Today the Daily Office readings take us through Genesis 3. I’ve read Genesis 3 dozens of times (the bit about Adam and Eve eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and then being expelled from Eden). But for some reason, today I was struck by a wrinkle in the narrative that had escaped my notice before.
Here’s my disclaimer: I am not an Old Testament scholar. This is only one priest’s reflection on the whole narrative of the Bible.
It was verses 22 and 23 that struck me today: “Then the Lord God said, ‘See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’ – therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken.”
Okay, right away, it’s important to know the word play going on between man (in Hebrew adam) and ground (in Hebrew adamah). But then read carefully: why does God expel Adam and Eve? It’s not because they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but it’s because they might eat from the tree of life.
Now put your finger in that place in your Bible, and zoom ahead to Revelation 22 (the last chapter in Western bibles). Read carefully: what is the very thing that is offered for all nations? The tree of life.
The Bible wasn’t composed straight from Genesis to Revelation. The Bibles that sit on your bookshelves are constructs – between the covers of your Bible are centuries of prayers, history, letters, and poetry. But isn’t it fascinating that from Genesis 3 to Revelation 22 there is an unresolved tension? For 99% of the scriptural narrative, there is promise yet the distance of the tree of life.
Next time you pick up your Bible, don’t immediately look for comfort. I ask you to look for juxtapositions, tension, and unresolved conflict. This is what makes the Bible so great – it doesn’t describe perfect harmony. It dwells on dissonance.
And isn’t that life?
P.S. – Check out this picture of the St. Alban’s cross. The tree of life is rooted in the bottom of the vertical axis!