One day when our daughter was in high school, she was telling me about her frustration with a classmate. This classmate had begun to change her lifestyle in the direction of drinking and partying. And it pained my daughter to see that happening.
Not only am I male, but I am also an engineer. So, rather than just listening to my daughter, I defaulted to giving some advice aimed at fixing the problem. But she cut me off and said, “Papa, you’ve got to understand. She has grown up in a typical Christian family where she had to follow rules. Not like us.”
That stopped me in my tracks. I thought, “Huh? What have we done right here?”
Although we have raised three children, and things have turned out well with all of them, it’s not been easy to say what we have done right. It is only within recent years that I have discovered a vocabulary to describe what my daughter referred to that day.
This chapter explores that paradigm. We have apparently been living it, at least to some degree, as our children have grown. And yet, putting it into words has increased its impact in my life. It has to do with what we eat. And it begins in a garden.
Genesis 2–3 tells the story of the fall of man—when peace in the physical realm was broken and death entered into the human experience. This happened in the Garden of Eden, the dwelling place of the Man and the Woman whom The Lord God had created. It was a place of peace. Father God created people to live in loving relationship with himself, and gave them a home ideally suited for that relationship to flourish.
In the garden were all kinds of trees, pleasing to the eyes and good for food. In addition there were two trees which, by their description, were of a different nature than the other trees. One was the Tree of Life and the other was the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Apparently, eating from either of these two trees was not simply a matter of gaining physical nourishment, but rather an impartation of spiritual perspective and understanding.
The Man was expressly forbidden to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. But no such restriction appears to have been placed on eating from the Tree of Life. I believe that, among other things, these two trees represent two streams of thought, or two kinds of wisdom, which stand in opposition to one another. In the garden, the Man and Woman could partake freely of the Tree of Life as long as they did not eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. But once they ate of the forbidden tree, they were cut off from the Tree of Life.
So, in the midst of the garden we have these two trees. And we have a Man and a Woman living in the garden, in fellowship with the triune God who created them. We don’t know how long they wandered among these two trees. But one fateful day something happened.
The serpent was an intelligent being, appearing to be wiser and more persuasive than any beast of the field. Ezekiel 28 describes this creature, perfect in beauty, as a guardian cherub in the garden of Eden. It is possible that his purpose as a guardian cherub was to prevent the Man and the Woman from eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Or perhaps he was that tree. In any case, his wisdom became corrupted, and he persuaded the Woman and the Man to consume that corrupted wisdom.
The problem with the knowledge of good and evil is not just the knowledge of evil. The knowledge of good is also a problem, because the root issue is neither good nor evil in itself, but the whole spectrum of good and evil.
The knowledge of good and evil rests on differentiating that which is good from that which is evil. Everything comes into a scale of comparison. Doing good things would seemingly increase my value, while doing evil things would have the opposite effect.
Mankind was not created to discern between good and evil. We were created to relate to Father God in love. The one who loves does not need to be told to do good or to avoid evil, because love leads us to choose that which is pleasing and desirable in the eyes of the one whom we love. But the knowledge of good and evil blinds us to the ways of love and instead opens our eyes to a corrupted wisdom of judgment.
In this corrupted wisdom, good becomes a mechanism for gaining acceptance. And those who do not appear to be good enough come under condemnation. Typically, we end up expending great effort to hide our shortcomings behind fig leaves in order to not seem to be naked (as it were). And we tend to condemn those whom we deem to be less good than they should be. This is not a life of peace.
The Tree of Life is completely different.
The apostle Peter referred to Jesus as the author or originator of life. Jesus said that he came so that we would have life in abundance. Proverbs states that Wisdom is a tree of life. It is therefore natural to conclude (as early church fathers such as Bonaventure and Augustine have done) that the Tree of Life is Jesus.
God is love. And Jesus, the Son of God, is a complete and perfect image of—the exact representation of—the nature of God. It follows, therefore, that the Tree of Life is all about love.
In the framework of love there is no comparison. There is no scale of acceptability. There is no measure of good or bad. Love chooses to accept unconditionally. It has been said that love is blind. And that is certainly true in the sense that love does not look to the knowledge of good and evil.
Praise for The Call of the Child
“Bruce McKibben writes about living in the power and liberty of ‘sonship before the Father.’ He does not write from theory but from experience. Yes, he writes on sonship from the position of sonship. He writes with insight about being a peacemaker, about living out of the Tree of Life instead of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. His practical applications are refreshing and thought-provoking. Be prepared to be provoked, and read with an open heart—here is much wisdom to be gleaned.”
—Mike Bickle, International House of Prayer, Kansas City