Friday, November 30, 2007

Fruit From the Tree of Life

Other than its location close to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil Genesis doesn't tell us much about the tree of life. These two trees shared the same address—the middle of the Garden of Eden. We do know that all of the trees in the garden were pleasant looking and good for food (Gen 2:9). The last tidbit we can glean is that if Eve or Adam had eaten from the tree of life they would have lived forever—regardless of whether they ate before or after the Fall. That fruit was the ultimate jackpot if you happened to take a bite.

Did God do anything to prevent this disruptive chomp from happening? Did God make the fruit of the tree of life ugly, covered with nasty thorns, or only available on high branches? Maybe it smelled bad.

When I read Genesis chapters 1 through 3 I usually think about it in three ways. As a creation story it's a haunting tale of paradise created and lost. As the beginning of the Bible it's a fascinating introduction to the relationship of God and man, the conflict between good and evil, and of the consequences of sin. And finally it's a personal lesson, reminding me that I disobey God's commands and as a result I too am worthy of death.

The tree of life is the solution to the sentence of death in each of these viewpoints:

  1. In the garden God places the tree of life off limits—an angel with a flaming sword blocks the way

  2. Later in the Bible (Numbers 21) something analogous to the tree of life is introduced, but with a surprising twist. The serpent is now associated with the tree.

    'While wandering in the desert the people of Israel spoke against God and were plagued with deadly fiery serpents, Moses prays for help and God instructs him “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.' ESV

    Now a serpent (symbolizing sin) and wood come together as a solution. An act of will by the dying person is still required to get the prize of life. This story foreshadows the mysterious suffering servant that is prophesized in Isaiah 53.

  3. And finally, as the solution to my death sentence, Jesus is hung on another tree, takes my curse upon himself, and offers a personal opportunity to be redeemed. This new tree of life exists in the middle of my existence. All I had to do was pluck its fruit, lay aside my life, and eat.

10 comments:

jeffsdeepthoughts said...

Interesting post. I was struck by your question:
"Did God do anything to prevent this disruptive chomp from happening? Did God make the fruit of the tree of life ugly, covered with nasty thorns, or only available on high branches? Maybe it smelled bad."
I think that viewing the story as a paradise lost actually provides some sort of answer to these questions. (Which were perhaps rhetorical, but at any rate.)

The difference between paradise and prison is that one has a door and the other does not. If we were stuck and forced into a paradise it's hard to see how it could count as such.
Furthermore, God wanted to engage in a relationship with his creations, a relationship that granted as much dignity and freedom as possible.
I hope I'm not beating metaphors to death when I offer up a second one:
The difference between a lover and a stalker is that one seeks consent the other forces his presence.
God could not have offered us paradise, I think, if he didn't leave us a door out of it. God could not have engaged us in a true loving relationship if there wasn't some way out.
For obvious reasons God isn't going to make this door look more attractive than he needs to.
But the reasons that he can't make it look completely ugly are maybe a little more subtle.
The more God actively intervenes to make the fruit seem like a bad idea, the less freedom he leaves us. The more he uses his power to make the fruit difficult or unpleasant, the less freedom to choose the relationship he leaves us.

Vance said...

Hi Jeff,
I grew up believing that the Genesis creation account was literally true. When I think about it I still tend to imagine a real garden, so my question about God discouraging eating from the tree of life was not rhetorical. While I was writing the post I had a Far Side style cartoon going in my head with birds flocking to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and a ring of dead birds around the Tree of Life. Perhaps only beings made in the image of God can safely / productively eat from the Tree of Life. Certainly Moses’ serpent pole and Jesus’ cross had death associated with them, and a modern day acceptance of Christ as the Tree of Life involves dying to self. While the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil promises knowledge and delivers death, The Tree of Life has the taint of death and delivers life--interesting.

I like your metaphors. Extending the paradise/prison metaphor slightly the Garden of Eden had two doors. One non-obvious and perhaps ugly, and the other hung with pleasant looking forbidden fruit. I totally agree with your main point, that true relationship requires choice.

7t said...

I am in the middle of a garden which is unseen to eyes of flesh. I am the image of the unseen God and am also unseen by the eyes of flesh. The tree of life is in the middle of the garden. I am in the middle of the garden. The tree of life is in who I am in the eyes of God.

Vance said...

Hi 7T,

I didn’t understand your comment until read through some of the posts on your very interesting blog, I especially liked http://zj7t.blogspot.com/2007/04/mold-is-not-image-sand-casting-is-used.html

I assume the “I” you use in your comment refers to you personally or of believers, not a universal “I”. Is that correct?

- Vance

Anonymous said...

"This disruptive chomp" is classic Vance.

I was thinking about the Kabbalistic "tree of life" and the emanations of God's creation in light of all your ruminations about the garden. What would it mean to take a bite of knowledge without understanding / wisdom? To imbibe the male principle without the balance of the female? After this, is God still called Elohim? Maybe something of God was hidden that might have been revealed. Just thoughts...

iYRe said...

I think we need to look at Eden in 2 ways..

1, its a physical place. It needs be, to ground it in human reality. It has plants, animals, rivers, etc. People really lived there, our ancestors, and they did as God willed.

2. We need to consider what theological statement Eden makes. Eden is theologically a place where humans and God exist in close relationship. Where humans "represent" God (selem - image) by being his "viceroys". Its the place where human beings have access to the tree of (eternal) life.

See, the trees may have been real, but the fruit wasnt "magical". The fruit didnt change Adam, the act of eating it did. Likewise, the tree of life isnt "magical" because it "theologically" stands for the life one has when one is in Eden, that is, eternal.

Thus the snake is a snake, but theologically it is "the accuser". Being kicked out of Eden is being theologically removed from God's presence - that close intimate relationship. Why? So we can no longer have access to eternal life. Eternal life is only for the righteous, not the unrighteous.

Does this gel in any form with you?

VanceH- said...

Hi iYRe,
Some thoughts about your comment. I agree that we can look at Eden in two ways, however for me the central grounded-in-reality part pertains to my obedience / disobedience to God's commands in my life, rather than the choices of ancient people. I like the garden for the examination of theological themes because it strips away the noise--all we have is two people and God, and what happens to them.

That the tree of life stood in Eden as an antidote to death before it was needed, and was then barricaded once it was needed is a mystery to me that I continue to meditate on. It seems that there may be lessons on atonement there.

I like your observation that the fruit itself wasn't magical, but I don't agree that Eden is symbolic of eternal life. Eden was a place where man was before he became like God, with the knowledge of good and evil. I think that knowledge is pretty central to who we are—ethical man—I don't think there is a path back to that simpler existence.

Regarding the snake, I would like to hear how you get the link to "the accuser." For me he is clearly the deceiver--the father of lies, and the devourer—who is crouching at the door of our hearts.

As far as eternal life being only for the righteous--that is certainly consistent with the story in the garden, but I think most of the bible is telling us about repentance and atonement--a different path to the tree of life.

iYRe said...

Hi Vance, thanks for your reply.

You said: ...however for me the central grounded-in-reality part pertains to my obedience / disobedience to God's commands in my life, rather than the choices of ancient people. I like the garden for the examination of theological themes because it strips away the noise--all we have is two people and God, and what happens to them.

Well, that is certainly one way to look at it. I would call that a "devotional" understanding. That is, it is how God speaks to you personally through the text. The grounded-in-reality aspect to which I referred is more a historical/literary device used by the Author/Redactor to "make it real" for humanity in general.

That the tree of life stood in Eden as an antidote to death before it was needed, and was then barricaded once it was needed is a mystery to me that I continue to meditate on. It seems that there may be lessons on atonement there.
If you think of what happens in Eden as "consequence", then the consequence of obedience, trust, and relationship is access to tree of eternal life, however the consequence of disobedience, and lack of trust results in severing of the relationship, and loss of access to the tree of eternal life.

I like your observation that the fruit itself wasn't magical, but I don't agree that Eden is symbolic of eternal life.

I prefer to say that Eden is "theologically" symbolic of the place where God and humanity existed in their intended, close, trusting, reliant, relational state. Eternal life is a consequence of that state.

Regarding the snake, I would like to hear how you get the link to "the accuser." For me he is clearly the deceiver--the father of lies, and the devourer—who is crouching at the door of our hearts.

I think we're talking about the same thing. The accuser is what "satan" translates as, if I recall correctly. Just another name for evil.

As far as eternal life being only for the righteous--that is certainly consistent with the story in the garden, but I think most of the bible is telling us about repentance and atonement--a different path to the tree of life.

I dont think its a different path. Access to the tree of eternal life comes through the same method Adam got it, as a consequence of a close, right, and dependant relationship with God. The only difference is ours is facilitated by Christ at the cross, the new Adam.

VanceH- said...

Hi iYRe,

Regarding your statement:


"I dont think its a different path. Access to the tree of eternal life comes through the same method Adam got it, as a consequence of a close, right, and dependant relationship with God. The only difference is ours is facilitated by Christ at the cross, the new Adam."


At the essential theological level I think we are aligned.

One of my interests in meditating on these texts is to have my eyes opened as to what the text literally says-and doesn't say. For example, the text doesn't say that Adam and Eve were ashamed of their nakedness, Adam only said that they were afraid when God arrived at the scene. Of course it is reasonable to assume they were ashamed, but it is an assumption. Also until recently I thought it was Cain's sacrifice that God had no regard for, but the text says that God had no regard for Cain or his sacrifice--and that even though Able was a fallen man, God had regard for him as a person.

So, back to the topic, the way I read Genesis 2, Adam had access to the Tree of Life before he did anything. It was there, available, when he was placed there. Access wasn't a consequence of his correct actions. Losing access was of course a consequence of his disobedience.

And then, on our access to the tree--John 3:16 doesn't say anything about close, right, and dependent relationship as prerequisites for eternal life. It only talks about belief in the Son. In this verse at least, Christ and Eternal life seem bonded together.

-- Vance

iYRe said...

Hi Vance,

So, back to the topic, the way I read Genesis 2, Adam had access to the Tree of Life before he did anything. It was there, available, when he was placed there. Access wasn't a consequence of his correct actions. Losing access was of course a consequence of his disobedience.

And then, on our access to the tree--John 3:16 doesn't say anything about close, right, and dependent relationship as prerequisites for eternal life. It only talks about belief in the Son. In this verse at least, Christ and Eternal life seem bonded together.


I think you might be missing my point here.
The "imago Dei" - as the original blog post discusses - is a functional thing. The word "selem" (image) refers to a position such as "governor" or "viceroy". As such, it entails certain things, for example, the ability to freely choose to serve the King, and more importantly, a close relationship with the King, in which we learn what is required in order to carry out the function of "selem" (have dominion over and subdue).
This is what "living in Eden" is all about, and it is what our future hope is too, that one day we will be restored to this relationship where we can function in harmony with our Creator King.
Whilst in this relationship, access to the tree of eternal life is free, and encouraged... it is just there, as you say. But Adam DID have to do something to retain access to it, he had to remain in that relationship with God.
What happens when Adam breaks that relationship by his disobedience? God says "oh no, no tree of like for you, outski!"
Remember, its a theologically symbolic thing, regardless of the reality of the tree. Access to the tree only happens when one is right with God. When one is not right with God, there's a couple of Cherubim and a flaming sword blocking the way.

You are right, about John 3:16, because when one believes into Christ, one is restored into relationship with God, and therefore "the tree of life". If you like, you could say "relationship with God is the tree of eternal life" (theologically speaking).
So belief in the Son restores relationship with God, which allows access to eternal life - they are bonded, and synonymous with each other.

geoff