THE FALL OF MAN: What Really Happened, Part 3

In part 2 of this series, we considered the two trees – the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil – that Genesis 2 describes as being in the center of the Garden of Eden. We saw that the two trees represent two different ways of perceiving the world: one that recognizes the presence of God at the center of His creation, and the other that replaces His presence with conflict and judgment.  How do these differing perceptions affect the way that we understand the story in Genesis 3?

In Genesis 3, the serpent first confronts Eve while she is with Adam, suggesting that if she eats the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, her newfound knowledge of good and evil will make her like God [Genesis 3:1-5]. While this is happening, God seems to be nowhere in sight. In reality, God is always present but their perception at that time was that God was not around. Notice that there is a lot of discussion about God, but no presence of God. 

After they eat the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve begin to see each other differently. Before eating the fruit, they perceived themselves as being part of each other [Genesis 2:23-25]. After eating the fruit, they are moved to hide the most intimate parts of themselves from one another. This begins the separation of what God had united [Genesis 3:7].  

As the story continues, God enters the picture. Upon seeing God, Adam and Eve are gripped with fear and hide from Him [Genesis 3:8-10]. Now why be afraid of the Person Who has shown them so much loving care?

Here they appear to be acting like little children who are afraid because they have done something wrong. Back when I was first learning to read, I was in a department store with my mother. While she was looking at clothes, I noticed a door with a sign that said “PUSH” on the handle. So I pushed it. It turns out that the door was an emergency exit, and a siren went off. Needless to say, I got scared, so I hid under one of the clothes racks. I think that I was afraid not only of the loud noise, but also of being punished for doing something wrong. In the end, one of the store employees found me and brought me back to my mother, who was also looking for me. There was no punishment. The scary experience had taught me everything that I needed to learn about emergency exits.

As a young and inexperienced child, I made a mistake in pushing the handle of the emergency door and suffered certain consequences automatically. In the same way, Adam and Eve made a mistake in eating the forbidden fruit and suffered the consequences of their mistake automatically. Their perception of one another, and their perception of God, had changed. Instead of seeing a God of Love and unlimited Goodness, they perceived a god of judgment, a god who rewards good but punishes evil. Adam and Eve represent humanity. Because we tend to think of the world in terms of good and evil, we have interpreted God’s responses to Adam’s and Eve’s actions as punishment for an evil committed. But they’re not! Rather, they are the natural consequences of a poor choice [Genesis 3:11-19]. 

What is written in these verses reflects our distorted perception of God. Our distorted view culminates with God banishing the evildoers from his presence [Genesis 3:22-24]. That would be the action of a judgmental god that punishes evil, not the action of a compassionate and gracious Father. It is not the action of the God Who Jesus portrayed, Who is slow to anger and rich in mercy. 

Yet there is good news. Since God is both Almighty and Omnipresent, it is impossible to remove God from His rightful place at the center of His creation. It simply can’t happen. Then why does it seem to have happened? We have believed in a perception of God and of ourselves that is patently false. It is our system of thought that is the problem.

The tree of knowledge of good and evil ultimately represents false perception – a mistake – a poor choice. We have substituted the knowledge of good and evil – our own personal judgment of right and wrong, which varies at different times among different peoples – for God’s universal presence.

The good news is that we can correct this problem by changing our false perception to a true perception, and God will do the rest. This change in perception is certain to occur because not only is God Almighty, but He is also Love [1 John 4:8]. And Love never fails [1 Corinthians 13:8]. Better yet, that same Love dwells in all of us [1 John 4:16; Ephesians 4:6; Colossians 1:27].

When and how will this change occur? The good news is that it has already begun, and it will continue. For more about how changing our perception can change our world, stay tuned!

THE FALL OF MAN: What Really Happened, Part 2

In part 1 of this series, we looked at the traditional interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve. Upon examination, we realized that there is an inconsistency between how Adam and Eve seem to be treated by God and what we know of the character of God.  

Now let’s reinterpret the story of Adam and Eve, beginning with Genesis 2.  We pick up the story in verse 7:

“Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

So the first man is formed from clay like a potter takes a lump of clay and forms a piece of pottery [Isaiah 64:8] [Romans 9:20-21]. But the clay is lifeless until God breathes life into it. So the man’s life, his state of being or existence, come from God. In that way, the man and God are connected or unified. 

Continuing in verse 8:

“Then the Lord planted a garden in Eden, and there placed the man he made.”

In the original Hebrew, the word ‘Eden’ means pleasure. So God creates the garden for the man to enjoy it. That makes perfect sense when you read the first half of verse 9:

“The Lord God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground – trees that were beautiful and produced delicious fruit.”

Good fruit comes only from good trees [Matthew 7:16-18]. Bear this in mind as we look at the second half of verse 9:

“In the middle of the garden He placed the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”

The way verse 9 is written, it appears that God plants both the good tree (the tree of life) and the bad tree (the tree of knowledge of good and evil). But how could God – who is good, made all things good, and cannot be tempted to do evil – plant a bad tree?

Dropping down to verses 15 and 16, God places the man in the garden and gives him the following instructions:

“You are free to eat from any tree in the garden…”

Notice that God places no restrictions on the man. He has perfect freedom to eat from every tree the Lord God planted in the garden; there are no limitations. He is free to enjoy all the pleasure the garden offers him. Then in verse 17, God warns the man, saying,

“…but you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

Hold on – God created a good garden for the man to enjoy with no restrictions, and now there appears to be a bad tree in the middle of the garden? What happened there? 

This other tree is not part of the garden that God created. So why does it appear to be there?

I contend that the tree of knowledge of good and evil represents a misconception or an illusion. When we think of an illusion, we typically think of it as it is defined for example in Webster’s Dictionary: as “a false idea or conception; an unreal or misleading appearance or image.” But we can take it a step further. Encyclopedia Britannica states that “Illusions are special perceptual experiences in which information arising from ‘real’ external stimuli leads to an incorrect perception or false impression of the object or event from which the stimulation comes.” 

In this case, the “real” external stimulus is the tree of life, and the incorrect perception is the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

The trees are of course symbolic. The garden represents God’s creation, which was made to be enjoyed. The trees are the center of the garden. They are the vantage point from which the entire garden is viewed or perceived. One of them is true, the other is false. 

A tree is recognized by its fruit [Matthew 12:33]. The tree of life produces life. According to the scriptures, God is the Author or Source of all life [Genesis 1; John 1:1-4;Acts 3:15]. Therefore, the tree of life represents the presence of God. The presence of God is at the center of His creation, which is why the tree of life is at the center of the garden.  

Conversely, the tree of knowledge of good and evil produces certainty that good and evil both exist and are at the center of God’s creation. When we believe that both good and evil are at the center of God’s creation, we are putting conflict and judgment in place of the presence of God. We also, in effect, say that there is evil in God, and that his creation is not very good [Genesis 1:31]. Since God is the source of our life, by removing Him from the center of His creation, we cut ourselves off from our source of life. We also cut ourselves off from each other. The end result is that we become like fruit separated from a tree – it eventually falls to the ground, decomposes, and dies. 

By choosing to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve chose to take in and accept as fact the world that we now see. A world in which both good and evil seem to coexist. A world afflicted by endless conflicts, suffering, and death. And a world where God appears to be, in large part, absent. And we accept this as fact. We simply say to ourselves, ‘It’s just the way it is.’ But is it?

No, it’s not! And in part 3, we will reexamine the story of Genesis 3 to understand why not. 

THE FALL OF MAN: What Really Happened, Part 1

The Roman storyteller and writer Gaius Julius Phaedrus is credited with having said,

“Things are not always as they seem, the first appearance deceives many.”

When speaking of first appearances and deception, the story of Adam and Eve comes to mind. Most of us are familiar with the story recorded in the book of Genesis chapters 2 and 3. The Lord planted a beautiful garden for the man and woman to maintain. The garden contained many trees from which they could freely eat good fruit.  At the same time, the Lord warned the man and the woman not to eat the fruit from a certain tree or they would die. Some time later, the couple came upon a deceiving serpent who convinced them to eat the forbidden fruit. After they ate the fruit, the Lord located the man and woman, found out they ate the forbidden fruit, and proceeded to inform them of the consequences of their choice.  He then expelled them from the garden He made for them. 

At this point, the man and the woman became separated from God and subject to death because they had become “sinners”. The religious among us have pretty much accepted this traditional rendering of the story without questioning it. After all, if The Holy Bible says it, it must be so. Right? It certainly appears that way at first glance.

But upon closer examination of the attributes of God, certain questions arise. From the beginning, the scriptures tell us that the Lord created everything that exists, both visible and invisible [Genesis 1:1; Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:16; Revelation 4:11]. Not only that, but everything He created is good. It reflects the image of his character [Genesis 1:26,31; Mark 10:18; 1 Timothy 4:4] and demonstrates perfect love [Joel 2:13; 1 John 4:8, 16], sinless perfection [Matthew 5:48], and not a trace of evil [Job 34:12]. If everything that the Lord created is good, where did this obviously bad tree [Matthew 12:33] come from?  

 In addition, God refers to Himself as “Almighty” dozens of times in the scriptures [Genesis 17:1; 35:11; Exodus 6:3; Psalm 46:7, 11; Amos 5:27]. In other words, He has the power to maintain His creation as it was created. He also addresses Himself as “I Am” [Exodus 3:14; John 8:58], meaning that it is impossible not to be in His presence [Psalm 139:7]. If God is everywhere, why does it appear in the story that He shows up only after the damage has been done?

The scriptures tell us that the Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in faithfulness and love [Exodus 34:6]. He does not change [Malachi 3:6], nor will He ever leave or forsake us  [Genesis 28:15; Joshua 1:5; Hebrews 13;5]. Given what we know about the Lord’s character, the outcome recorded in Genesis 3 makes little sense.

And what about the issue of sin? If  God is “…over all, through all, and in all” [Ephesians 4:6], yet all of humanity has sinned [Romans 3:23], doesn’t that imply that in some part of God there exists sin? Yet the scriptures tell us there is no evil in God [James 1:13; 3 John 1:11]. 

Clearly, there is some kind of error in the way we have traditionally understood this story. In part 2 of this series, we will begin reinterpreting the story by looking first at Genesis 2.