Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. – Genesis 3: 1-8
Recently I started reading through the BIble. I decided that I am going to read it from beginning to end – even if it takes years. Genesis has always been a source of conflict for me. Don’t even get me started on the problem of evil and human freedom!
This time around, I have decided not to focus on all of the questions I have, and instead focus on what I can know and understand from reading Genesis. When I was reading this passage, I was struck by how relevant the story is to me in this season in life.
So, here we have Eve. She is hanging out in a beautiful garden with her hubby – full access to God and every good thing. God had given Adam and Eve authority over everything, and there was nothing they could ever want or need. God had given them only one “restriction”, communicated to Adam earlier:
“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 from it you will certainly die.” – Genesis 2: 16, 17
They had everything – literally. God had made the stars, the moon, the sun, the earth, the animals, the beautiful plants and trees, the rivers – everything. The king of the universe had made all of this, and then he turned to Adam and Eve and said: “It’s yours”. The command not to eat from that one tree can barely be seen as a restriction; It was a loving command given to them from a loving father, for their good, as is always the case with God’s commands. Why couldn’t they eat from the tree? Because they would die. That is a pretty loving command.
But Satan plants doubt in Eve’s mind. First, he causes her to doubt what God had said in the first place (vs. 1). God had not said that they must not eat of any tree in the garden, he had only said that they could not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Satan made God’s command seem more strict than it actually was. Then, he made God out to be a liar (vs. 4), telling Eve that she wouldn’t die. Lastly, he plants doubt in Eve’s mind about God’s motives, saying that God just didn’t want Adam and Eve to be like him (vs. 5). Satan wanted Eve to believe that God was hiding something from her, and that he was not really good.
And Eve falls for it. Having the seeds of doubt planted, she now looks at the tree with lustful eyes. She focuses in on the one thing she can’t have instead of all that she has been given. She sees that it is edible, that it looks good, and she thinks: If I eat this, I will be wise – like God! Instead of trusting in what God had said, she trusts in her own reasoning. And she eats it. And so does her husband.
It’s not about the fruit. It’s about what the fruit represented, and what their eating it said about them. They wanted to be wise – like God. Why? Wasn’t it enough that they got to walk with him intimately? God of the universe was right there any time they needed him and they could ask him anything. He had provided them with everything they needed and more. Why would they need that kind of wisdom if they trusted him? It wasn’t enough. Their identity was tied to God, and they wanted more than that. That fruit represented autonomy from God. They wanted to be “somebody” in and of themselves – not because of their connection with God.
This is human sin. At the root of every sinful act, is this very problem: we want autonomy from God. We want to be “somebody” apart from God. We want to approve of ourselves because of something in us.
I see this in my own life more and more every day. This is something God is uncovering in me – and it’s painful, and overwhelming. The more he uncovers, the more I see how badly I need him every moment of the day. But at the same time, I see how much I don’t want to depend on him every moment of the day. In other words, I see my total inability to change myself – and how badly I need God to change me. This is, of course, a blessing, because it is only here that I can begin to heal. But it’s hard.
We can go through huge chunks of our lives living this way without realizing it. We can find our identity in: our children, our careers, our ministries, our relationships, our possessions, our reputation, the number of notifications on Facebook, etc. All of these things are fine, but they can easily become idols. The problem is, our hearts are prone to deception and we are usually blind to our idols. Sometimes though, we can identify them when they are threatened.
Maybe your child misbehaves in a way you never expected at school; now all of a sudden you feel like a failure and find yourself being paranoid about what people are thinking, or resentful toward other people whose children are behaving better. Or maybe you find out that someone doesn’t think your heart is in the right place with regard to a ministry you are involved in. Now you find you are filled with self justifying thoughts, and anxiety. It can take on many forms, but all these things show that something else has taken the place of God. These things have become a crutch – a way for us to feel good about ourselves, and to approve of ourselves. And then when something goes wrong, we feel worthless, angry, bitter etc. This is because we have not died to self; we are still concerned with our image more than we are concerned with Gods. We want to be able to approve of ourselves because of something about us. This is what Adam and Eve wanted in the Garden, and what every other human being has wanted ever since.
But it is often harder to see when things are going well. When the ministry is flourishing and people are looking up to you as a godly and generous person, or your children are well behaved, or your boss praises you at work, it’s easy to put your head on the pillow in peace at night. It’s easy to approve of yourself when everyone else approves of you and things seem to be going well. But this is dangerous because even all of our good works are like filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6). None of the good things that we do – no matter how good – put us in better standing with God. God’s approval of us has nothing to do with anything that we have done. We bring absolutely nothing to the table. This is a freeing truth, but if we are honest, many of us don’t get peace from it in our day to day lives. For me, this is because usually it’s not God’s approval I want. Ultimately, it’s my own.
Search me, God, and know my heart;
Test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.”
– Psalm 139: 23,24