15 March 2011

What was the Point of That Stupid Tree?

Like most people who grew up with the story of Adam and Eve, I always assumed the whole point of having the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (often shortened foolishly to The Tree of Knowledge, but I'll just call it The Tree herein) was to test Adam and Eve, to see if they were worthy or something. They failed. Flunked the test. They thus deserved punishment, and doomed us all.

That never made a lot of sense to me. If God cared enough to create us, why would he set us up for failure? If God is a God of love, why was he out to punish us? If God is omniscient (if he really knows it all) why would he need to test us?

Over the years, I've gotten a number of unsatisfactory answers from both Christians ("you'll understand when you get to Heaven" or "God just wanted to test us"-- simply turning my question into a statement, a total non-answer) and from non-Christians ("See? I told you he was rotten" or "He was jealous, just like the snake said!") None of those jived with what I read of God in the Bible or with my experience.

Recently it's all started to make sense, especially as I realized how many of my assumptions and things I'd been taught about the Bible were wrong. It's a matter of viewpoint, of perspective-- if you look at it wrong, it looks like something other than what it is.

I think the plan all along was to teach us about Good and Evil. But we would have learned it directly from God, our Creator, our Lover. God would have taught it gradually, in ways that would have benefited us, as we grew in our understanding, knowledge, wisdom, and even power[1] and glory[2][3].

The test had several facets, but not, I believe, the ones we usually attribute it. It was a test for Adam and Eve, but in the sense that they were being given a chance to prove to themselves and all of creation they were worthy of God's favor, worthy to rule. It was a chance to prove themselves wiser than Satan. As we know, they failed.

It was a proof that God gave free will. Despite what Lucifer had done, God was still willing to create and love and trust.

Finally, I used to wonder how God expected Adam and Eve to pass up The Tree. But over time it hit me that the Garden of Eden wasn't a garden in the sense that a child in an El Paso, TX suburb on the edge of the desert thinks of a garden. It wasn't some small thing with just a few trees, or even a few hundred. Eden's garden undoubtedly made the most fabled man-made gardens, such as Versailles, Central Park, Mirabel, Babylon, or Kensington look like the small flower beds in our back yard in El Paso.

I don't know what The Tree looked like, but even if it was amazing, Eden had to be chock full of amazing. We live in a fallen world. As beautiful as things can be now, I have to believe that they pale compared to the plants in Eden. And there's nothing in the Bible to indicate The Tree was far more beautiful or enticing than any other tree or fruit. In fact, it sounds as if Eve didn't notice it that much until Lucifer worked on her a while. "When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it." (Gen 3/8)

So, they had a single tree out of thousands, perhaps millions, with a fence (physical or metaphorical) around it. It wasn't a case of having to avoid something that dominated the landscape and their every waking minute. It was a case of having all of a huge thing with one tiny restriction, and refusing to accept even that one restriction. By that act of rebellion they gained what they thought they desired-- what God would surely have given them, anyway-- and lost everything.

Finally, for those still fuming over a loving God dooming us all because of one or two peoples' actions, don't forget that through Christ[4] everything is made new, and that our inheritance is restored.[5] To my great joy, I have come to find that inheritance includes God walking with me, talking with me, loving, teaching, growing, nurturing me as he did Adam and Eve. By rejecting the fruit of The Tree, by accepting the gift of grace, by being filled with his spirit, I have a deep relationship with God, growing every day in the knowledge of good and evil, and so much more.

[1] Jn 3/35, Mt 28/28-20, Mt 10/8, Acts 1/8
[2] Jn 17/22
[3] We are, after all, made in God's image. (Gen 1/26)
[4] Christ, the new Adam (I Cor 15)
[5] Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. (Mt 5/5)

11 March 2011

"Where did my box go?"

I was in a discussion recently with some friends. Someone started talking about thinking and acting outside the box. In the midst of the conversation, I clearly heard God say, "There is no box." (And yes, I immediately saw a boy with no hair holding a spoon doing impossible things.)

"Awesome!", I thought. And who wouldn't? No boxes, no holes to fit into. It's a freeing thought. But the reality is, we've spent our lives so boxed in that we don't understand what "there is no box" means, in the same way that someone freed from years in prison has no idea what freedom really means.

Once upon a time, when this world was new born, there were no boxes. Then, for reasons we don't fully get, God put a box around one, small tree. "Don't go there," he said to Adam and Eve. "Stay out of the box."

And for a while they did. There was practically no box for Adam and Eve. They had infinity minus one to play with. They could go anywhere, do anything, so long as they avoided that one, tiny place. But, just as when someone says, "don't think of the word 'elephant'" you keep thinking the word 'elephant', Satan got them focused on the box. So long as they didn't think about it, there really was no box as far as they were concerned. But once they focused on the box, it dominated their world. And after they climbed into the box, they couldn't get out.[1] Everyone after them was born in a box. Most of us live our entire lives in our boxes.

But Jesus came to set us free. My box was gone but I didn't realize that. I wouldn't have put it this way, but subconsciously I was treating it more like an upgraded box, a bigger nicer box in many ways, and a more confining box in others, but still... just a box. Even as I realized that the constraints were mostly man-made, not God's, all I saw was a bigger, nicer box.

When I finally there was no box, I had no real way to grasp it. Walking out of a box into infinity is kind of overwhelming. Subconsciously, some part of me was dancing like a little kid, yelling, "there is no box!" while another part was adopting the patient, grown up attitude of understanding that while there wasn't what you might call a box, there must be something box-ish, a fence, a boundary, something out there.

Knowing how foolish I can be, God has been making it plain that when he says there is no box, what he really means is... there is no box. There were so many things I assumed or understood or decided or had been told I wasn't qualified to do, was unable to do, or wouldn't get the chance to do, or whatever. One by one, God has been handing me on a silver platter opportunities that destroy those concepts. I'm doing more, and having more fun doing it, with God than I thought possible, never mind likely. It's not just that there are no limits on the things he'd already called me or gifted me to do, but that through Him, I really can do anything.


Have you got that concept yet? Anything. Everything. "All things are possible through Christ who strengthens me." Not all things within reach. Not all things to a certain extent. Not all things except these 12,933. Or even 12. All things.

Does that mean I'll get to do everything I can dream up? I have no idea. But I'm now quite confident I can do everything God can think of. Since he's infinite, and infinitely cool, that means he can dream up more than I can (and that's a lot), and even cooler stuff.

It's not a question of whether I'm worthy. It's not a question of whether I'm capable. It's not a question of whether I'm qualified. It's not a question of whether I'm called, or gifted, or passionate, or have enough faith. It's a question of whether or not there's a box. And since he said there isn't, I don't need an answer, because I can no longer find the question. (I'm not looking for it, either.)

If you've accepted the gift of grace, you also accepted freedom from your box. There's a whole, big world out there waiting to be loved on. Get out there with God and love on it. Love people out of their boxes.

[1] Some time soon I'll discuss what I believe God intended to happen with that tree. I think we misunderstand that as well.