The Tree of Life
We seem to be given a couple of glimpses into the Tree of Life, and certain inferences that Adam knew all about it:
Genesis 2:8-9: The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
We later learn that Adam and Eve were prohibited from eating of the Tree of Life after they had disobeyed God:
Genesis 3:23-24: [The] LORD God sent [Adam (and Eve)] out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.
In the above verses from Genesis 3, the implication is that if God had not stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword to guard the way to the Tree of Life, Adam and Eve would definitely have eaten from it, presumably with the full knowledge of its identity.
What About the Other Tree: The Tree of Knowledge?
This leads to an interesting consideration of the other Tree. Perhaps we should understand that the reason God planted the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil directly in the middle of the Garden of Eden was to hasten the Fall.
You read that correctly. Imagine that the Tree was located high atop a distant mountain, and Satan was never present to tempt anyone. It might take many centuries, even millennia, before some unfortunate soul ate of the Tree. But it was inevitable that someone would do so, whether intentionally or not. Therefore, God expected all human beings to be just as accountable as every other. That was God’s Plan. And, the serpent appears to have been central to that plan. This can be a difficult concept because many of us tend to overlook the fact that nothing can surprise a supremely omniscient Being. Everything that occurred in the Garden was well-known to God and indeed preordained by Him before the foundation of the world.
Were Adam and Eve Initially Automatons?
Many will argue that prior to their disobedience, Adam and Eve had no free will. They maintain that without the ability to disobey God, the first couple would have been little more than automatons, or robots. However, anyone who is aware of the behavior of true automatons should immediately recognize the fallacy of this assertion. A computer or automaton or robot, is thoroughly incapable of disobeying its instructions. It can do nothing more than strictly adhere to its programming. It would be impossible for an automaton to disobey a strict commandment, let alone one delivered by God. Further, let us reflect on the words of the Trinity from the first chapter of the Book of Genesis:
“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth’” (emphasis added).
Since God created Adam and Eve “in [His] image, according to [His] likeness,” to “rule … over all the Earth,” they clearly were not automatons. If they were, they would not have been created in God’s image! It is hardly the case that Eve possessed free will only after she had transgressed God’s Law. Notice carefully what Eve did: she chose to eat of the Tree of Knowledge. Far from being a creature without volition, this voluntary act demonstrated Eve’s free will before the Fall – before she had yet to disobey God. It is striking that so many seem to overlook this fact. They are convinced that “free will” is contingent upon the threat of disobedience including the subsequent transgression itself.
There is a final point to consider. Are we to actually believe that once we join God in heaven, we will be nothing more than automatons since there will no longer be any Tree of Knowledge and no serpent to tempt us? What purpose could that possibly serve? Why would God create creatures with free will only to deny that same freedom once they enter His Presence eternally? To ask such a question is to answer it.
Genesis 3: The Serpent
We often visualize the “serpent” like a snake or other reptilian figure. In the first verse of the Book of Genesis, we are told:
Genesis 3:1: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made” (Gen. 3:1).
Is this not the same as merely stating that “The serpent was craftier than any beast” – and that he really wasn’t a “beast” at all? This being, whatever his form, could apparently communicate verbally. And, he knew of certain other-worldly truths. Some of his initial acts were to 1) lie to Eve, and through that lie to 2) inflict spiritual death upon her, her husband Adam, and all of their posterity. We appear to see the Devil as both a liar and a murderer from the beginning, just as Christ describes in the Gospel of John (8:44).
All of this suggests that Satan was ordained by God to fulfill His Divine Arrangement. However, it would be incorrect to conclude that God is the Author of evil. Rather, God knew that if He raised a creature like Satan, the outcome was certain: human beings would then be left with a stark choice. On the surface, this may seem unreasonable. But is it really? Did God not raise Pharaoh with the knowledge that He (God) would “harden Pharaoh’s heart” continually against the Israelites (Ex. 8:32, 9:12, 10:27, 11:10)?
Here we should understand that God did not make Pharaoh do the things that he did. Pharaoh chose to act against the Israelites with divine consent, very likely under the influence of Satan. The forces of darkness are always at work in our world, and they must surely have played a significant role in Pharaoh’s poor decisions. Similarly, God knew that the serpent would deceive Eve because it was all part of the Grand Design. The Devil would be the catalyst for the inevitable disobedience that followed, something that had to occur in relatively short order beginning with Adam and Eve.
Adam and Eve existed in a paradise where had they obeyed God (implausible, given the circumstances), they could presumably have lived forever. There was no decay, no disease, no death, and no animal predators to worry about – other than the serpent’s influence. Their only challenge was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. All that Satan could do, and, of course, did, was tempt them to disobey God’s only restriction. After the first couple ate of the Tree, something profound occurred.
While they spent an indeterminate amount of time in the Garden without clothing, they apparently had no awareness of their nakedness. Perhaps the reason they had no concern about such things is that they shared a common ethereal identity, a spiritual consciousness in which they were at one with God, with each other, and with their surroundings. This suggests that before their transgression Adam and Eve possessed a superior supernatural awareness; they had no real sense of self but were united both intellectually and spiritually.
However, after they had eaten of the Tree, it seems that this undifferentiated perfection was shattered; they became disassociated with one another into self-identities. Our original parents were no longer one with God or with their environment. They at once became separate and distinct, spiritually and psychologically detached. Their disobedience deprived them of their blessed, shared consciousness replacing it with selfish personal identities. And, with an intense recognition of self, there is an awareness of what one does, and of what one can do to others.
There is a profound vulnerability associated with individuality. It is the instant recognition that a person is alone in their thoughts about themselves and their surroundings. The “self” presents great restrictions because an intense responsibility arises with individual awareness: we are capable either of acting in accordance with God’s wishes or of behaving contrary to His expectations and thus committing malevolent acts. Through this individual identity, we entertain evil thoughts and intentions, theft, coveting, lust, cheating, envy, murder, strife, and so on (Mk. 7:21-23). All that defiles us as human beings originates from our sense of self – our Pride – a soul spiritually adrift from all others. Author C.S. Lewis once wrote about this dilemma in his book, Mere Christianity:
The natural life in each of us is something self-centered, something that wants to be petted and admired, to take advantage of other lives, to exploit the whole universe. And especially it wants to be left to itself: to keep well away from anything better or stronger or higher than it, anything that might make it feel small. It is afraid of the light and air of the spiritual world, just as people who have been brought up to be dirty are afraid of a bath. And in a sense, it is quite right. It knows that if the spiritual life gets hold of it, all its self-centeredness and self-will are going to be killed and it is ready to fight tooth and nail to avoid that.
Indeed, the self is the very foundation upon which we become our own god, blinded by our own narcissistic ambitions. Everything else becomes incidental as a means of gratifying the insatiable self. When we reflect on our very early years as children under the age of four or five, we had not yet formed any defining sense of personhood. We were largely unaware of the world and of all that it represents; we were oblivious to much of the world around us, and might easily step directly in front of oncoming traffic. Generally speaking, we lived a quasi-heavenly existence, at relative peace with ourselves and everything else: We had not yet eaten of the Tree.
There seems to be a distinct parallel between the effects of consuming the forbidden fruit (disobedience) and our own awareness, beginning around the age of four or five. Prior to that, we really have no consciousness of our vulnerabilities. Just as Adam and Eve, we do not recognize evil at that tender age. By five years or so, we too begin to understand the difference between right and wrong. We begin to understand when we have disobeyed our parents and are conscious of our guilt – just as if we too had partaken of the same deadly fruit. Once we become fully aware of ourselves as uniquely separate individuals, we have become thoroughly unrighteous beings. In other words, we have eaten of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
This may explain why most of us are unable to remember those enchanted formative years. Many understand that it is only when we finally reach this age that we suddenly feel a desperate need to clothe ourselves. Although Adam and Eve were full-grown adults, we do not know how long they had existed during their great loss. But it seems at least plausible that they too may only have lived for four or five years; the evidence from the biblical record is inconclusive.