Playing with Knives
And what was that Tree even doing in the Garden of Eden?
A couple of weeks ago, I asked “So What Should Adam Have Done?” But there is a more fundamental question to ask here which is this: “What was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil even doing in the Garden of Eden in the first place?”
It’s a reasonable question. If the consequences of eating the fruit of this Tree are the eternal damnation of all mankind, triggering centuries of sacrifices in the Temple, only to be ended by the self-giving sacrifice of Christ himself, why put it in the garden at all?
Playing with Knives
Isn’t it like putting a toddler in a room with a sharp knife and telling him not to touch the knife? Why be surprised – or even angry – when he does, and ends up cutting himself? In fact, who’s the monster here? Isn’t it you? You’re the one exposing the toddler to sharp knives?
As with all illustrations, it is imperfect. God is not a monster. And his reaction to the sin of Adam and Eve is astonishingly measured, beginning with inquiry, dialogue and questions. Then he sends them on their way with warm clothes.
But, yes. It is like putting a sharp knife in a room with a toddler. And the toddler should obey the clear instruction from the trusted parent not to touch it. And we should not be surprised when toddler chooses to knowingly disobey, leading to pain, distrust and feelings of betrayals all round.
God is not a Snow Plough
Heard of ‘Snow-plough parenting’? This is when the parent goes ahead of their little darling, removing all obstacles from their path so they can skip happily through childhood. The drawbacks of this are obvious. The child gets a nasty shock when she meets ‘the real world’, which is full of obstacles, sharp knives, snakes, liars, social media, poison, suffering and woe.
Sharp knives are not bad things. They are useful tools. We need them for cutting things – vegetables, meat, wood, cloth and those annoyingly hard plastic cases that scissors are sold in. As anyone who’s rented a holiday cottage will know, blunt knives are infuriating. They are worse than useless. They give the illusion of being a knife, when in fact they are merely metal, knife-shaped objects that cut neither you nor vegetables. (This is why I tend to take my own sharp knives on holidays with me. Seriously.)
God Done Good
The Garden of Eden is a confusing picture for us, as it seems to be some perfect idyll. And indeed, the world that God made in Genesis 1 is declared ‘very good’. But here’s the surprise: it could be better. It’s good as it is, but not untouchable perfection. It’s Adam’s job to tend it and care for it – and improve and expand it.
Moreover, Adam’s situation isn’t perfect. It could be better. God spots something sub-optimal in Genesis 2:18:
The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”
This situation is remedied by the creation of woman from Adam’s rib, taken from his side to be beside him. Adam is pleased about this, and the first recorded words of man are a poem of love and praise for his wife. Strong start.
Barking up the Wrong Tree
Although there are things in Eden, then, which are not good, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is not one of them. In fact, this Tree is good – but also dangerous like a sharp knife.
It’s not an equivalent to Pandora’s box which contains all kinds of evils. The Tree offers discernment between good and evil. Isn’t this a form of wisdom? Maybe it’s ultimate wisdom that is commended throughout scripture, and especially in Proverbs. This is surely a good thing to which we should aspire.
In fact, the Christian life is one of aspiration to Christ-likeness or godliness. Our eternity will be spent going from glory to glory. This was the intention from the beginning. We should aim to be like God and eating from the tree, in time, will take us closer to this. The serpent is not lying when he says:
“For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5)
But Adam and Eve were not ready for this fruit. This knowledge was too much for them to bear at that point. They were like the toddlers taking the sharp knife, without the dexterity and discernment to use it well and wisely.
It's hard to be sure, but it’s reasonable to suggest that Adam and Eve, the image-bearers of God, would eventually be allowed to eat from that tree. In so doing, they would bear his image all the more, going from glory to glory. But that’s not what happened. At least not in Eden. And we will return to the sin of Adam in a couple of weeks, after we’ve considered death and Good Friday next week.
I talk about the nature of sin – and beauty – with Nate Morgan Locke in the latest Popcorn Parenting podcast in which we discuss the very first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – which turns out not to be about Snow White at all. So who is it about?
The latest episode of Cooper and Cary Have Words is about Lent, Ash Wednesday, sleep, fairies, faith deconstruction and how, when it comes to biblical interpretation, ‘you’re not Paul. You’re not even Ringo.’