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!