‘The Eternal God planted a garden in the east in Eden—a place of utter delight—and placed the man whom He had sculpted there. In this garden, He made the ground pregnant with life—bursting forth with nourishing food and luxuriant beauty. He created trees, and in the center of this garden of delights stood the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil … God speaking: Eat freely from any and all trees in the garden; I only require that you abstain from eating the fruit of one tree—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Beware: the day you eat the fruit of this tree, you will certainly die’ –Genesis 2:8-9, 16-17.
Several times in the Bible we are encouraged to choose ‘life.’ In Genesis, we have the conundrum of the ages: tree of life vs. tree of knowledge of good and evil. But what did God mean when He gave us that choice? I’ve mulled over this mystery through the years without a satisfactory conclusion. When a friend opined that our minds are the key to understanding the Bible, and the Bible is the only reliable source for living–over experience, intuition, and traditions–I balked, cringed, and threw up a little in my mouth…. So, I decided I needed to spend some intensive time pondering in my spirit, soul, and … yes … mind … as to why I reacted so strongly to a very common thought in Protestant circles since the Enlightenment era.
First, I have to emphasize that I respect our ability to think rationally and dissect arguments logically–even when it comes to spirituality. I come from a highly educated family that has valued education for at least 150 years. I also respect the Bible and the wisdom it contains in learning to live out the heart of God. I’ve studied it my entire life. However, I learned long ago that our rational minds have limitations. I believe in living a more integrated way with ‘checks and balances.’ When we elevate or compartmentalize the mind, we devalue intuitive knowledge and experience. When we elevate and isolate the Bible–asking it to contain historical and scientific facts, moral and rigid conduct codes, societal and religious blueprints–we risk narrowly defining what ‘biblical’ means and putting God in a nicely ordered box.
So, when we look at the Garden of Eden in Genesis and hear God’s command to not eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because we ‘will certainly die,’ what does that really mean? What is the difference between the two trees? One offers life and one offers death. We’re told in 2 Corinthians 3 that the Spirit gives life, but the letter of the law kills. Do you see what we’ve missed? I have heard sermons about ‘the spirit of the law.’ The verse doesn’t talk about the ‘spirit of the law’ at all–but refers to God’s Holy Spirit. Could it be that God wanted us to forsake a rules-based system of justice in favor of a relational-based way of living? Could it be that our minds need transforming to a more childlike development because children are more accepting, more intuitive–more like God’s kingdom? When we use our brains to figure out the formula of someone’s spirituality, aren’t we missing the point? Isn’t the point relationship with God–a relationship that God desires and initiates? A relationship that Jesus embodied?
The vast majority of the books of the Bible record people’s experiences with God. To devalue spiritual experience in favor of rational thought baffles me. I believe Jesus encouraged all of us to integrate experience, reason, scripture, church traditions with the Holy Spirit so that we can finally celebrate unity with one another. We may have differing perspectives on Bible passages; however, we need to allow other views to renew our minds like a breath of fresh air. When we fight against another’s thought of how to interpret the Bible, or look to the Bible as a rule-book or owner’s manual for living, are we not eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil … and choosing death over life … for ourselves … and for others? The fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil assumes there is only one logical/rational way to interpret the library we call the Bible. The tree of life beckons us into a messy, intangibly real relationship with an infinite and unlimited God!
So how do we eat from the tree of life?
- We take the log out of our own eyes before removing the speck from another’s eye. Jesus encourages us to hold ourselves accountable for our own actions without pointing the finger at others. I don’t get to tell anyone–especially not an entire group of people–how God expects them to live–especially when the standards/rules are different than the standards/rules for myself. I’m not the one who has to live with the consequences of those decisions, so I don’t get to force them on anyone. That’s grace!
- We constantly evaluate whether we are living out rules and regulations of behavior. Do we believe our worth to God is based on our choices? Do we believe that we deserve grace; but others deserve judgement? We must allow our minds to be transformed and renewed into a childlike state so that our whole being can integrate with the Holy Spirit. That’s grace!
- We walk alongside. Offer companionship for the journey. Offer kindnesses like food, water, safe shelter–physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. Earn your right to speak into others’ lives by proving you actually care for them and don’t want to change them to your way of thinking. That’s grace!
- We ask questions–sincere questions: What is it like for you to hear…? Why do you want to make this choice? Is this decision giving you life? Do you feel God smiling over you? Whatever the answer, it’s their life. If the decision turns out to be unhealthy, refrain from voicing an ‘I told you so’–just help them to get up and learn from that choice. No shaming. That’s grace!
- We rejoice and ache equally for others’ successes and failures–even if our own theology is challenged. If someone experiences a life-giving relationship that you don’t like, rejoice with him/her anyway. If someone experiences a break-up of a relationship that you believed ungodly, weep with her/him anyway. That’s grace!
- We constantly guide toward life … always. If the message you offer causes people to want to harm or kill themselves, it’s not fruit from the tree of life. Only the tree of the knowledge of good and evil turns people away from Christ. Let your gospel-good-news-great-joy message draw people to the life of Christ. That’s grace!
I want to learn to live in one-ness with the Holy Spirit. I want my whole being transformed into God’s presence! I want to eat from the tree of life! Here’s hoping more and more of us desire the joy and freedom of humble walking with God and each other!
I welcome comments! Please keep them respectful and constructive.