In the first chapter of the Bible, we are given a description of how God created the entire universe. There were bright, breathtaking outpourings of light and power…magnificent new realities bounding out with His every word. The range of what He made is stunning, from the sheer atomic might of the stars to the minute cells within a blade of grass. God spoke everything into place on an epic scale even as He was refining nature to its most intricate details.
In the second chapter of Genesis, everything slows down. God gives a whole chapter to explain a whole new set of details about how He created the human race. This tells us something about what God (and His divinely inspired author) wanted to communicate to us through the text. We are not told details regarding how He created the sun or the trees. We aren’t given information about how He made the dinosaurs or what happened to them. Their stories aren’t the ones that the Bible was written to tell. We can tell which ideas are most important for us to focus on in the Bible by looking at what topics it focuses on. God wanted to give us more details about how He created us, the beings He made in His own image. He provided the Bible as part of His pursuit of our hearts…so we could understand how He has been seeking a loving relationship with us from the beginning.
When God made the first man, He took dust from the ground and molded it like clay. He carefully formed the first person with His own hands. Almost everything else in the universe was made by a word spoken from God’s mouth. The land animals were raised up from the ground. But for the first man, God came to earth Himself and crafted him. Then the Lord breathed the Breath of Life into his form and filled this new kind of being, this father of humanity, and caused him to come alive. Wow. Try to picture that moment in your head. It is worthy of a little time to capture our sense of wonder.
There are many incredible myths across the cultures of the world where strange and wonderful things stir our imaginations. There are many movies that make wild and beautiful things come alive before our eyes, and we understand they are born from someone’s creative genius. This remarkable story is considered among the finest in world literature, and many believe it is a myth…one that is surely worthy of our attention and imaginative engagement. But that is not the way the author of this story would have us understand it…and we have to take his goals seriously if we are to understand the meaning of his writings. The Bible represents this story as true…as True…the truest representation of the underlying facts of all of reality. When you imagine this story, it is not an exercise of enjoying a fairy tale. This is what really happened…this is how our ancestral grandfather, the first of our race, came into being. It is our heritage, and it sets the foundation for the rest of our reality…the Bible is the True Myth that tells the real story of our world.
And because we are all descendants of that first man, named Adam, we have inherited his qualities. When we breathe, we breathe the very life of God. It is a holy and exalted reality. Yet Adam was also made of dust. He was a humble being, connected to the earth that he was made to rule and reign over. As with Adam, so with us. Humans were made as immortal creatures who are meant to live in deep, dependent relationship with our divine and glorious Lord, but we are also made of earthly flesh. We have a physical being like the animals, but we have been given many of the capacities of God.
If you think about the reality we live in today it makes a lot sense…our capacity to dream, the human drive towards hope, justice, and peace, our capacity to read and think great thoughts and perform beautiful acts of mercy…and yet we are utterly connected to our needs on the ground. We are a lot like the animals in our need for food and water, yet we are also not like them at all. That was our condition in the Garden, and it remains our condition to day. We are bodies of flesh that house our immortal souls. Wow.
Out of all the glorious beauty of earth, God chose a special place to prepare a Garden. It was rather like a park, though far more beautiful and perfect than any park we have today (which is saying something). This Garden was to be God’s Temple, the holy dwelling place of God on earth.
This first man would be His priest, and he would dwell in the Garden with God. He was meant to be the guardian of God’s living palace on earth. His job was to prune and protect it, and drive out anything that was evil or impure. This sacred space, this Garden of the Lord, this set apart place, was called Eden, which means “pleasure.”
Imagine how it must have been…lavishly abundant, glorious vistas at every turn, filled with animals, flowers, trees…imagine how drippingly delicious the fruit must have been in this perfect world. A great and mighty river flowed through the Garden, which broke into four more rivers. They flowed out of the Garden and watered the regions of earth all around it, making them lush and green. We still know where two of those rivers are today. One is the Tigris and the other is the Euphrates. They both flow through the modern day nation of Iraq.
In the middle of the Garden of Eden, God planted two special trees. One was called the Tree of Life. The fruit of this tree would give an astonishing gift. The one who ate its fruit would never die. The other tree was called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
When the Lord put the first man into this amazing Garden, He told him, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17).
That is a pretty serious message. Apparently, it was an extremely dangerous tree, and God wanted the human race to stay away from it. It was as if God drew a circle around the tree and said, “Do not cross that line. This tree is not for you.” Somehow, it was bad news, and we have a pretty good idea why.
Once someone ate from the tree, they would understand evil. The power of evil is aggressive and cruel, and it lies. It robs its partakers of their freedom to do right…it suffocates their ability to understand what is good. It is easy in our time to get confused about good and evil because we see good and evil mixed together in many examples around us. We admire others for the good that they do, yet they disappoint us, too. The great heroes from our history books are riddled with weakness and failure and choices that make us cringe. But that simply shows the brokenness of our world now that we are outside the Garden. When the world was new, the distinction between good and evil was clear, and the human race had the freedom to choose only that which was good.
God knew that no human could bear the pressure of understanding evil without being utterly warped by its darkness. Only God is so strong and completely holy that evil cannot touch Him. Only God can fully understand the depths of evil and still remain perfectly righteous and pure. God knew that the fruit of this tree would give the first humans knowledge that their souls would not be strong enough to handle, and they would become entangled with sin and death. They would, in fact, become their slaves.
And yet…God still planted that tree in the Garden. He would not force humanity to choose Him…to choose the only Source of good in the universe, from whom all good things flow…by keeping the other choice hidden. The option was there, but they had the freedom to ignore it. As they continued to choose God over evil, they would give Him great glory through their trust. They could have born children who never felt suffering or pain, who never aged or died. We could have been free forever.