What Are the Two Trees in the Garden of Eden Really About?

A tree of life. And, a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Man could eat from the first but not the second. And, if man ate from the second tree, then he would die.

The names of these two trees have caused a lot of confusion.

The tree of life does not symbolize living forever. In other words, if you eat the fruit of the tree of life that you doesn’t mean you will achieve some sort of immortality and live forever.

As for the other tree, what’s the problem with having a knowledge of whether or not a thing is good or evil? Why would knowing if something is good or evil lead to my dying? Isn’t a knowledge a good thing? But, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil isn’t about actual knowledge.

So, if what seems to be the common understanding of the symbolism of these two trees is not really what these two trees represent, then just exactly what are the two trees in the middle of the garden of Eden all about?

We could say that the middle of the garden was the heart of the garden. Therefore, these trees represent two ways of living from the heart.

What are the two ways of living from the heart that the trees represent?

Study the Bible long enough and you will find that it equates life with wisdom. Life, eternal life, does not mean living forever and ever and ever. Rather, it means living with true wisdom. The tree of life is the tree of wisdom.

At its root, wisdom is knowledge applied to a specific situation that brings about the best possible outcome for all. This requires discernment. Therefore, we could think of the tree of life as the tree of discernment.

Wisdom and discernment imply that there are gray areas to life. Gray areas require contemplative thought to discern the best solution to the situation or problem at hand.

Also, if you study the Bible long enough you will find that the simple adherence to rules and laws lead to death. Merely following rules and laws requires no thought and no wisdom. This leads to death, not in the sense that you are eternally dead forever and ever, but in the sense that you have arrived at the worst possible outcome for all involved.

Therefore, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents the opposite of wisdom and discernment, which is judgement. In the Bible, judgment means to decide something ahead of time as always good or always bad.

While the tree of life symbolizes living in the gray areas of life, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents living as if everything is black and white. This tree symbolizes a dualistic way of thinking in which everything resides in either the good or the bad all the time without ever thinking about particular situations.

For example, heterosexuality is good and homosexuality is evil. Always.

This is how most Christians think. But, this is to live by judgment and discernment. This is to live by black and white rules instead of the gray of wisdom.

How so?

Is homosexuality always evil? If it is a practice used to worship a god or gods falsely, then yes it is evil. If it is a practice of sexual debauchery, which the mainstream seems to equate it with, then yes it is evil. But, what if it is two people committed to a loving relationship where the highest good is truly sought for both people through self-sacrificial love? Then homosexuality would be good.

Now consider heterosexuality. Is it always good? Well, if it is two people committed to a loving relationship where the highest good is truly sought for both people through self-sacrificial love, then it is good. But, what if the heterosexuality is a man raping a woman? That’s clearly evil.

The same kind of argument could be used for white and black people. Throughout history white people have been judged good and black people have been judged evil. Clearly, this is not true though. Sometimes white people are good and sometimes white people are evil. The same is true of black people.

Or, what about communism and democracy? One system is not always good and the other always evil. It depends.

Or, what about individual people? An individual is not always good or always evil. Each individual does some good things and some evil things.

What is good and evil cannot be determined by an a priori judgment. It requires discernment.

The life of Jesus in the gospels shows us just this distinction. Jesus lived by wisdom or discernment. Jesus lived in the gray areas. Jesus did not live by judgment. He did not live by the knowledge of good and evil. He did not live by the letter of the law as if something was always good or always evil.

Consider Jesus’ handling of the situation of the woman caught in the act of adultery. According to the law, the woman should have been stoned to death. It’s obvious adultery is evil, right? But, not in this particular case for Jesus. In this case, Jesus discerned that this woman was suffering under a patriarchal culture that made the woman the scapegoat. For, why wasn’t the man she was caught in the adulterous act also brought to Jesus?

Consider the time Jesus and the disciples ate the grain from the field on the Sabbath. That was clearly against the law and therefore evil. But, Jesus used discernment and pointed out that they were hungry. It would be better to feed a hungry person than let them starve because of a rule.

Or, how about when Jesus asked those in the synagogue if a man’s withered hand should be healed on the Sabbath? Working on the Sabbath was deemed to be always evil. But, Jesus showed that if you were actually doing something good, like healing someone, then it was okay to work on the Sabbath.

The nature of the questions Jesus was asked in the gospels often set up the distinction between wisdom or discernment and judgment. They often contrast gray versus black-and-white thinking.

Which is the greatest commandment?

One rule has to be better and more important than other. Surely, the questioner expected Jesus to pick on of the ten commandments. But, Jesus quoted two “commandments” that weren’t even part of the ten commandments. And, both of Jesus’ commandments were about love. Love requires wisdom and discernment not judgment. Is it loving to give someone $100? It depends, doesn’t it? Is it better to give someone a hug or a stern word? They both can be love in the right situation. It depends.

Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?

The expected answer was yes or no. Paying taxes to Caesar is either good or evil. Tell us which one Jesus. Jesus answers without answering. He doesn’t give a black and white answer. Instead render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. If think that is clear, black and white, easy to apply, then please tell me in exactly every situation if I should pay taxes or not.

Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?

The very nature of the question is begging for a black and white answer. But, Jesus does not give one. Read Jesus’ answer and you will quickly see that it creates quite a bit of confusion among the disciples and still does today.

I think the following quote from The Wisdom of the Enneagram really sums up the difference between the two trees, between discernment and judgment.

What we “are actually seeking is not judgment but the quality of discernment. Discernment is noticing that things have different qualities. Judgment, however, includes an emotional reaction that actually interferes with discernment. It is one thing to say that a carpet is a different color from the wall. It is another thing to say that one is better, more important, or more righteous than the other. In other words, a witness and judge are not the same thing. Discernment requires us to be a witness.

“Note that we are not talking about situation ethics or ethical relativism but about the ability to see that as situations and facts change, so does what can be expected as a best outcome for them. Wisdom allows us to see reality exactly as it is, not as we wish it to be. Wisdom does not ignore right and wrong or deny that there are better or worse choices a person might have made. Rather, wisdom looks at the choices that have been made, at the situation in which we find ourselves now, and considers the best possible thing to do. Wisdom always sees what is truly necessary and for the best – although it can only arise in the present moment and spring forth from an absence of preconceived values, opinions, and judgments. Even if we have created some kind of hell for ourselves, wisdom can show us a way out – if we are willing to suspend judgment about what we “should” do, or how we “must” respond.”

I find this to be a succinct and beautiful summary of what Jesus lived and taught. It captures the essence of living by the tree of life and not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Empire Takes Your Breath Away

In my previous post, What Is God’s Breath?, I wrote of the three times God clearly breathes into something in scripture. When God breathes into something he breathes in light, love, and life.

While we read of God breathing into things, we read something very interesting about the queen of Sheba in 1 Kings 10. “And when the queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food on his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, their clothing, his cupbearers, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more breath in her.” (1 Kings 10,4-5)

“There was no more breath in her.” The queen of Sheba lost her breath.

What does it mean that the queen of Sheba lost her breath?

Previously, I simply thought it meant that she was really, really impressed with Solomon. But, this time as I read the passage with the understanding that God breathes in light, love, and life, I thought that perhaps the opposite happened to the queen of Sheba in this passage. Perhaps when she had no more breath in her she lost the light, love, and life that she had. Perhaps the queen of Sheba died. Not physically, but spiritually.

What took the queen of Sheba’s breath away?

Solomon’s kingdom.

Or, we could more generally say empire.

Empire took away the queen of Sheba’s breath. Empire stole the light, love, and life that the queen of Sheba had.

We typically think of how great and awesome Solomon’s kingdom was. Gold was so prevalent that everything Solomon drank from was made of it. Silver, arguably the second most precious metal to man, was counted as nothing. We think of Solomon’s kingdom as the height of Israel.

But, scripture tells us that Solomon enslaved thousands of people to build his empire. Scripture also tells us that Solomon traded in Egyptian horses and chariots despite Moses’ laws that the kings of Israel should not do that. In other words, Solomon traded in, and got rich from, the trading of the instruments of war, even though Solomon had a kingdom that was at peace. There was no need for Solomon to get rich from being an arms dealer. This is beginning to sound like any other empire we would know.

There is also something else very interesting about Solomon’s kingdom. “Now the weight of gold that came so Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold.” (1 Kings 10.14)

In my 20 plus years of being a Christian, I have never heard anyone mention the fact that Solomon received 666 talents of gold in one year. I find this very odd given the fixation on the number 666 in Revelation. Especially since most everyone knows that the book of Revelation draws on imagery from  and connections to the Old Testament repeatedly.

Revelation 13.18 says, “This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of man, and his number is 666.”

Shouldn’t we at least pause to think how this might connect with Solomon and his empire?

We know that in Revelation John is contrasting the kingdom of God to the Roman empire, the greatest empire of man that the world has ever known. To live in that empire was to live outside the gates of God’s kingdom where there was only light. There was no night, no darkness. Therefore, to live in empire was to live in darkness. As you read through Revelation, you also get the feeling that to live in the Roman empire, or an empire of man, is to also live in fear and death, which are of course are the opposites of love and life.

So, when we really think about, Solomon’s kingdom while grand and impressive, was really just another empire like any of man’s empires. And, while the queen of Sheba may have been impressed by it, perhaps because she wished she had an empire just like it, ultimately the desire for that empire took her breath away. Solomon’s empire took away her light, love, and life. It spiritually killed her.

Empire does the same to us. It does not matter if it is the Spanish, the Dutch, the English, or the American empire. Beholding any empire of man will take your breath away. It will spiritually kill you. To worship empire will cause you to lose your light, love, and life. God is trying to breathe light, love, and life into you, but empire will take it away. This is a tale told all the way through scripture.

Sadly, American Christians have succumbed to the worship of the American empire to a significant degree. They have lost their breath.

What Is God’s Breath?

There are three times in scripture when we are told that God breathed.

  1. “Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” – Genesis 2.7
  2. And when he [Jesus] had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'” – John 20.22
  3. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” – 2 Timothy 3.16

The Bible declares that God breathes. But, we know that God doesn’t literally breathe like we do just like God doesn’t literally have hands or a back as scripture says.

If God doesn’t literally breathe, then what is God’s breath?

In Genesis 2.7, the Hebrew word for breath is neshamah. Strong’s defines this word as a puff, i.e. wind, vital breath, divine inspiration. The Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew defines neshamah as breath, essential to life and a causative agent for an activity of God.

“A causative agent for an activity of God” is a interesting part of the definition of neshamah as this is exactly the role the Spirit plays in God’s creation of the universe in Genesis 1. “In the beginning, God created…And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” In a sense, the Spirit was ready to give birth to the universe. The word for Spirit in Genesis 1.2 is ruah, which has a range of meanings including spirit, breath, or wind.

So, metaphorically we can understand God’s breath as his Spirit. This is why when Jesus breathed on his disciples he told them to receive the Holy Spirit.

God’s Spirit is his essence, his divine nature. So, God’s Spirit is made up of God’s attributes, which Paul says are invisible and known since the foundation of the world in Romans 1.

What are the invisible attributes of God, his Spirit, and therefore his breath?

  1. Life – “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life.” – 1 John 5.11-12
  2. Love – “God is love.” – 1 John 4.8 and 16.
  3. Light – “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” – 1 John 1.5

Go back to the scriptures that started this post. Three times we are told that God breathed in scripture. And, each one reveals a different invisible attribute of God. Each one reveals a particular aspect of God’s breath, his Spirit, his essence.

Genesis 2.7 says that God breathed his breath into the man’s nostrils and the man became a living being.

God’s breath is life.

In John 20.19-23, Jesus breathed on the disciples and told them to receive the Holy Spirit. But, notice what Jesus says immediately before he breathed on them. “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20.21)

How did the Father send Jesus?

John 3.17 says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” God sent Jesus to save the world, the whole world, the entire universe and everything in it.

How would Jesus save the world?

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” – 1 John 4.9-10

Love was made manifest among us when God sent Jesus into the world. And, God sent Jesus into the world that we live through him. And, the love of God was most fully displayed by Jesus on the cross when he died for us.

So, when Jesus told the disciples that he is sending them as the Father sent him, he told them that he was sending in love. Further, he was sending them in love so that they would forgive. Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.” (John 20.22-23) To forgive the sins of another is to give life to them.

God’s breath is love.

There is much debate about just how to translate 2 Timothy 3.16 and what Paul meant by the word theopneustos, or God-breathed. Whether all scripture is God-breathed or when scripture is God-breathed, the key point at the moment is the result of the breath of God on scripture. If scripture is God-breathed, then it is useful or profitable for certain things – teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

Note that teaching, reproof, correction, and training are not life itself. Nor are they love. However, each of them, in their own way, are methods to bring someone who is off course, someone who has erred, back onto the correct path. The correct path, or way, that we are to be on is love. When we deviate from that path, God-breathed scripture is there to put us back on the way of love.

God-breathed scripture illuminates the path or way for us. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

Isaiah 51.4 says, “Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law will go out from me, and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.”

Jesus said the entire law could be summed up in two commandments – love God and love your neighbor. Love is the law went out from God, or was sent into the world as John says. And, this law, this love, Jesus, was “the light of men” and “the true light, which gives light to everyone.”

Taking all of this together, we could say that God-breathed scripture is light.

God’s breath is light.

God’s breath is his Spirit, his essence, his nature. God’s essence or nature is revealed by his invisible attributes – life, love, light. An inspired reading of scripture reveals exactly this to us in the three passages that God breathes.

God’s breath if life. – Genesis 2.7

God’s breath is love. – John 20.22

God’s breath is light. – 2 Timothy 3.16

Did God Really Say…?

Many Christians read the Bible literally. Therefore, whenever it says “God said…”, these Christians take what follows as the literal words out of God’s mouth. As I blogged through the Bible looking for Jesus last year, I found that even Christians who are moving away from reading the Bible literally still have a hard time understanding passages that say “God said…”

Most Christians struggle with questioning what God supposedly said in the Bible. However, we should ask the question “Did God really say…?” when we realize that men (and perhaps women), just like you and me, wrote the Bible. I think all of us today could find many instances in our lives when we thought we heard God but in retrospect it was our own self that we heard. Therefore, the men (and perhaps women) that wrote the Bible often heard there own their own voices when they thought they heard God.

Asking the question “Did God really say?” is hard for so many people because of their conception of God. He’s all powerful and all knowing. Therefore, if this perfect book says this is what the all powerful and all knowing God said, then that is what he said. The problem is the term God is too nebulous. It is not concrete enough for us.

So, what is a possible solution to make God more concrete so that we can better discern if what God supposedly said in the Bible is something that he would really say?

Simply substitute the word “love” for “God.” We can do this because love is not simply an action that God takes or an emotion that God feels. God is love. Love is God’s very essence, his very being.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was manifest among us, and that God sent his only Son into the world, so that he might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abide in God, and God abides in him.” – 1 John 4.7-16

God is love. This was revealed to us in Jesus Christ when he died for our sins on the cross. This supreme example of God as love is much easier to get one’s mind around than the amorphous, nebulous term God.

So, let’s look at a few examples from the Bible where we replace “God” with “love” and see if we think it is still something that God really said.

“And Love said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” – Genesis 6.13

Does destroying all flesh on the earth sound like the love that Christ displayed on the cross?

“So Moses said, ‘Thus says Love: “About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on the throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle.”‘” – Exodus 11.4-5

Does killing all the firstborn in a land sound like the love Christ displayed on the cross?

“But Love said to Moses, ‘Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book?'” – Exodus 32.33

Does blotting out sinners, in effect annihilating them from existence, sound like the love that Christ displayed on the cross and in his life?

“And Love said to Moses, ‘The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.'” – Numbers 15.35

Does stoning someone to death sound like the love Christ displayed on the cross?

“And Love said to Joshua, ‘Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain to Israel. You shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire.” – Joshua 11.6

Does killing all the people in a city or land, which is an act of genocide, sound like the love Christ displayed on the cross?

“Moreover, is it without Love that I have come up against this land to destroy it? Love said to me, ‘Go up against this land and destroy it.” – Isaiah 36.10

Does destroying an entire land really sound like the love Christ displayed on the cross?

In addition to what God supposedly said, we replace “love” for “God” in passages that claim God did or will do certain acts to see if those reported acts are really something God would do.

“Love will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me. Love will make the pestilence stick t you until he has consumed you off the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Love will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew. They shall pursue you until you perish. And the heavens over your head shall be bronze, and the earth under you shall be iron. Love will make the rain of your land powder. From heaven dust shall come down on you until you are destroyed.” – Deuteronomy 28.20-24

Keep reading all of the curses God will supposedly bring on you for disobeying you and ask if yourself if that sounds like the love Christ displayed on the cross.

We could go on and on with verse after verse of things that are attributed to God that make no sense when we think of them coming from love. If you still think love could do these things, then I have to question your understanding of love and your understanding of God, perhaps even your sanity. Frankly, if you love does these things, then it is quite likely you have been brainwashed, which simply means to make someone adopt radically different beliefs by using systematic and often forcible pressure or a bring controlled by a method of systematic indoctrination. By the way, when being brainwashed, the one thing that system of indoctrination strictly forbids is asking questions such as “Did God really say…?”

To be clear…

God is love.

Love does not kill anyone.

Love does not stone someone to death.

Love does not commit genocide.

Love does not heap curse upon curse upon curse on someone.

God, or Love, does not do many of things mankind claims he does.

What Is God’s Job Function?

Genesis 2.2 says, “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.”

But, Jesus told us that the Father never stopped working. In John 5.17, Jesus said, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

So, God works. Therefore, God has a job.

What is God’s job function?

Why is God working?

What is God trying to accomplish with his work.

To put it simply, God’s job function is to bring life out of death.

Everything that God does is focused on this one thing – bringing life out of death. God never brings death to anyone. Only life.

Just look at what Jesus said in John 5.19-29 immediately after he said that Father is working and so is he.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father  loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” – John 5.19-21

The Father gives life to the dead. And so does Jesus. Therefore, Acts 10.38 says, “He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” Matthew 4.23 says, “And he went through all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” Mark 1.34 says, “And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.” Luke 4.40 says, “Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them.” Everywhere Jesus went in the gospels he brought life to those that were sick because that is what he saw the Father doing.

Back to John 5.

“For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does honor the Son does honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” – John 5.22-24

Here again Jesus stresses that God causes things to move from death to life. This is how God works. Bringing life from death is God’s job function. Jesus says this is the word he is speaking and everyone who hears it will have eternal life. In other words, they will know that God and that his job function is bring life from death.  Later in John 12.49-50, Jesus explicitly stated this when he said, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment – what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father told me.” Jesus only spoke life because life is the only thing God speaks. God is always calling life out of death.

Back to John 5.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” – John 5.25-29

The hour that was coming that Jesus referred to was his crucifixion. At the crucifixion of Jesus, the dead would hear the voice of the Son of God and come to life. All those in the tombs would hear the voice of the Son of God, come out of the tombs and receive the resurrection of life. The Bible, Christian faith, and Christian tradition make clear that if there is anything that reveals God it is the cross, where God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, which is to say bringing life out of death. So, here again we see God’s job function – bringing life out of death.

What else did Jesus say about the hour of his crucifixion?

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12.23-24

So, a seed dies and bears fruit. Life comes out of death. When Jesus died he was like a seed planted in the ground that God brought life out of.

But, what do we know about seeds?

Let’s go all the way back to creation, back to Genesis 1.11-12, which says, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind.”

Seeds can only bear according to their kind. That is, seeds can only produce what is inside of them. Nothing else. An apple seed cannot produce an orange tree.

What was in Jesus?

“For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” – John 5.26

The Father and the Son both have life in them. Life is in their seed. Therefore, they can only produce life. They cannot produce death because then their seed would be producing not according to their own kind but some other kind. The seed must die before it can bear what it is carrying inside of it. So, Jesus, the Son of God, had to die to bring forth life. Again, we are confronted with God’s work and his job function.

In fact, this is the theme of the creation story in Genesis 1. Remember, God was at work when he created.

What did God do?

Genesis 1.2 says, “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.”

What does that mean?

The earth was dead.

But, then God called forth light, water, and land on days one, two, and three. Then, God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation.”

Life.

Then God made the waters to swarm with living creatures and the heavens with birds.

More life.

Then God caused the earth to bring forth living creatures.

More life.

Then God created mankind in his own image.

More life.

Life, more life, more life, and more life. All from a dead earth.

Bring life out of death was what God did in the beginning, what God in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, what God is still doing today, and what God will always be doing.

God brings life and never death.

This what a crucified God reveals to us. Jurgen Moltmann said it this way in The Crucified God:

“The death of Christ cannot only come to fruition in an existentialist interpretation, in the ability of the believer to die in peace, important though that may be. The crucified Christ must be thought of as the origin of creation and the embodiment of the eschatology of being. In the cross of his Son, God took upon himself not only death, so that man might be able to die comforted with the certainty that even death could not separate him from God, but still more, in order to make the crucified Christ the ground of his new creation, in which death itself is swallowed up in the victory of life and there will be ‘no sorrow, no crying, and no more tears.'”

“Like the metaphysics of finite being, the theology of the cross sees all creatures subject to transitoriness and nothingness. But because it does not arise in this context, but sees nothingness itself done away with in the being of God, who in the death of Jesus has revealed himself and constituted himself in nothingness, it changes the general impression of the transitoriness of all things into the prospect of the hope and liberation of all things. ‘For the creation was subjected to nothingness, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope’ (Rom. 8.20). Thus the metaphysical longing of all that is transitory for intransitoriness and of all that is finite for infinity undergoes an eschatological transformation and is taken up into the hope of freedom and the sons of God and the freedom of the new creation that does not pass away. Anyone who says ‘resurrection of the dead’ says ‘God’ (Barth). On the other hand, anyone who says ‘God’ and does not hope for the resurrection of the dead and a new creation from the righteousness of God, has not said ‘God’. What other belief in God can be held by those who are ‘dead’ unless it is ‘resurrection faith’?”

Indeed.

To say that life from death is to say God. That is God’s work and job function.

But, if you say God and cling to hell, eternal conscious torment, eternal burning and suffering, then you are not actual saying God. You are saying death. And, Satan is the one with that power (Hebrews 2.14-15).

We must remember that we all were once dead. Some may even still be dead. But, to proclaim God, to proclaim Christian faith, to proclaim resurrection faith is to say that I once was dead but now I am alive.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” – Ephesians 2.10

Once again, God brings life to dead. This is his work. It is God’s job function. We, all humankind, are his workmanship, his masterpiece.

What Is the Key to Understanding the Bible Correctly?

My wife and I drove to Chicago the other day. We had an interesting conversation about Christianity, the Bible, and faith during the drive. This conversation started with my wife saying she was over the Bible. Even though she had read it since she was a teenager, she was done with it. She was tired of how people were reading it and the meanings the were drawing from it. I completely understood what she was saying because I have even felt that way somewhat recently.

What did she mean?

Basically, people use the Bible to support what they already believe.

The Bible has been used to support capitalism and socialism.

The Bible has been used to support slavery and freedom.

The Bible has been used to support monogamy and bigamy.

The Bible has been used to support complementarianism and egalitarianism.

The Bible has been used to support war and non-violence.

The Bible has been used to support heterosexuality and homosexuality.

The Bible has been used to support Jews and Israel and to hate Jews and Israel.

The Bible has been used to support white supremacy and black liberation.

Pretty much whatever idea or ideology people have had they have found a way for the Bible to support.

What is going on here?

How are people able to do this?

They read the Bible literally.

They read a verse, a passage, or even just part of a verse and claim that these words literally support what they already believe no matter what the context of the verse says. And, even if the context does support their idea or ideology, they only take the text at literal, face value.

This is a significant problem.

I cannot stress how big of a problem this is.

So, what is the key to reading the Bible correctly?

Jesus gave us two commandments that perfectly sum up how we should read the Bible.

Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22.37-39)

In order to understand the Bible correctly, your reading of it must be grounded and rooted in love. If love is not the very foundation of every single thought you have regarding the Bible, then you are going to take away the wrong ideas from it. If a thought, idea, ideology, or viewpoint that you come up with from reading the Bible does not look, feel, and sound like love to every single person, then that thought, idea, ideology, or viewpoint is wrong.

The temptation for everyone who reads the Bible is to use love for the foundation of their reading but only for the people who look or think like them.

It’s not a coincidence that Jesus addressed this to.

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5.43-45)

If your understanding of the Bible, if your reading of any part of the Bible, does not result in love for those who you deem your enemies, then you are reading the Bible incorrectly. Your enemies are anyone you marginalize or ostracize. Your enemies are all the people that you think are going to hell. Your enemies are anyone that you treat as less than you.

Paul picked up on this very idea of Jesus. In Romans 12, Paul summarized the love for enemies and Jesus’ sermon on the mount in his own words. Paul also told us that we are all one. There is no Jew or Greek, rich or poor, male or female in Christ.

In other words, love brings everyone together, particularly those that are deemed to be antagonistic or opposite to each other.

So, if your reading of the Bible cannot and does not result in love bringing everyone together in Christ, then you haven’t yet discovered the key to reading the Bible correctly.

Can the Bible Be Both Literal and Inspired?

I find it odd that those that most vociferously proclaim that the Bible is the inspired word of God also insist that the Bible should be read literally. But, for me, reading the Bible literally and as an inspired book is a complete contradiction.

How so?

Typically, when someone says that the Bible should be read literally they mean that we should read the text by strictly adhering to exact idea conveyed by the words on the page. In other words, there can be no deviation from what the words mean, what the author intended, and what the one meaning of those words and intent is.

I understand that for these same people, the Bible is inspired because it the authors were divinely influenced to write what they did. Some even believe that this divine inspiration gave the authors the exact words to use.

Therefore, these people believe that the Bible can be both literal and inspired.

However, for me, this fails to account the actual idea and meaning of inspiration. Something is inspired when it moves the intellect and emotions. Inspiration influences and suggests, but it does not dictate. Dictation is literal. Inspiration breathes life into something. Life never has a singular meaning. Rather, it is varied and complex.

We speak of art, music, books, poems, etc. as inspired.

Why do we call works of art inspired?

We call works of art inspired because there is a meaning that is deeper than what is directly seen or heard. Inspired works of art are not to be taken literally, as if they are they are to convey one word, one thought, one meaning only. Rather, works of art move and influence the heart and mind to see deeper, opening up meanings and possibilities. Perhaps even thoughts and ideas that the artist did not originally intend.

Inspiration means that there is more than what is obvious. Or, in contrast to many who believe the Bible should be read literally, there is more than the “plain” meaning of the text.

Paul stresses these very ideas about inspiration – that the meaning is more and deeper than what was originally written – throughout his letters. Just read 2 Corinthians 3 and 4. Or, read the the analogies and allegories Paul uses to make Old Testament passages relevant to his audience. Paul interprets the scriptures creatively.

For Paul, there seems to be a range of meanings to the Old Testament, as long as those meanings serve the word that he was occupied with (Acts 17), which was that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer, die, and be resurrected. This was the one thing Paul had a habit of teaching everywhere we went.

The Bible is inspired when the Holy Spirit breathes life into it. This breathing into the words that are written by the Holy Spirit may have happened at the time the words were written. But, more importantly, the breathing into the words by the Holy Spirit happens each time we read the words of the Holy Bible with the Holy Spirit as our teacher. The inspiration of the text happens on a moment by moment basis. The inspiration of the text has happened every day for the last 2,000 years, it is happening now, and it will continue to happen into the future.

When we truly understand God, it is not surprising that the reading of the Bible can be inspired when the Holy Spirit breathes into it.

What is the first thing the Bible says about God?

“In the beginning, God created…”

God is a creator.

God is an artist.

Creation, art, happens through inspiration.

But, God’s creation, his art, can never be captured by a single, literal meaning of words on a page.

What is God’s ultimate artwork, his true masterpiece?

It’s not the Bible.

Ephesians 2.10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” The Greek word for workmanship is poeima, from which we get our word poem. Go back to the creation story in Genesis 1. In that chapter, the only portion of text translated as poem is the portion where God creates man, which I find fascinating.

We are God’s poem. We are God’s masterpiece. We, not the Bible, are truly what is inspired by God. When the Holy Spirit breathes into us, then we read the Bible in new and creative ways that make the text have meaning for our time and our culture.

Paul says that we are living letters. We are living witnesses to the Christ. For us today, Christians are to be living Bibles for the world around them.

So, can the Bible be both literal and inspired?

For me, the answer is no.

Literalism kills inspiration.