In the first chapter of the Bible, we are given the 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 microscopic cells within a blade of grass. In the first chapter, we learn how God spoke everything that exists into place.
In the second chapter of Genesis, the story slows down. The divinely inspired author takes a whole chapter to explain a whole new set of details about how God created the human race. We are not given 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 making of humanity…the ones who were made in His image, the pinnacle of His creation. The relationship of God with humanity is the central story of the Bible. One of the ways the author helped make that clear was by giving us the details about how we were made.
When God created 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 because God spoke them into existence. 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 made him come alive. Wow. Try to picture that moment in your head.
And because we are all descendants of that first man, we have inherited his qualities. When we breathe, we breathe the very life of God. It is a holy and exalted reality. Yet the first man was also made of dust. He was a humble being, connected to the earth that he would rule and reign over. And so are we. 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.
Like the first human, all humans have a physical body like the animals, but we have been given many of the capacities of God. We are not all-knowing or all-powerful, but we are creative. As a race, we love to make things, we recognize and crave beauty, and we have an inherent understanding of right and wrong. The smallest child has a sense of when something isn’t fair.
We don’t expect a animals to have a moral compass, but we are highly offended when a man or woman doesn’t. As regal and as magnificent as a lion might be, we don’t expect lions to judge between right and wrong. We don’t throw a lion into jail for his choices, even if the choice is to kill. Yet across the globe and across the ages, humanity has expected the fellow members of their race to know the difference between right and wrong and to do what is right. We may have differed on the specifics about what is right or wrong or the emphasis on what kinds of right or wrong matter the most, but there is literally no civilization on record where the idea of right and wrong wasn’t profoundly grounded within the culture. The desire for what is right, the human drive for justice, is just one of the universal human traits that comes from being made in the image of God.
God’s gifts to the first human were lavish. Out of all the glorious beauty of earth, God chose a special place to prepare a Garden. It was rather like a park, but not like the small grassy spots where we put swings for children. This was more like a vast national 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, most 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 the guardian of God’s grand, 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 lush and 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 and 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 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 toxic, and God wanted to protect humanity from it’s poison. 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. It robs those it taints of their freedom to do right…it suffocates their ability to understand what is good. It puts them in bondage.
It is easy in our time to get confused about good and evil. Almost all of the examples we see around us have good and evil mixed together. We find that even those we admire, when we know the whole story, are still broken and imperfect. The great heroes of our history books are riddled with weakness and failure. The confusion and pervasiveness of sin 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…they could choose not to know what evil was at all.
Imagine that for a moment…to not even know the meaning of words like death, war, sadness, or suffering. Imagine not being able to imagine doing those things that are so destructive to our lives…no temptation towards bad habits, no feelings of insecurity, no concept of cruelty or loss.
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, for they were not created to bear the burden of evil. They were created to reflect the glory of God and live in nearness to His perfect goodness. He knew that if they were exposed to the power of evil, they would become slaves to it, and this slavery would entangle them with sin and death.
Yet He still planted that tree in the Garden. He would not force them to choose Him…to choose the only 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.