Bible Basics: Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained

“Wisdom is a tree of life to those who hold fast to her, and all who hold fast to her are happy.” Proverbs 3:18

November 17, 2010:  For this session we focused on Chapter 3 of Genesis.  We examined the role of the serpent, the relationship of Adam and Eve, and the role of the two trees in the garden–the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.   The creation epic we began last week continues with this provocative account of the expulsion of man and woman from the garden.   In keeping with the suggestion made by Celia Brewer Marshall (A Guide Through the Old Testament) we tried to not allegorize (to treat the story elements as a symbol for something else), but instead to look at how the relationships changed in the course of the temptation and expulsion from the garden.

We decided that the serpent found the chink in Eve’s armor by exploiting her desire to be wise.  That is certainly not an unworthy desire, but she was willing to forego her trust in God to receive this gift.   The Serpent placed  “reasonable doubt” in Eve’s mind that God may have been withholding vital information when they were warned not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  The promise that they would become “like gods” in knowing both good and evil proved to be too tempting. 

We decided that the expulsion from the garden and subsequent fencing off of the tree of life was a mixed blessing.  Yes, paradise was lost and they would now taste death.  But had they eaten from the tree of life, their sinful state would have been eternal.   They would have been doomed to endless physical life in a fallen world.  So, God leaves the story open to the future, with the possibility of redemption and paradise regained.   From that, it follows that our decisions with respect to creation count.  We are partnering with God in this continuing story of the created world.  Finally,  we note that the fall altered all relationships:  The one between man and woman, between humans and the rest of creation, between humans and God, and last, within ourselves as we begin to know shame and guilt for the first time.

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is the tree of free will and freedom.   To eat of this fruit is to have the freedom to decide our own destiny, independently of God’s will for us.  We now can determine what is in our best interest.  However,  freedom always has limits, or it is not freedom…but becomes another type of tyranny where we become slaves to our own desires. 

The tree of life represents eternal life, or abundant life in the sense that the gospel of John presents.  It also becomes an image of irretrievable loss.   It is the image of eden’s splendor and paradise lost.  The tree appears again in Revelation ( 22:1-2) as the supreme image of future splendor and paradise regained.  “..on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruits,…and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”   So the tree of life provides the bookends in scripture,  for the  story of our salvation. And in the middle of that story is the cross, the tree of death and life from which Jesus Christ emerged victorious. So in between paradise lost and paradise regained we have Jesus Christ, through which we have life in this in between time.  Jesus Christ is our tree of life in this life.