One of the more ominous verses of the Bible reveals the decision that was placed before mankind in the garden of Eden that is symbolic of the choice that human beings have had to make over and over again in the course of our existence. Genesis 2:8-9 tells us: “The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” One of the many aspects of the decision being placed before mankind here in the garden of Eden that is not always recognized is that this is a choice that is faced by every human being over the course of their own life, and it is also a decision that wrestles with the question of what it is that mankind is missing and what makes mankind incomplete. And, as might be expected the choice of the two leads to wildly different outcomes.
Let us examine these aspects in turn. When we think of the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil as being a choice for mankind, we usually think of it as just being a choice for Adam and Eve at the beginning of humanity. But this is not the case. Instead, the choice between life and death is one that is placed repeatedly before humanity, with the same sort of decision being made by the great mass of humanity. Deuteronomy 30:19-20 tells us of this choice being placed before Israel during the time of their wilderness sojourn as they were about to enter into the promised land: “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”” Psalm 1 reminds us that the godly in every generation are themselves like the tree of life, having been granted eternal life for their choice to follow God and walk according to His ways, as it is written in Psalm 1:1-3: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.” Similarly, Romans 5:17-19 reminds us that this same choice between following after Adam to death or following after Christ to life is available to those who are called here and now: “For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.) Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.”
It should be noted that the terms of life have never changed throughout the course of God’s involvement with humanity. Life has always required obedience to God, and the acceptance of the gift of eternal life that was provided through one means or another. And rejecting the choice to follow God and walking in the way of evil has always led to death and condemnation. So it was for Adam and Eve, so it was in the days of David, so it was in the time of Paul the Apostle, and so it is for us. God’s wish that mankind should live, and the requirement that eternal life be on God’s terms and not mankind’s terms, has always been consistent. It has also been lamentably consistent that mankind has chosen wrongly as a general rule every time the choice has been made aware to humanity in some fashion or another. While there have been some godly people throughout the ages, throughout most of history the vast majority of humanity has lived ungodly lives of rebellion against God and against His ways. It is no different now than it has been before in ages that have through unbelief and deliberate disobedience have brought condemnation and judgement upon themselves because of their refusal to repent and turn from their wicked ways.
It is telling that the drama in the Garden of Eden consists of competing narratives of what mankind was and has been missing throughout our history. Genesis 3:5-6 tells of Satan’s story about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and what it provides that Satan and the vast majority of humanity have believed in one way or another that mankind is missing: “Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”” From this original lie spring many other lies. The lie that mankind has immortality and eternity inherent within ourselves apart from the gift of God springs from this lie. The lie that mankind is supposed to be autonomous and decide what is right and wrong for ourselves and to listen to our own own desires and reject God’s laws or the restrictions of others on our freedoms springs from this original lie in the garden. And yet God’s response to the decision of mankind is telling, as it is written in Genesis 3:22-24: “Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”—therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.” Mankind can only receive eternal life on God’s terms, offered by God and accepted by mankind on payment of commitment to God’s ways and the development of a godly nature.
What is telling, though, and well worth remembering, is that both God and Satan were communicating to mankind that something was missing. The disagreement was in what was missing. The fact that there was a tree of life which would have provided the gift of eternal life to mankind suggests that eternal life through being a part of God’s family was something that was offered to mankind but an offer that had to be accepted. Immortality and eternity are not inherent in humanity, but are gifts that are given by God to those who have developed within them the nature of God that allows them to be born into eternal life into God’s family. On the contrary, the lie of Satan is that humanity already has eternal life and that was was missing was the opportunity to be like God in knowing good and evil. This is a lie on both fashions, in that God does not know evil in that the desire to do evil is entirely missing from either the Father or the Son, and also a lie in that eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would not lead to death. Indeed it has for every human being who has ever lived, either as a result of our own sins, coming about because of the sins of others, or because of the corruption to our nature that occurs in the absence of eternal life being given to us by God. Still, there was truth in the fact that mankind was and always has been missing something, and the search for that something has haunted human existence in that we have looked for what is missing in all the wrong places, making our own lives and our own world miserable as a result.