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. 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, 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. We are not told details about how He made the sun or the trees. We aren’t given information about how He formed the dinosaurs or what happened to them. The Bible isn’t about their story. God wanted to give more details about the people He made. That was the critical information because humanity was made in His image.
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 a by a word spoken from God’s mouth. The land animals were raised up from the ground. But for the first humans, God came to earth Himself to craft them. He started with the first man, shaping him from the earth. Then the Lord blew the breath of life into his form and filled this new kind of being, this father of humanity, and made him come alive. Wow. It is pretty remarkable to picture that moment.
And because all humans are 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, and connected to the earth that he would rule and reign over. So it is with the rest of us. Humans were made as immortal creatures who are meant to live in deep, dependent relationship with the Divine Lord, but we are also made of earthly flesh. We have physical bodies like the animals, but we have been given many of the capacities of God.
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 of the parks we have now. This Garden was to be God’s Temple, the special, holy dwelling place of God on the planet.
This first man would be His priest, and he would dwell in the Garden with God. He was meant to the guardian of God’s living palace. 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, was set apart in a place called Eden.
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 that 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.” Only instead of drawing an extra line, or making an unnecessary limitation, He simply told them not to eat the fruit itself. Somehow, it was toxic, and we have a pretty good idea about why.
Once someone ate from the tree, they would understand evil. The power of evil is aggressive and cruel, and it lies. It robs those it taints of their freedom to do right…it suffocates their ability to understand what is good. It is like air that has been infused with carbon monoxide…even if it has some of the oxygen we need, it still has poison that we cannot handle.
God knew that no human could bear the pressure of understanding evil without being poisoned. Exposure meant being utterly warped by its darkness. We were not meant for it…we were meant for God. He is our oxygen.
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 slaves to it.
Yet He still planted that tree in the Garden. He would not force them to choose Him…to choose the Source of good in the universe…by keeping their 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.
It is easy in our time to get confused about good and evil because all of the examples we see around us have good and evil mixed together. People we admire for the good they do can still do really bad things. The great heroes of our history books are riddled with weakness and failure. 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 what was good.