“The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground . . . In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” -Genesis 2:9
We live in a time and culture that questions God. We question why bad things happen to good people. We question why there is suffering in a world when there is a loving God. Essentially, we wonder why God allowed there to be a tree in the middle of a garden that we couldn’t eat from called, The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
I mean, really God? Why would you do that to us? It’s like saying “Don’t think of a pink elephant” and then instantly asking, “What are you thinking about?”
To which the only answer can be, “A pink elephant . . . obviously.” For there was no other option given. However, that is not the world that God created in the garden. For God created two trees in the middle of the garden. There was the infamous Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but more importantly, there was also the Tree of Life.
It could have been so simple; all God had to do was create the perfect world – a garden that didn’t possess those two trees. All God had to do was create a people whose only concern was to love him- create a people who didn’t have a choice in matter at all. But ask any child, and they will tell you that hugging a puppy is true while hugging a stuffed animal is much less fulfilling, and much less real. Because a stuffed animal can’t walk away from you. It’s not animate. It does not possess breath, life, or love. It does not possess a will, the ability to hope, or the ability to be hurt. A stuffed animal can’t whine when it needs something. It can’t wag its tail when it’s happy. There is no interaction with a stuffed animal because it was not made to live.
God could have made us stuffed and rigid: always the same as lifeless beings. But how could we live without life? So it was God who brought us to life. It was He who gave us breath by breathing his very Life into our nostrils. Now, we are capable of life itself, capable of growth, capable of autonomy, which means we are capable of walking away and choosing to do life without God. But this life will be warped and twisted – for we were never meant to be alive without a relationship with our Creator, the Life-giver.
I think this is why God put those two trees in the garden. Now, we have two choices in front of us every day, staring us in the face. Will we choose life, walking humbly with our God, living fully with Him? Or will we choose knowledge, thinking we know more then God and living distantly from life?
And God, giving us that choice, created a world in which we don’t have to rely on him if we choose not to. So God created a self-sustaining world. The vegetation was made to grow by itself, the animals were made to reproduce by themselves, and the sun will go up and go down by itself. This is why we have hurricanes and tornadoes: our atmosphere would not survive without them. God does not always dictate the weather that would take away from our free will. And while God created a self-sustaining world God made humanity somewhere outside the garden, gave us life, and then “set” us into the garden. And now that we are here, in this self-sustaining world we have to choices. A true Life that is dependent on God; or Knowledge of Good an Evil, a world where we are aware of all the things that happen when we choose to live independently from Him.
And this is where the horror of the story takes place because we chose knowledge. We believed we were God. And we did what we wanted being subject to nothing but our own flimsy justice system. So we lied, we stole, and we hid. We took our voices and used them to blame, to shame, and to curse God. And now we bear the consequences, knowing what it means to be a Creator instead of the Created. We did this all this while God was giving us a chance to live.
But we killed that life. We murdered it. We sliced it open and relished the blood on our hands. And when it was too late we asked God why he didn’t keep us clean in the aftermath. We called out wondering why we feel pain, wondering why we are faced with death. And he answered, “Because you needed the chance to be your own god if that’s what you wanted. How else could you really love me? But beloved creation, I won’t kill those whom I love; I have a grand solution.”
So God reached out to us. He reached to a small race of people living in the middle of the trade routes who had access to the world; and he told them to spread his word: his law. The law that would keep all peoples from raping, stealing, and murdering. But this group of people, this lifeboat to humanity, failed. In turn, they raped, they stole, they murdered, they threw it all away and turned into the very thing that God was trying to save them from.
So God gave them another chance, another avenue. They asked for a King and he granted their wish generation after generation. But these kings also stole, made war, and failed to spread the law to the world. They chose the tree of knowledge over and over again.
And the tree of life stood alone. No one ate from it.
And God had every right to throw away this world – our world that could no longer save itself for each new life was born into the mess that another generation had left to them. Original sin is very real. It’s everywhere! We can’t break free of it; we are born into other people’s disgusting messes and God doesn’t fix it. Because this is the world that God promised he would not dictate. This is what love looks like – love looks like allowing us to have a choice. He can guide, he can nudge, he can call, but he does not dictate this world. He could stop it if He wanted to – but the Bible tells us that he is in a relationship with us. And if God were to eradicate the evil events in this world he would be eradicating us.
But God loves us more than that. He wants a relationship with us rather than our absence.
Now, because of our own actions, this world is full of random events- some evil. This is a world of sin and depravity. This is the world where toddlers die, where teenagers get cancer. This is the world where orphans are made, where addictions wreck families. This is the world that causes stories to end: a world of evil – full of sin. But in the midst of all this suffering and death there is an answer to this problem of evil. The Christian answer is that we believe in a God who did something radical to counter this human mess.
The tree of life was buried so far deep in a pit of humanity’s vile mess that the only way to fix it was to send God himself into our twisted creation to clean it up. So God came. He lived. He taught. He came in the person of Jesus Christ. But Jesus didn’t rescue us and take us home when He came. He didn’t end it there. Because now, even God was subject to the mess that we made the moment he stepped into our fallen domain. He was subject to our mess not because the world demanded it, but for the sake of Life: the sake of our Lives He created us to live.
So God died. God chose life for us. He rose again so death itself has died in Christ. Now, the tree of life that was once forgotten is back on the table – if we choose to follow after Jesus. He is the way that we are welcomed back into the Garden of Eden.
And Christ took on death like no one history did before. He made a statement to all of humanity: if you want to have this tree of life you must die to yourself every day. And then, one day, we will all be raised again. And the trumpets will sound. And the curtain will be rolled back. And one day, and no one knows what day it will be, we (and creation) will be resurrected in the twinkling of an eye along with Abraham, Issac and Jacob. And in this resurrected world, God will finally have all the justice, all the power, all the control, and all the respect He intended to have in the first place. Because we will have finally declared Him as Lord. We will finally be in right relationship with Him.
Death and suffering are not a part of God’s original plan. But the Tree of Life is. And it is through Jesus that we can have that once again. This is how I can boldly say that God does not allow suffering and death.
We allow it.
And God’s answer to our allowance is to love us through it. He loved us into our own creation: He loved us into death.
I encourage you to embrace the suffering and death in your life; it is a reality that cannot be avoided. I know this because the Holy Scriptures are full of people, animals, and lands that were devastated – but in that devastation they meant God. God is not found in a picture-picture life because a picture perfect life is not reality. Instead, I see a God who encounters His creation in this messy reality. And luckily enough, we are that creation.