A Life Sentence
The first book of the Bible is aptly named Genesis, the book of beginnings. The book describes the power of God in creation of the universe, including the creation of all living things. It describes the beginning of God’s plan for man’s salvation. The book addresses many of the ‘big’ questions we have: “Where did the universe come from? Why are we here? Do good and evil exist? Does sin exist and is there a consequence to committing sin? Does God care about man?”
The book describes man’s first sin. Commission of sin resulted in expulsion from the garden God had planted for man. As a result, mankind was banned from accessing the Tree of Life (Gen. 3.22-24). I would like to explore in more detail the question; “Why was man driven out of, and barred from re-entering, the Garden of Eden?”
Let’s begin by first discussing briefly what constitutes sin. In I John 3:4, John writes; “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.” Sin is coupled in this verse with transgression of law, that is, going beyond or breaking law. What laws had God given man to live by? In Gen 1:28 man is told to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and in Gen. 1:30 God gives man green plants as food. Additionally, in Gen 2:15-17 a specific command is given to the first man, Adam: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to dress it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’”
After the creation of Adam’s wife, Eve, this command also applied to her. When she was approached by Satan (the serpent) and asked about eating of the fruit of the trees in the garden she said; “And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.”’ ” (Gen 3:4) Eve was deceived by Satan, ate the forbidden fruit, gave to Adam to eat and thus both sinned.
Man’s sin resulted in a change in the relationship between God and man. Man, newly armed with the knowledge of good and evil, feels shame because they are naked in the presence of a Holy God so they hide. (Gen 3:6-11) Isaiah must have felt something similar when he is called into the presence of God by way of a vision. Isaiah writes (Isa 6:1-5); “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’ And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!’ ”
In Isa 64:6 man’s righteousness is described as “filthy rags” in comparison to God’s righteousness. Before sin entered the picture, man was at peace in the presence of God, but after committing sin they were ashamed at being naked in His presence. What changed? They lost their innocence, their sinlessness, and now knowing good and evil they could feel this loss especially in the presence of a sinless God. They also now understood the cost of sin, which was exclusion from God and expulsion from the blessings of God in the garden (Gen 3:16-19) which included access to the Tree of Life. Ultimately, sin would result in the deaths of Adam and Eve (Gen 3:19), a consequence that spread to all men (Rom 5:12).
Why was man prohibited from re-entering the garden? Gen 3: 22-24 states; “Then the LORD God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’— therefore the LORD God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.” The reason stated in these verses is that man now knows good and evil like God.
It is important to note here the difference between man’s knowledge and God’s knowledge of good and evil. God is not tempted to sin by that knowledge, nor does he tempt others to sin. James 1:13-15 states; “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”
On the other hand, man’s knowledge of good and evil comes by way of personal experience. Eve’s desires lead her to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and tempt her husband to eat. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.” (Gen 3:6,7) Although man can be tempted to sin by this knowledge, God’s knowledge does not override His holiness. This difference also makes it necessary for God to block man’s access to the tree of life.
Imagine a world in which man, unable to deal with the temptations brought about by the knowledge of sin or the consequences of the sin, cannot die. The description of the world prior to the flood is given in Gen 6:5, 11, 12 and provides strong evidence of such a scenario; “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth” This awful state was the product of a world occupied by exceptionally long-lived, sinful men unable to overcome temptation. Think what the world would be like if man were immortal! I think it may be an apt description of hell. (Rev 20:5, 6, 15; 22:15)
Even though man had rejected God’s law and was ultimately doomed to mortality for his crime, God still cared for man. Although God did punish Adam by making him earn his food through hard work in a harsh land (Gen. 3.17-18), God allowed mankind to have a way to provide sustenance for themselves. God expelled the shamefully-clad man and woman from the Garden (and His presence), but made for them clothes of animal skins to adequately cover their nakedness and protect them from the harsher existence they were being sentenced to. (Gen 3:19) God’s ultimate display of mercy comes by way of His promise to the serpent in Gen. 3.15: “And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.” (Gen 3:15) Though Eve is told she will have pain in childbirth, she is also told that her progeny would ultimately defeat the serpent (crush his head).
This prophecy marks the beginning of the plan by God to provide man the way to re-enter the presence of God and have access to eternal life with God through his only begotten son. Jesus said of himself in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 3:16 states; “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Through Christ we have the antidote to our exclusion from God’s presence in the forgiveness of that which resulted in said exclusion: sin. “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Col. 1.21-22)
Thus, we come full circle, from expulsion from the garden and loss of access to eternal life condemned to return to the dust from which we were created, to the culmination of God’s plan in Jesus to provide a way for man to overcome the effects of sin and return unashamed into God’s presence. The death sentence has been converted to one of life.