Wednesday, August 24, 2005

To die is gain (Gen 3:20-24)

The SAB takes issue with the statement that Eve is "the mother of all living", but for an odd reason. Well, at least I think it's odd. The issue is not with the concept that all humans are descended from a common female ancestor (and actually, I think biology may teach that to be the case, someone can correct me if I'm wrong) but that there was supposedly a man named Melchisedec who had no ancestry. I'm going to save discussion of Melchisedec for chapter 14, where he shows up in person. This guy is definitely an oddball in the Bible, and there are more than a few theories concerning his nature.

God makes some fur coats for Adam and Eve, which the SAB labels as an absurdity, but doesn't explain why. This is actually a much more significant event than most people get on a surface reading, and is worth noting. Previously, Adam and Eve had covered themselves with fig leaves, and before that, they ran around naked. This indicates to me that the issue of clothing was a matter of covering up nakedness, and not a matter of protecting against the cold. Yet God feels there is a need to give them furs to cover them. A pattern throughout the Bible is the idea that sin leads to death; but not always the death of the person who sins. In this case, while Adam's death is put off for at least another 800 years, God can't let it rest without the death of some animals. This is actually the beginning of the sacrificial system, and the idea that the only thing that can cover up the sin of the guilty is the blood of the innocent. Don't ask me why, I don't understand it well myself.

After giving them the skins, God expresses concern that Adam and Eve have access to the tree of life. (Comments on God using "us" are back here.) Apparently eating the fruit from the tree of life will make one immortal. I think the SAB has a bit of a clear misreading in its notes here, however*; God isn't afraid that mankind will become like God by eating the tree of life, He's grieved that they have already become like Him by eating the forbidden fruit. Note that the tree of life was not a tree they were banned from eating, but the situation has changed. As I said before, now the world is not a pleasant place to be in, and mankind has become separated from God. In order to fix both these situations, God decides that it will be an act of mercy to let mankind die. In dying, they will have the chance to be separated from their physical sinfulness and eventually brought back into a relationship with God in Heaven. Remember, in Christian theology, death is not a bad thing in and of itself. If you desire to be with God, then you will be. If you desire to have God leave you alone, then that will happen for you.

Adam and Eve are kicked out of the garden, and a guard is set to make sure that nobody goes back in and gets to the tree of life. It would be very tempting for someone to go and eat from that tree, but it would be wrong to do so, because it would make their life a living Hell.

I'm reminded of C.S. Lewis' book The Magician's Nephew, which Lewis clearly intended to be an allegory of a sort for the Genesis story. Near the end of the book, the main character, a boy named Digory discusses with Aslan (symbolic of Jesus) how he was tempted to steal a magic apple to take home to his sick mother. A witch had told him that the apple would have healed her sickness. Aslan responds to Digory:
"Understand, then, that it would have healed her; but not to your joy or hers. The day would have come when both you and she would have looked back and said it would have been better to die in that illness."
Like Digory's mother, we're all suffering from an illness known as sin, and to have eaten an apple that made us live forever would not so much cure the illness as treat one of the symptoms. We're all going to die someday, and it's something that everyone ought to know, but even Christians often forget, but dying is not a loss, it's just stepping into the next phase of our existence, and one that for many of us will be a much better one.

*SAB notes have been changed since the writing of this entry; see comments.

15 comments:

Steve Wells said...

“I think the SAB has a bit of a clear misreading in its notes here, however; God isn't afraid that mankind will become like God by eating the tree of life, He's grieved that they have already become like Him by eating the forbidden fruit.”

I agree with you, here (at least in part). And I’ve changed the note accordingly.

God isn’t afraid that Adam and Eve will become like him (or them) by eating from the tree of life. He thinks that they already have become like him by eating from that other tree – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Now he is worried that they will find and eat from the tree of life and live forever. Here’s what it says in Gen.3:22-24:

“Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever. … He drove out the man.”

What is God worried about here? Adam already ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and God said that “in the day” that he did so he would “surely die.” But now God is absolutely frantic that Adam and Eve will eat “from the tree of life, and live for ever.”

Do you see the problem here, Ben?

Brucker said...

I prefer to be called Brucker, just a personal thing.

Anyway, yes, I see your point, but once again, a distinction has to be made between physical and spiritual death. Because Adam has already experienced spiritual death, God sees physical death as a solution to the problem. Adam is going to physically die because at this point in time, God feels it's just better.

Steve Wells said...

“I prefer to be called Brucker, just a personal thing.”

Sorry about that, Brucker.

“Adam is going to physically die because at this point in time, God feels it's just better.”

That's interesting. God felt it would just be better if Adam was dead. But that was not my question.

Wasn’t Adam supposed to die “the day” that he at from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? (Gen.2:17)

And didn’t Adam eat from that tree? (Gen.3:6)

So why is God worried that Adam will live forever if he finds and eats from the tree of life? (Gen.3:22)

Brucker said...

"Wasn’t Adam supposed to die 'the day' that he at from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?

"And didn’t Adam eat from that tree?"

Yes, and I explained that here. But you do bring up a point that I may not have fully addressed...

"So why is God worried that Adam will live forever if he finds and eats from the tree of life?"

I gather that you're not asking why God thinks death is better, but rather why is God *worried*. I don't think God is worried, He's just stating a fact about the tree of life. Since dying is better than living forever in a fallen world, then God is explaining why He wants Adam and Eve out of the garden.

Steve Wells said...

I guess I’m not being clear enough. I’ll try one more time.

What would happen if Adam ate from the tree of life?

Brucker said...

Oh, that's an easy one. Genesis 3:22 says clearly that Adam will live forever.

Steve Wells said...

"Genesis 3:22 says clearly that Adam will live forever."

Good. We agree on something.

But how could Adam live forever after eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” -- Gen.2:17

Well, Adam ate from the tree in Gen.3:6. Right? Are you saying he would both die and live forever if he ate from that other tree, the tree of life?

Could Adam have lived forever after eating from both trees?

Brucker said...

But he didn't eat from the tree. He could have lived forever, but God prevented it.

I have a cousin who had to go to jail for a DUI. I could have told him that if he drove his car while drunk, he'd end up in jail. While it's true that he would not go to jail if he wasn't caught, he did get caught.

Put it this way: Adam is going to die because God's not going to let him eat from the tree. Blame it on God if you want, and indeed, it was a choice made by God, but in the end, God wasn't lying.

Steve Wells said...

"But he didn't eat from the tree. He could have lived forever, but God prevented it."

How could he live forever and die at the same time?

Didn't he eat from the first tree (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil)?

Didn't God say he would die if he ate from that tree?

So how could he live forever by eating from the second tree (the tree of life)?

Or was the second tree the antidote for the first?

Brucker said...

He can't live forever and die at the same time. Adam did not live forever, since God kept him from eating of the other tree.

Steve Wells said...

" He can't live forever and die at the same time. Adam did not live forever, since God kept him from eating of the other tree."

Okay, I think I get it now.

There were two magic trees. Eating from the first tree cast a spell that caused death. Eating from the second tree undid the spell of the first tree. God wanted Adam and Eve to die, so he was worried that they would find and eat from the second magic tree and thereby undo the spell from the first. So he kicked them out of the garden. That makes sense.

But doesn’t it seem strange to you that God would have a second tree that served as the antidote for the first? God said that they would die the day that they ate from the first tree. No if, and, or buts. Yet he knew (presumably) that there was a second tree that would undo the effect of the first.

So God, if he was going to be honest, should have said “Don’t eat from the first tree or you’ll die (not the day that you eat it, but nearly 1000 years later). But if you do eat from the first tree, there’s a second tree that you can eat from (if you can find it before I can catch you) that will undo the spell of the first. So if you eat from the first tree and the second tree, then you’ll live forever. Or you could just eat from the second tree (which would have no effect at all, since you already would live forever). Or you could just not eat from either tree; that would work, too.”

God might want to summarize the instructions this way:

“If you eat from neither tree, or from both trees, or from just the second tree, then you’ll live forever.
But if you eat from the first tree but not the second, you’ll live a very long life and then die.”

Do I have it right now, Brucker?

Brucker said...

You're definitely on the right track, and in fact, you may be completely right and I'm wrong, but my position is subtly different.

"There were two magic trees. Eating from the first tree cast a spell that caused death. Eating from the second tree undid the spell of the first tree."

There were two important trees. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was actually not magic at all. It was the act of rebelling against God that was "magic" if you want to put it that way. The tree of life would allow a person to live forever, although I'm not sure whether it's the act of simply eating one fruit, or that one would have to keep eating the fruit to stay alive. Some have speculated that Adam lived so long because he did eat from the tree of life before being cast out of the garden, but the fact that people's life spans decreased rapidly after the flood makes me think that something about the flood has more to do with it.

Perhaps the summary that fits a bit better is, "If you eat from tree #1, I'm going to kick you out so you can't eat from tree #2, which will cause you to eventually die."

marauder said...

I realize this is an area of interpretation rather than something explicity stated in Scripture, but I've generally understood the two trees in the Garden to be a choice that Adam had.

It works like this: God told Adam that he could eat the fruit of any tree in the Garden, save only the fruit of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Tree of Life was on the allowed list until Adam disobeyed and ate the forbidden fruit, because God did not want Adam to live forever once he had eaten the forbidden fruit. (My understanding for years has been that this is so Adam would not live forever in a state of sin, rather than because God merely didn't want him to live forever.)

Two trees, two options. There's no knowing how the story would have gone if Adam had eaten from the Tree of Life first -- it's implied that he hadn't done so at the time he and Eve were evicted from Eden -- but I fancy, with no basis other than the conjecture offered here, that if Adam had eaten from the Tree of Life, the other tree would have been removed.

Brucker said...

Another note about Genesis 3:20, it occurs to me that this is a case where we're looking for a literal understanding of something that has a clear non-literal meaning. Whether or not Eve is one of the female descendents of Melchisedec, the fact remains that there are two other people in the Bible of whom Eve is not the mother: Adam, and Eve herself. Genesis 3:20 is a claim made by Adam that, at the time it was actually said by Adam, there is actually nobody on earth who fits the bill. If there are already two exceptions, why not more?

Na said...

You say "God makes some fur coats for Adam and Eve, which the SAB labels as an absurdity, but doesn't explain why."

I suggest you answer this yourself in the same paragraph with "while Adam's death is put off for at least another 800 years, God can't let it rest without the death of some animals."