02. Genesis 1-2 part 2

I. A. 2. a) continued

So if we throw out the idea of a probation test as the poison pill that it is, how should we begin thinking about the Tree of Knowledge?

The most striking thing about the command not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge is that it appears unnecessary. When God planted Eden, there was no need for Him to plant a tree in the very middle of the garden where it could not possibly escape their notice and which would bear attractive fruit that He knew He was going to forbid. It begins to look as though He wanted to tempt them, as though He meant to put a stumbling block in their way, as though Eden and paradise were just a ruse which He never meant for them to enjoy for long. Have I then sought to avoid the charge of incompetence against God only to have Him brought up on charges of fraud?

I must stress: there was no need for Adam and Eve to resist temptation in order to prove that they were good; they were good in the most absolute way, pronounced to be so by God and known to be so by God, all the way to the core of their being. A better representation of God’s true character and purpose in the Tree of Knowledge is this: He did not put the Tree of Knowledge in the garden to provide a possibility of sin; rather, He planted the Tree of Knowledge in the center of the garden, and made it attractive, and then put it out of their reach, in order to provide a possibility for love, to give them an opportunity to act out their love for Him. The Tree was not planted to make sin possible but to make love tangible.

This may sound strange, but I think a little reflection will show how much sense it makes. The other provisions that God had imposed on creation and on people were all matters of common sense and desire. Except for the planting of the Tree of Knowledge and the law against eating its fruit, nothing which Adam and Eve desired was forbidden and nothing was required of them that they did not already want for themselves. The curse of the Fall on Adam in Genesis 3 implies that until the Fall all of his labor had been free of painful toil. Obedience to God and love for God were no big deal; there was no opportunity for Adam and Eve to give something to God that cost them anything. It was the very arbitrariness of the command and the attractiveness of the Tree of Knowledge that gave Adam and Eve the chance to do something for God purely out of love and for no other reason. The fruit of this tree was the only desirable thing in all creation that was denied to them, and the only reason given for its denial was simply God’s will. Hence the only reason to obey the command was to please God and to express love for God. The Tree of Knowledge was not planted as a test; it was planted as an opportunity.

The moral law prescribed in the Scripture frequently has a “for your own good” character to it. For the most part, the commandments are all things that, if we could just behave according to enlightened common sense, we would probably do anyway. We break the commandments because we are weak and because we are fools, not because God is withholding something good from us. I wonder, though, if there aren’t “trees of knowledge” in each of our lives, convictions of individual consciences differing from one to another of us: places we are forbidden to go by some mysterious inner conviction, delights that others may enjoy but we are forbidden to taste, desires we are forbidden to satisfy but not because the places or things or desires are bad, for they are good and desirable and we long to reach out to them. Perhaps God gives each of us an opportunity to fully express our love for Him, to turn aside from what we want and give Him a gift that does cost, which may even cost everything we have. Perhaps not. But if so, we should be much more careful of each other. We must be careful not to foist off our “tree of knowledge” on someone else, as if our convictions were a general moral law that applied to anyone but us; and we must not despise the scruples of others which we may in our superiority regard as childish. It is exactly the seemingly unnecessary scruple whose keeping may bring us closest to God.

There is no need to think that the Tree of Knowledge was a special kind of tree. It was special in that it was forbidden, and the choice of obedience to the command, not the fruit itself, provided the knowledge of good and evil. On the other hand, the Tree of Life was a different sort of tree altogether. Its presence was strange and mysterious. After all, Adam and Eve already had life, and with no death to end it. There would seem to be no need for a Tree of Life; and to make it more mysterious, when they were in need of something like a Tree of Life after the Fall it was denied to them.

I believe part of the meaning of the Tree of Life is this: that though Adam and Eve had unending days in paradise, they did not have what would later be called “eternal life”. They did have eternal life in the sense of having a life that spread out to the future forever, but they did not have eternal life in some other sense, some other sense which God clearly meant for them to possess, planting a Tree of Life beside them and leaving it for them to enjoy if they chose. They had life and joy forever in the presence of God, but there was something more, a different kind of life, a higher quality of life, that was in store for them, and that was symbolized by the Tree of Life. Thus when the Messiah brought this kind of life back within our grasp and called it “eternal life”, He was not referring merely to unending days, a return to the kind of life our first parents briefly enjoyed; He meant a qualitatively different kind of life, a life beyond all imagining.

The Tree of Life is a type of Christ, a symbol of His presence. And the planting of the Tree of Life in Eden was the planting of Christ Himself in the midst of the world. For the Incarnation of God was not a late thing in history, nor was it an ad hoc method of addressing a crisis in the Creation; it was part of the original intent from the very beginning. From the moment He decided to create – whatever that means – God had intended to live inside His creation Himself, to relate to His work most intimately by weaving Himself into its very fabric, not mystically but concretely, not as a spiritual force blowing like a wind though its threads, but as one of the threads, a fellow animal with other animals, a fellow man with His people. God was never, is not, and could never be a Spectator.

5 Comments on “02. Genesis 1-2 part 2”

  1. Simone Says:

    Carroll, this, once again, is interesting. Your interpretation of the Tree of Knowledge is an unconventional one, and it makes me wonder how people’s reading of god would change if they substituted the notion of “test” with the idea of “opportunity.” The connotations of both situations are different, and I think, consequently, reveal varying ideas about god’s relationship with man.

    • Carroll Boswell Says:

      It changed my reading of God a lot. I was raised in a very conservative and, what I would call, legalistic culture and God was always presented to me as a divine score keeper or policeman. They talked about “for God so loved the world” but it was drowned out by the rest of what they taught. I was blessed to have the parents I did. For all their faults, they helped me to be able to think clearly, but even so the mindset I was raised with did some lasting damage that I still have to cope with.

  2. Simone Says:

    **would* reveal varying ideas…(sorry, missed a word there!)

  3. godanalytics Says:

    Ok. I guess this kind of addresses my previous comment about how working in the garden was not a bad thing initially and it also addresses a lot of questions I had about the “trap” of this tree…..I also grew up in a very conservative home (fundamentalist/independent Baptist) so it is very hard to unweave my thinking. I love your writing and analysis.

  4. I have spent a long long time trying to unweave my thinking, and that is part of the purpose of this blog. I am so glad that it makes contact with you, and I hope that it continues to if you decide to read more.

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