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.

Jesus Is the Wisdom of God – Part 3

TODAY’S READING: PROVERBS 8-11

The first nine chapters of proverbs personify wisdom as a woman, which was quite common in the ancient world I believe. But, in 1 Corinthians 1:24, Paul said Jesus Christ, indeed Christ crucified, is “the wisdom of God.”

In Part 1, I rewrote Proverbs 3 with Jesus in place of wisdom, instruction, teaching, etc. In Part 2, I did the same for Proverbs 4. And this brings us to Part 3, which will compare two different women – folly and wisdom.

FOLLY

Folly is likened to a forbidden woman, a woman that a man would commit adultery with. Because the Bible pictures Israel as God’s bride and the church as Jesus’ bride, in the spirit adultery is a picture of idolatry. Of course, idolatry is putting anything in place of our worship for God. Idolatry is when we seek or desire anything instead of having whole-hearted devotion for God.

Notice how folly, the forbidden woman, and therefore idolatry is described. First, idols call us with words that drip with honey and our smoother than oil but in the end are bitter. Initially, going after something other than God seems so sweet and good. Indeed, the words of God are described as sweeter than honey and his Spirit is likened to oil. But, an idol has nothing to back up that initial taste because an idol is dead. Therefore, in the end it is bitter. Because an idol is dead, it can only lead you to death, just like the forbidden woman.

Second, idols can be found anywhere. The forbidden woman is at her house, in the street, and in the market. Her ways and paths wander. It takes no effort to find idols and they call out to us from any number of places.

Third, idols are very, very outwardly attractive, appealing to the senses. The forbidden woman is beautiful. She is flirtatious, constantly beckoning to you, capturing you with her eyelashes. The forbidden woman dresses in a way to appeal to your senses. She makes her place comfortable for you. She perfumes herself in a way to attract you with a pleasing aroma.

Fourth, idols call to us with seductive words. They are loud, bold, and in your face. Idols can easily get your attention. Therefore, they are difficult to ignore. Like the forbidden woman, idols call out from everywhere with everything we want to hear, especially how we can delight ourselves in them.

WISDOM

Jesus, Christ crucified, is the wisdom of God. So, when we read of the woman wisdom, we are reading about Jesus.

Jesus calls to us, but not from everywhere. He calls from the heights. High places were places of worship to God. He calls from the crossroads, places where important decisions need to be made. Jesus is taking a stand at that place of decision between good and evil, calling to us. Jesus stands and calls at the gates in front of the town, or the place of justice.

Unlike idols, Jesus doesn’t call with flashy things that appeal to our senses. Jesus calls out promising prudence, sense, and noble things. He promises what is right and true. Instead of silver and gold and jewels, riches, he promises understanding and knowledge. What Jesus has is better than all of these earthly riches, but it takes time to acquire. They aren’t immediately appealing, but they will fill you and last.

Jesus, wisdom, prepares a feast and sends out his servants to call us from the highest places, places of worship in spirit and truth, to invite us to his feast. Jesus invites us to eat of his bread, his word, his truth, his life and to drink of the wine he has mixed, which is his life, his sweet life, his abundant life. He invites us to feast and live.

The first nine chapters of Proverbs end with an immediate contrast to the feast of Jesus. Just like Jesus, the idols, the forbidden woman, folly, call out loudly. They even try to call from a place like that of Jesus. They even try to mimic the call of Jesus, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” But, instead of their own mixed wine that is abundant life, idols give stolen water. They have nothing of their own to give. The water, the life, they give they cannot replenish for it is stolen. And, instead of eating bread in the presence of all, idols bid you to eat bread in secret. The nourishment – the thoughts, ideas, words, “truths” –  idols provide needs to be hidden because they are shameful and really falsehoods that corrupt, destroy, and lead to death.

Jesus Is the Wisdom of God – Part 2

TODAY’S READING: PROVERBS 4-7

The first nine chapters of proverbs personify wisdom as a woman, which was quite common in the ancient world I believe. But, in 1 Corinthians 1:24, Paul said Jesus Christ, indeed Christ crucified, is “the wisdom of God.”

In Part 1, I rewrote Proverbs 3 with Jesus in place of wisdom, instruction, teaching, etc. In Part 2, we do the same for Proverbs 4. This is setting us up for Part 3, which will look at two different women – wisdom and folly.

So, here is Proverbs 4 with Jesus in place of wisdom, instruction, teaching, etc.

Hear, O sons, Jesus, and be attentive, that you may gain Jesus, for I give you Jesus; do not forsake Jesus. When I was a son with my father, tender, the only one in the sight of my mother, he taught me and said to me, ‘Let your heart hold fast to Jesus; keep Jesus, and live. Get Jesus; get Jesus; do not forget, and do not turn away from Jesus. Do not forsake Jesus, and Jesus will keep you; love Jesus, and Jesus will guard you. The beginning of Jesus is this: Get Jesus, and whatever you get, get Jesus. Prize Jesus highly, and Jesus will exalt you; Jesus will honor you if you embrace him. Jesus will place on your head a graceful garland; Jesus will bestow on you a beautiful crown.

Hear, my son, and accept Jesus, that the years of your life may be many. I have you the way of Jesus; I have led you in the paths of Jesus. When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble. Keep hold of Jesus, do not let go; guard Jesus, for he is your life. Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evil. Avoid it, do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on. For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble. For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence. But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.

My son, be attentive to Jesus; incline your ear to Jesus. Let Jesus not escape from your sight; keep Jesus within your heart. For Jesus is life to those who find him, and healing to their flesh. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.

Jesus Is the Wisdom of God – Part 1

TODAY’S READING: PROVERBS 1-3

The first eight chapters of proverbs personify wisdom as a woman, which was quite common in the ancient world I believe. But, in 1 Corinthians 1:24, Paul said Jesus Christ, indeed Christ crucified, is “the wisdom of God.”

So, here’s Proverbs 3 with wisdom as Jesus.

My son, do not forget Jesus, but let you heart keep Jesus, for length of days and years of life and peace Jesus will add to you.

Let not Jesus forsake you; bind Jesus around your neck; write Jesus on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.

Trust in Jesus with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Jesus, and Jesus will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. Jesus will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.

Honor Jesus with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.

My son, do not despise Jesus’ discipline or be weary of his reproof, for Jesus reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.

Blessed is the one who finds Jesus, and the one who gets Jesus, for the gain from Jesus is better than gain from silver and Jesus’ profit better than gold. Jesus is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with Jesus. Long life is in Jesus’ right hand; in Jesus’ left hand are riches and honor. Jesus’ ways are ways of pleasantness, and all Jesus’ paths are peace. Jesus is a tree of life to those who lay hold of him; those who hold Jesus fast are called blessed.

The Lord by Jesus founded the earth; by Jesus he established the heavens; by Jesus the deeps broke open, and the clouds drop down dew.

My son, do not lose sight of him – keep Jesus, and Jesus will life for your soul and adornment for your neck. Then you will walk on your way securely, and your foot will not stumble. If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Do not be afraid of sudden terror or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes, for Jesus will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught. Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.

Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it’ – when you have it with you. Do not plan evil against your neighbor, who dwells trustingly beside you. Do not contend with a man for no reason, when he has done you no harm. Do not envy a man of violence and do not chose any of his ways, for the devious person is an abomination to the Jesus, but the upright are in his confidence. The Jesus curse is on the house of the wicked, but Jesus blesses the dwelling of the righteous. Toward the scorners Jesus is scornful, but to the humble Jesus gives favor. The wise will inherit honor, but fools get disgrace.

When we see Jesus as the teaching and commandments the son is giving his father at the start of chapter three, then it truly highlights that Jesus did not and could not do any of the lies and violence of the last paragraph. Just as Isaiah 53 says and as the gospels records, Jesus did no violence and spoke no deceit.

When we have Jesus, neither will we.