This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Two Trees

Genesis 2:9 talks about 2 trees located in the Garden of Eden, and the two trees are of course the "Tree of Life" and the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil." Although I personally believe these were literal trees, it must also be remembered that the Bible is a book that is multi-dimensional, mostly because of its divine authorship, and therefore those trees were placed there by God at the creation of the Garden by God Himself. So, we are going to be talking later on about a spiritual implication of these two trees, but first we need some background information.

I personally believe the Garden of Eden was a very big place - it was not your grandmaw's tomato plot by any means, you can be assured. Genesis 2:13-14 talks about Eden being surrounded by four rivers, the Pishon, Gihon, Hiddekel, and Euphrates. The early Church Fathers had theories as to what the Pishon was, or more specifically, where it was. For instance, Mor Ephrem of Syria identified it as the Danube, while Ambrose and John of Damascus identified it with the Ganges in India (Thomas G. Oden, gen. ed. and Andrew Louth, volume editor, The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament Vol 1: Genesis 1-11. {Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2001} pp. 56-59). Anyway you look at it, it covered a distance, but being more Patristic writers opted for the Ganges, so will be our position here. The second river, the Gihon, is pretty much universally accepted by the majority of Patristic writers as the Nile, meaning the Garden extended into Ethiopia. The other two rivers, naturally would be the Tigris (or Hiddekel) and the Euphrates. All four rivers supplied the Garden with water, and all four would have been the major rivers. Taking that description into account then, we could safely say the Garden of Eden covered the entire world of the Biblical narrative, which again says the account in the Bible specifically deals with the historic record of man's fall and redemption.

Now, if we accept that (which I do personally), what that means then is the center of the Garden would have been where the Holy Land - Israel - is today. Going back to Genesis 2:9, we see that both trees were in the "midst of the garden," meaning of course its central point. I have studied this, and what that points to is the central geographical location for all salvation history, the City of Jerusalem, or Zion. Being both trees were here, what that tells us then is that God consecrated this holy land from the beginning - wow! Now, although both trees were in the Garden, in the area of Jerusalem today, it doesn't necessarily mean they were exactly next to each other. In other words, they were in the midst of the Garden, but at separate locations. It is at this point now where our teaching really begins to get interesting.

The first idea here is what the consequences were from eating both trees - one produced life, the other caused death and judgement. That being said, let us look at something that will be very revolutionary to your thinking, but when you get the full picture of what I am about to share with you, it will make your own Christian walk more meaningful to you. Looking at a map of Jerusalem, we notice it is built on a city of hills, and two hills it is built on are pivotal to the two Covenants. One is Mount Zion, or the Temple Mount, where a lot of things in reference to the Hebraic Old Testament Covenant took place. The Temple was, of course, the center of Jewish spiritual life for many generations, and it was the symbol of Hebraic Law. Just northwest of the Temple Mount is another mountain, shaped eerily like a skull, hence its name Golgotha, or "Place of the Skull." This is where Jesus of course was crucified, and through that crucifixion and His shed blood, we received life. That being said, I want us to look at a Scripture verse in Romans 3:20, which tells us that "by the law is the knowledge of sin." 2 Corinthians 3:6 also tells us that "the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." These two Scriptures tell us something - we are condemned by our knowledge of the law!! The anonymous author of the Letter of Diognetus writes also regarding the reference in Genesis 2:9 to the Tree of Knowledge: "It was because the first men did not use this knowledge with clean hearts that they were stripped of it by the deceit of the serpent." (ibid, p. 55) That meaning of course that the law could be used as a weapon against others, and thus condemns its abuser - this was the danger of partaking of the tree that the Lord warned Adam and Eve about actually. As we have noted that this Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil has to do with accountability and condemnation of the Law, I am going to really present something here to you now; are you ready for this?? The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, I believe, was on Mount Zion, where the future Temple would be! Think about that a minute will you - when Jesus came, and His perfect sacrifice was made, the Temple lost its importance in our covenant relationship, didn't it. It didn't nullify the Law though, but completed it. Hence, the Law was completed. Satan's lie to us though has, and always will be, that we as humans can either reach salvation through doing good works, or that we can even reach perfection or even ultimately godhood by following a set of rules. Whole religions are built upon that ancient lie - one of them is Hinduism, in which this concept has a name, Karma - and that same lie, that Satan enticed Eve in the Garden with those many millenia ago, still deceives people, even those claiming to be "Christian." We are told by some in supposed Christian circles, for instance, that we are not to judge others but that our good works are a "witness" to others. Although it doesn't hurt, the true witness to others is the Holy Spirit moving upon them with conviction and desire to be set free of the sin that binds them. That is the true core of the Gospel, and if anyone teaches otherwise - doesn't matter if they do sell 5 million copies of some book about "purpose" or any other man-made concept - they are a false teacher and bring damnation upon themselves because they feed their followers that same corrupt fruit. In other words, striving to be "perfect," "holy," or "God-like" only causes bondage and stumbling, but the true life and liberty in the spirit is much more simple, and Jesus did that for us over 2000 years ago, which now leads us to talk about the Tree of Life now.

The Tree of Life, I believe, grew on Golgotha, and it is no accident either. Sometimes in order for life to happen, something must die - a seed dies when it sprouts a new plant, and a salmon dies giving spawn to its future generations. Likewise, Jesus died that we might have life, and as such, He is what the Tree of Life foreshadowed. On a place of death - the skull is the universal symbol of death, as many of you know - life was granted. God then, in his perfect wisdom, placed those two trees at strategic points in the Garden to foreshadow a spiritual lesson to us today. And, basically that lesson is this - Jesus is life, and the rigid law is condemnation and death (people have been known to commit suicide too when they are in bondage to legalism, because it is a hard row to hoe). Therefore, if we are truly born again in Christ, we should rejoice, for in Him we have partaken of the Tree of Life! In the Orthodox Church (as well as Byzantine-rite Catholic parishes) at Easter a troparion (proclamational hymn) is sung that goes something like this:

Christ is Risen from the dead
By death He trampled death
and to those in the tombs He bestoweth life!

Sung to the loud joyous ringing of bells - bells are a symbol of our praise to God, by the way, and we will be doing a teaching about that soon as well - this hymn says it all - through Christ, death has been conquered.
That is the crux - literally! - of our faith also; through the Blood of Christ, which is the most perfect fruit of the Tree of Life, we are saved from the condemnation and death of our sin. Without Christ though, religion is futile, as it only produces a code of legalism that will drive men to death or insanity trying to measure up to, hence it is the fruit of the knowledge of our sin and what is good and evil. Does that mean we dismiss the law and live any old way we want to? Absolutely not, and here is why - 2 Corinthians 5:17: "if anyone be in Christ he is a new creation; old things have passed away and all things have become new." In other words, we are truly transformed. This is a message sorely lacking in today's Church, as a sort of antinomianism has enslaved many and it has resulted in a carnality which binds many people to the world - people seem to think they can use unholy things like rock music, tattoos, and other garbage of the world in "service' to God. In reality though, they have not surrendered the worst parts of their old nature over to Christ, and their old man struggles against them. And, as a result, these things only please their flesh and don't glorify God. Sadly too, now these things have become a new legalism in many churches, and people are judged how "spiritual" they are by how many "jesus tattoos" they mutilate themselves with or by how "head-banging" they get when their favorite "Christian rock" band plays. This is not glorifying God - when one is born again in Christ, they truly do become a new creature, and they become that which God intended them to be. It may take some time to grow into it, but remember also, life is also about growth. The growth process of the Christian life is best described as a pilgrimage, and our pilgrimage begins not at Zion, but at Calvary. And, as long as we keep our spirit focused on Christ and our lives pointed in the direction He has for us, we will grow. And, the nourishment comes from that which the Tree of Life foreshadowed, and that is the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ.

That being said, I conclude with a challenge to you today based on all you have just read - if your Christianity has become a mere legalistic bondage, then your spirit has been eating from the Tree of Knowledge in a spiritual sense. The fruit may have seemed luscious and juicy to you at first, and probably tasted sweet, but too much of it has given you spiritual irregularity and you need to stop eating of that fruit before it kills you. Instead, you need to descend Zion and approach Calvary instead - the fruit of the tree of life may not always be as sweet, but it is nourishing and will refresh you. Partake of it today, and believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ to renew your spirit, because Jesus is truly the Life, and a perfect Life for us. Have a good week, and will see you next week.