by Danielle Simmons | 29 September 2023 |
A handful of dust and a single rib. From these seemingly insignificant handfuls God has decided to build children, to become a divine parent.
The object of parenthood, done properly, is to work yourself out of a job, to create beings strong and capable enough to go out into the world on their own and survive.
Yet God is not such a parent. God is building a home with the intent that the children never leave. As the nursery called Eden is constructed with its brightly colored foliage and living animals to cuddle, God faces a dilemma. Thousands of years later have we misunderstood the divine solution?
Raised in the church, I was taught my Bible stories and memory verses. With cherubic innocence I dutifully parroted, “Genesis 1:1. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” I learned about all the things God created on the various days of the week from day one to day seven.
The story of how the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was placed in the center of the garden was often recounted as a test of humanity’s loyalty to God. Would we be obedient to God and not so much as touch the forbidden fruit?
Alas, the story continued, Eve finds herself beneath the canopy of the tree, seduced by a serpent into breaking the only rule given by God. Just enough doubt and curiosity is planted in her mind to bend it to the devil’s will. She takes the fruit and eats. Worse still, she offers the fruit to her husband and he also eats.
Immediately the world is plunged into sin that sends the two hiding from the presence of God, quaking behind the flimsy cover of leaves to shield their newly discovered nakedness. Humanity has failed the test and now they are condemned to death. All because of a single tree.
Why was the tree there, anyway?
It didn’t take long, however, before obvious questions began to emerge. Knowing the consequences of sin, why would God put the tree in Eden in the first place? What was the point of a test that hung such a huge price on such a small infraction?! If God knows all things, why create a test you know won’t be passed? It all seems too cruel, too capricious, too unfair, if you think of the tree as a test.
The tree is named Knowledge of Good and Evil and there is indeed knowledge that God has not shared with Adam and Eve. The implication by the serpent that God has not told Adam and Eve everything is not a lie. They have been given free access to good.
The only hint that there is more to know lies in the name of the tree. Evil. They know nothing of evil. In their world there is no theft, murder, or slander. They know nothing of greed, anger, fear, or war. They cannot begin to imagine famine, drought, genocide, or plague.
They have been told that access to this knowledge will cost them their lives but in a world where nothing has ever died, perhaps it’s a bluff. God knows the secret and God hasn’t died. The serpent knows the secret and it hasn’t died. Why should they be any different?
And so we return to a God standing in paradise with a dilemma. While Adam and Eve will be born into adult bodies, they will still be infants in the universe God has created. Now they are content in the world as it’s been given to them but can they always be? Will there come a time when they want more? What if they want to explore the shadowlands of a darkness they cannot comprehend? And if they ever did, if they ever wanted to leave Eden, how could they? What would keep all this splendor from turning into a gilded cage? If they ever wanted to live lives that didn’t include God, how could they cut the invisible umbilical cord that gave them immortality?
You want to know more? Go ahead.
Perhaps the tree was God’s solution. Perhaps the tree was a portal, an escape clause, an opt out button. Perhaps, as God looks at the paltry handfuls of dust and bone that will become the human race, God thinks,
If you want to know the more I’m not telling you, if you want to see what life could look like outside of my protection, here is how you choose it. I won’t make it hard for you. I won’t put obstacles in your way, I won’t even hide it from you. Here it is. Right in the middle of the garden. If you ever want to leave, all you have to do is take a bite and I will honor your choice to know more. You are not robots. You are not Truman Burbank, locked in a world you have to fight to escape.
Yes, there is more I haven’t told you. There is evil. There is death. Please trust me that you are far happier never knowing what depravity and darkness is possible. I could ban the serpent but that wouldn’t be giving you a choice. You can’t choose to listen to me, to believe me, if I manipulate the world so I’m the only voice you hear. I don’t love you if I don’t give you a choice and I do love you. I don’t want you here only because you have nowhere else to go and no other options. While I love you, I want you to have the capacity to love me back, and that can only happen if you have choice. If you are free.
In Deuteronomy 30:19 Moses says in his farewell sermon, “I have set before you life and death…choose life.” God created a world full of life but in the center God also put the option for death.
The nature of choice is that you cannot choose one unless you have the option of the other. And so God puts a tree in the garden as a portal to a world of death because it was the only way we could ever be free to choose life.
Danielle Simmons is a storyteller who loves helping others see old stories in a new light. Her training in theology and theater, as well as her early rearing by Jonathon and Undine Simmons, gives her a unique voice and perspective that she enjoys sharing with audiences around the world.