Saturday, November 27, 2021

WHY THE FORBIDDEN FRUIT?

Why did God create the forbidden fruit? It’s a question for deep thinkers only. Some accuse God of cruelty for putting a temptation like “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” in the Garden of Eden. Such talk shows they either doubt God’s goodness or don’t know how temptation works, or both. When God pronounced everything He made “very good” (Gen 1:31) that tree was included. And long ago we were instructed about the nature of temptation in James 1:13-14 [Scripture quotes from NIV, unless otherwise noted],

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.”
For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;
but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire,
he is dragged away and enticed.

But the question remains, “Why the forbidden fruit?” If a tree’s fruit was dangerous enough to kill humans, then why did God create it and place it in Paradise [the literal meaning of Eden], right “in the middle of the garden”?

Nothing is directly stated about that tree’s purpose, but some clues in those first 3 chapters of Genesis point to its edibility and its function. We already know God deemed it “very good,” and Gen 2:9 tells us it was among trees that were “good for food.” God indicated its significance by centrally locating it next to the crucially important “tree of life.” But what was its function?
 
After “the serpent”—identified in Rev 12:9 as “Satan”—deceived Eve by saying, “You will not surely die” (Gen 3:4), both she and Adam ate that tree’s fruit, and they at once died, but not at first physically. Later, in the New Testament, we learn their immediate death was spiritual (Rom5:12-24). But Satan had told them a partial truth about the fruit’s power: “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” God Himself confirmed this in Gen 3:22a (NKJV), “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil.” While this divine statement greatly supports the doctrine of the Trinity, it also gives us a hint about spiritual death.

God warned Adam and Eve in Gen 2:17, “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” But when they did, He prevented them from living forever physically in their fallen, spiritually dead state. He removed Adam’s race from Eden’s source of everlasting life: “He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever. So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden...” (Gen 3:22b-23a). Both alchemy’s old quest for the life-extending philosopher’s stone and the proverbial search for the fountain of youth express a human longing for regaining access to that “tree.” But Paradise and “the tree of life” have been relocated from our planet to Heaven (Rev 2:7; 22:2,14,19).

To see why fruit from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” brought spiritual death, we must first understand how the “Us” of the Trinity “know good and evil.” The Eternal Persons of the Triune Godhead have an absolute “knowledge of good and evil.” If Gen 3:22a is a divine Self-revelation, then They each “know” independently in Themselves—intrinsic to Their uncreated nature as God—the precise distinction between “good and evil.” No created being—angelic or human—intrinsically has that divinely accurate “knowledge.” While they can learn it (Heb 5:14), they are forever dependent on God for it. But in Eden, through this “tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” God made a way for something “like” it to become a part of humanity. Evidently, God wanted human creatures, who already imaged the Trinitarian “Us” of Gen 1:26 (NKJV, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness...”), to be able, at some future stage of progress, to “become like one of Us.” Since we were already bearing His representative “likeness,” this further “like”-status had to be of another sort, perhaps relational.

Human survival depends on the God of Truth, for “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deut8:3). The exact story of fallen angels is obscure, but our own story is clear. Our human ancestors took and ate that fruit when it was forbidden to them, and its transformative power worked. It gave them independence in their “knowledge of good and evil”—an internal means, independent from God, for knowing and determining distinctions between “good and evil.” In other words, we became morally independent of divine guidance and direction, able to decide our own personal and cultural moralities, and that’s how human history has played out from our earliest days up to modern times. The spiritual death in such moral independence from God has proved to be blatantly obvious.

But in contemplating the Trinity—a Union of Three eternally distinct Individuals as One God, and so much One that They name and speak of Themselves in the singular (“I AM that I AM”)—we must come to terms with the mutual and simultaneous Self-Denial, even Self-Death, intrinsic to Their absolute Unity as morally independent Persons. God never asks us to do what He has not done or is not doing Himself. In Mat 16:24-25 (NKJV) Jesus called us to a self-death similar to His own: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Our self-denying self-death is a prerequisite for experiencing “life... in abundance” (John 10:10, CSB) by intimate union with Christ, and through Him, ultimate union with the Triune God.

Adam and Eve’s sin of not listening to and obeying God, contained its own lethal consequence. It was much like the death of children who, being told not to do it, disobediently run into a busy street after escaping balls or abandoned toys and are killed in the traffic. The balls or toys did not cause their death, but their desire for them, outweighing their fear of the warning, tragically led them to it. If they had listened and obeyed, their parents might later have seen the traffic disappear, grabbed their hands and walked them safely into the empty street to help them retrieve their desired items.

Although the above illustration is inadequate, I believe it points to the possibility of God’s original intention for “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” as hinted earlier: a relational purpose. Created beings can never become the Uncreated, but God can invite us to become as “like” Him as He has become “like” us in Christ’s Incarnation. In His Plan A, He might have brought us to maturity in a self-death “like” His own Trinitarian one. In that case, humanity’s future might have had this tree’s fruit—deadly to us without that self-death—served to us on the table of “the wedding supper of the Lamb” (an unsacrificed one), for Whom we, “his bride [had] made herself ready” (Rev 19:7-9) through a much less difficult self-denial. But, deceived into acting on our own, we ate that fruit without divine permission, and in Plan B, “the Lambdid have to die, to provide the way for us, the Church, to make ourselves ready as His Bride. Now—in a fallen world, surrounded by fallen people, and hampered with our own fallen sin natures, we must struggle daily to resist that internalized fruit of moral independence and to embrace a self-denying self-death that is much harder than it would have been, yet is still possible. Christ, living in us through the Holy Spirit, teaches us to practice His prayerful lifestyle of “not my will but Yours be done,” and the more we do, the more progress we make in our earthly sanctification.

While Scripture has “the tree of life” in Heaven for us to eat from freely, we do not see there the misused “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” We already carry its fruit inside of us as now part of us. Even becoming “new creations in Christ” (2 Cor 5:17, CSB) does not erase its intended effect, for Christ Himself had its result in Him through becoming genetically human through Mary.[1] By learning from Jesus how to use our individual moral independence in the way God originally intended, we will make ourselves ready for our coming wedding with Him, our Bridegroom. It will be a true marriage of equal partners, because He became one of us, partaking fully of our human nature, so that we could become “like” Him as fully as humanly possible by partaking of “the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4). Without that comprehensive sharing of natures, corporately redeemed humanity could not even have a friendship with Christ, let alone an equanimous marriage.

So, far from being a temptation, or even a test, as some teach, I believe the Biblical clues behind my speculation show that this, at first, deadly “tree” was to be an awesome wedding gift from our Creator. It allowed us, as lowly human creatures, to stand in exaltation forever beside Jesus in a mutually self-denying, eternal marital union.

Some people hate to read poems, probably because much poetry is written as enigmatically as Old Testament prophets sometimes proclaimed their prophecies. But I’ve tried to capture in a sonnet many of the concepts I’ve shared above. I hope it forms both an adequate review and an apt conclusion to this article.

FORBIDDEN FRUIT

No, not a test, but gift put on reserve,
a present for unwrapping later on,
a prize to guard and carefully conserve
till youthful immaturity was gone.

But Satan knew the fruit upon that tree
could sow false independence in our race
and blind—through open eyes—ability
to fellowship with Maker face to face.

What would have served as food for marriage feast,
when Son of God would win His human Bride,
became a path of bondage to the Beast,
who laughed to think our destiny had died.

But Mary’s Son would crush that Serpent’s head
and rise to raise His Spouse back from the dead.

— David L. Hatton, 4/16/2018
(from Poems Between Fear and Faith © 2019)

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[1] See my blog article, “THE FIRST ADVENT: THE INCARNATION,” which explains this in great detail.