God’s perfect Paradise frolicked. The cobalt blue river provided a flawless backdrop for the kingly lions and playful gazelles prancing together along the water’s edge. Catfish flipped and flopped enjoying their swim with the Ganges sharks. Majestic hawks and eagles perched proudly in their box seats of towering, lush green foliage while taking in the lively show. Just down the way, beneath the shade of a tree, sat a man and woman totally lost in conversation until a low, unfamiliar voice spoke to the woman.
“Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’”
“Oh, we can eat from every tree, Mister, just not the one in the middle of the garden. You know, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We can’t even touch it, or we’ll die.”
“Aw, you won’t die. God knows if you eat it you’ll become like him, and you’ll know everything that’s going on – everything good and evil.”
The woman thought about that for a minute. She liked the idea of becoming godly. Who wouldn’t want to be like God? She really liked the idea of knowing everything. Before she realized it the unfamiliar voice had led them to the center of the garden and they stopped in front of the forbidden tree. She picked some of its fruit and had to admit it did look mighty tasty. So, in an effort to become godly, she ate the fruit of knowledge, wiped her chin, and shared some with her husband. Immediately, their eyes were opened. Innocence lost. Guilt and shame found.
Back along another river’s edge, the eagle suddenly swooped down from his perch for his first fish snack, the shark smelled blood in the water, the gazelle ran for his life, and the roaring lion roamed the earth looking for something to devour.
The shift in how I understand the motivation behind Eve’s decision changes how I now read the rest of the story. I grew up believing Eve’s disobedience was spurred by her desire was to rebel against God. That wasn’t it at all! Satan tempted Eve with her desire to gain knowledge so she could be more like God. When the eyes of Adam and Eve were opened, they forfeited Eden – the place where God, because of His great love for them, had met their every need. Rather than freely enjoying all of God’s blessings from the Tree of Life, they felt they had to earn their way back to Him. God stayed true to His word; though grace was given to their physical bodies they both suffered spiritual death. BUT GOD, out of love for all of mankind, looked through the corridor of time and prepared a way to bring men and women back to Life. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Today, we still have a choice between eating the bountiful fruit from the Tree of Life and consuming the disease-ridden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. The Tree of Life offers freedom, grace, mercy, and forgiveness through relationship with Jesus. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil offers bondage, guilt, shame, and condemnation by trying to perfect our own performance.
It’s been extremely hard for me to admit that I’ve eaten from the wrong tree for most of my life. I thought I had it all figured out. After all, the church of my youth was much more progressive in their thinking than the church of my childhood. I even heard teaching on grace and the Holy Spirit – topics that seemed to unnerve lots of other folks in the 70’s.
I should have understood the difference between serving out of a heart filled with love and thankfulness rather than struggling to align my behavior with a set of rules. Intellectually, I could talk a pretty good game, but the diseased fruit of knowledge took its toll on my heart. I read my Bible to learn how to do, instead of learning how to be. Rather than loving others because I felt the immense love of God, I served others because it was the right thing to do. Besides that, I thought it provided a good example for my friends and family. Now I realize I must have resembled the politician who quotes just the right verses at just the right time to win a few votes. Ouch!
I made rules to keep my outside looking like a “good Christian”. I went to church three times a week, taught Bible classes, headed up this and that, and spoke at women’s retreats. All of that would have been fine if I had done it because I had fallen so deeply in love with Jesus that I freely received His grace. I let learning about the Bible become more important than spending time really listening to how the Spirit was trying to change me. Now don’t go thinking that’s a spooky thing. But when words jump off pages of Scripture and grab you around the heart, that’s the Spirit doing His work.
The last seven years I’ve worn thin the pages of my Bible by reading and rereading with a new set of eyes. I’ve learned to read it through a different filter. Freedom is my new and improved filter. What a difference that has made! I still occasionally swing back and forth between the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge, but I’m spending much more time now attached to the vine of Life. Knowing God loved me so much that He sent His Son so that I can not only live with Him in heaven, but I can run and play in His presence right this minute, well … it leaves me speechless. But the best part is that Jesus’ love teaches me to love. His grace teaches me to give it. His friendship woos me to spend time with Him. And when I don’t get everything just right, He still loves me and continues to keep my ticket to Paradise safe and secure.
Want to know what it looks like to lose guilt and shame and find innocence again? Want to know how you can do it?
See you next week!