Friday, March 6, 2009

The Tree in the Middle of the Garden

Alice C. Linsley

The Church Fathers agree that Humans were created originally to enjoy perfect communion with God. That would be possible only without sin. So the first humans were innocent, but something happened to cause them to sin. What happened involved a serpent and a tree and humans making the wrong choice, which is called disobedience.

The Church Fathers don't agree on the question of original mortality. As the original humans were flesh, and therefore finite, they would experience death. If you follow this line of reasoning, St. Paul is speaking of spiritual death, not physical death, when he speaks of sin entering the world by Adam and by sin, death.

St. John Chrysostom (347-407 A.D.) held that the first humans were created midway between corruption and incorruption and were free to choose. It is like the story (Deut. 27:11-26) of the Israelites gathered in the valley between Mount Gerizim (of blessing) and the Mount Ebal (of cursing) and God telling them to "Choose life!"

The Fathers speak of the tree in the middle of the Garden as having both a material and geographical presence and as representing a state of being. Adam stretched out his hand and took of the fruit of that tree. Christ stretched out his arms on the Tree (Cross) and broke the curse of Adam. The Cross, like the tree in Paradise, had a material and geographical presence but is also a state of being. As Christians we take up the cross and in doing so we choose life.

Related reading:  Trees in Genesis; The Sacred Center in Biblical Theology


Arimathean said...

According to my friend James Kiefer, some scholars have reconstructed a pre-Biblical version of the Eden story in which the man and woman were to choose which of the two trees to eat from. God intended for them to choose the Tree of Life, but the serpent wanted immortality for himself, so he tricked our first parents into choosing the other tree. It was believed that snakes were immortal, and this story explained that "fact."

In Genesis, this choice remains hidden until until Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden. Only then does it become apparent that in choosing the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil they have forfeited access to the Tree of Life.

Alice C. Linsley said...

St. John Chrysostom sees the sin of Adam and Eve as a trespass against the order of creation. Imagine a standing ladder. At the top of the ladder are humans, the crown of creation, the most complex of all living species and the fewest in number. Each descending rung of the ladder represents less complex species and at the bottom rung is plant life. Where is the serpent? Near the bottom. In obeying the creature over which God had given them dominion, Adam and Eve exchanged their God-bestowed dignity for subjection to the lowest of creatures. Why would they do this? Because we humans have a perverse tendency to betray our own natures.

Read a portion of St. John's sermon on Adam and Eve's sin here:

In a real sense, every sin is a trespass against the order of creation and therefore an offense to the Creator. That is why we ask God to "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

Mairnéalach said...

I love the Cross as Tree of Life symbol. It is beautiful. However, I have never understood the text which seems to portray God as being afraid of the man & woman eating of that tree. Perhaps that is an anthroporphism.

Alice C. Linsley said...

The man and the woman were free to eat of the Tree of Life. Eating the fruit of that tree would have no effect on them since all they knew before eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was Life in the presence of their Creator. However, after knowing good and evil and having disobeyed their Creator, eating of the Tree of Life would only bring condemnation upon them. Likewise, St. Paul warns that those who do not discern the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist eat and drink condemnation upon themselves for they eat and drink in an unworthy spiritual state.

Mairnéalach 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". It seems to imply a danger of something good, not a danger of condemnation. Otherwise, I more or less discern it spiritually much as you do, despite the text which confuses me.

Alice C. Linsley said...

The danger is in humanity's grasping of immortality. It is not to be taken, but to be received as a gift.

Emmanuel Douglas said...

it is a creation story portraying man and woman in a beautiful garden God created. god put man and woman in the garden to dress and to keep it. God gave man dominion over everything which included the tree of life and the tree of good and evil all creation. the garden belonged to God and he loved it and he took care of it when man was not yet created. God was so interested in the things he had created. God in his infinite wisdom wanted to limit mans dominion over everything. so in effect, God was saying that i have made you a caretaker over everything but you cannot explore or exploit everything because you will abuse it. so the tree which contains both good and evil when viewed under the lenses of creation is a strategy by God to prevent us from destroying the earth. for instance a land may be endowed with Gold and other minerals and at the same time be destructive if exploited. we cannot explore or exploit all knowledge though it is good but it is destructive.- the end result is the climate change crisis we are facing today. The destructive nature OF knowledge- guns, bombs murder, greed

Alice C. Linsley said...

That's an interesting theory, Emmanuel. However, it is not what is meant textually. The phrase "good and evil" is a merism. It means to know all things. Just as "search high and low" means to search everywhere. Likewise, the phrase "night and day" means 24 hours.

See this: