Community Church in Rochester, NY).  Toward the end of the book of Revelation, which is all about God appropriately judging and removing all effects of sin from the world, there is a scene that shows that God’s purposes in the Garden of Eden have never failed and will be ultimately realized forever and ever.  I mentioned the text above, but let me quote it here because I believe it is significant:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life,bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. (Revelation 22:1-3, NIV)

Where is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?  IT IS GONE!  I believe the point is very clear – we are living in the time of the knowledge of Good and Evil now.  We are still digesting this fruit that was not meant for us.  The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is not mentioned again in Scripture, but if I may be so bold as to put in my own idea, I do believe it comes up in one key place.  I think it is not without purpose that cross where Jesus was crucified is sometimes referred to as a “tree.”  This was the end result of the eating of that forbidden fruit.  The death he died was because we ate – and keep eating – what is rightfully only God’s.  His death forever uprooted the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and by so doing the cross becomes the ultimate tree of life!  In eternity with God we will forever enjoy it’s fruits day after day.

But for now, in a way we live between these two trees.  We face the constant choice to live recognizing God’s authority, truth, and provision of life through the cross of Christ or to live the lie that we are in control and have the ability or even the right to say what is right and wrong.  Which are you living?

photo by Flickr user BeingandBecoming

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Through the Bible: In the beginning…


New Series: Through the Bible

Today I am starting a new, occasional blog series called “Through the Bible.”  The bible is not a collection of random stories about God or about people.  It is one story from start to finish about God and his plan at work in this world.  My goal in this series is to help readers get a sense of that story so that we can not only better know the bible but also to better understand our place in this story.

Start at the Beginning: Genesis 1 – 2

The bible opens with the words, “In the beginning, God…”  With these four words we are immediately taught that before anything existed there was God.  He has no beginning and will never have an end.  His existence does not depend on us or anything else, he simply is.  We are then told “God created the heavens and the earth.”  Everything that exists was created by God.  As creator, God is in control of everything.  He understands how everything works and has a plan for all of it – including us!

A Garden, in a Land, in a World

So God creates the world and said it was good.  In one area of this world there is a land called Eden and in this land God makes a special garden.  Did you catch that… in a world that was good, in fact, that was very good, God makes a particularly wonderful place.  It is here that he places Adam and Eve.  Why the garden?  God tells Adam and Eve to “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Gen. 1:28).  We also see in Gen. 2:15 that God puts Adam and Eve in the Garden to “work it and take care of it.”  But let’s add one more piece to this picture.  In Gen. 3:8 we are told that God was walking in the garden.  So here are the really important pieces we can put together to discover something amazing about God and about who we are.

Living in the Presence of God

God made the Garden of Eden special from any other part of creation because it was in the Garden that Adam and Eve would live in his presence.  God’s purpose for them was to live in and enjoy the Presence of their Almighty Creator who loves them.  As they lived in God’s presence they would be images of him – sort of like reflectors of his glory.  God’s purpose for us at the very beginning of history was for us to be with him.  This is a theme that runs throughout all of Scripture as God designates places and ways for people to come into his presence and it is no accident that the bible ends with God coming to be with his people forever and ever (see Revelation 21:1-4).

Keepers of the Garden of God’s Presence

But Adam and Eve weren’t just created to hang out in the Garden and do nothing!  They were to tend the garden, take care of it, and extend it.  The implication of the commands to take care of the Garden combined with the command to fill the whole earth is that Adam and Eve and their offspring were to constantly be extending the borders of the Garden of God’s Presence until it filled the whole earth.  This means that we are made not only to reflect the glory of God’s presence, but to work with the stuff of creation to increasingly and intentionally reflect God’s glory.  This is another theme through the Bible.  God’s people are to grow and spread.  The land of God’s people is to grow and spread.  Jesus tells the church to go and make disciples.  The book of Revelation ends with imagery both of a building (city/temple) and a garden that have expanded to cover the whole earth (see Revelation 21 for the city that represents a temple and Revelation 22 for the Garden imagery).

God’s Presence is Our Purpose

So right at the beginning of the bible we have several major themes that will come up again and again throughout Scripture.  God made everything, is powerfully in control over everything and has a plan for all of it.  We are made for the incredible purpose of living in God’s presence, reflecting God’s presence, and extending the place of the meeting of God’s presence with people.

So when you wake up this morning, thank God for his purpose in creating you!  Don’t just walk out of the house (after doing your morning bible reading of course) and go through the day like God doesn’t matter!  You are living in His presence!  It is what you are created for.  So how are you going to live that today… and tomorrow… and the next day…


image by flickr user ah zut

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