And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:9)
It is a familiar story. Satan deceived Eve and she ate. And her husband, with her, ate also. What did he offer them that they did not already have? The knowledge of evil. Not simply awareness, but participation. After they ate they felt guilt and then they feared, covered themselves, hid and accused. In one single defiant act they had fully consummated the knowledge of evil.
I’ve asked many Christians a simple question, “In the story of the Garden of Eden, why was Man thrown out of the Garden?” I usually get the same answer, “Because he sinned.” In other words, the current fallen world and our impending death are retribution for disobedience to God. Taken to its logical conclusion, sin is law breaking. Then the opposite must be true – that righteousness is law keeping. So the path back to God depends upon my exercise of self-denial and my determination towards good actions. Well… if we get it wrong at the outset, we will come to the wrong conclusion. Retribution is not why Man was exiled from the Garden. We are told why at the end of the Genesis account,
Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:22-24)
Imagine what the world would be like if there were 3,000 year old evil people who had the look, energy and vitality of youth. Consider some of the people who would use their experience and knowledge to take advantage of others. Imagine being a child in such a world. I don’t believe our imaginations can get there – it would be pure hell. Considered in this way death is a mercy – as much to us as for us. Life is short enough that the worst despots still succumb to its grip and their evil on the earth comes to an end. The first death is not something we are to fear. It is the second death that poses eternal risk…
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:12-15)
The trajectory of mankind is set towards a life apart from God. It was into this world that a merciful God came to free humanity from the second death – eternal separation. As Don Miller said in Searching for God Knows What, “Jesus came into this world and He drew a circle around Himself and said, ‘Everyone outside the circle is sick and dying. If you want to be made well and to live, come inside the circle.’” It is not retribution, but reconciliation that God sought. It is a pure invitation away from the trajectory set on course by the enemy of our souls – the one who presides over an eternal kingdom of separation in an inhuman place. It is why the Bible 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. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:17-21)
Sin is not breaking the law, but rejecting God’s love. Righteousness is not keeping the law, but trusting in Jesus and His revelation of the Father. Jesus calls people to enter into a world where a good and loving God presides over a Kingdom of peace. He frees us from eternal death…
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:7)
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’ (Revelation 2:11)
Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. (Revelation 22:14)
A life awaits us in a perfectly human place. It is where we will know and be fully known. We have received an invitation – all of us – to eat from the tree of life.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:1-2)