This past Sunday we began a new message series on four trees that are mentioned in the Christian scriptures. I began with the tree of life that God planted in the middle of a garden in Eden. But in order to get to the discussion I started by addressing an unstated tension that most of us live in.
This tension is the result of the two worlds that so many of us are educated in. There is the rational, scientific world fostered by our education systems and the religious view presented by so many of our churches. If you aren’t tracking, allow me to go on and describe further.
The Christian view of creation that I was brought up in espoused what is called the “young earth theory.” It’s fundamentals are:
1) God created the heavens, the earth, water, land, and every living creature in six literal 24 hour days. Sunday through Friday God created and on Saturday God rested.
2) Based upon the literal understanding that Adam and Eve where the first two humans, you can trace the genealogical record of the Old Testament and New Testament. By doing so you would conclude that the earth is only about 4 to 6 thousand years old or a “young earth.”
The tension is that any other interpretation or view of creation different from this one is an attack on the truth of holy scripture and therefore heretical.
Of course the scientific view of origins of the universe, earth and species takes a differing view. Based upon testing, measurements, and proven techniques their conclusions create a conflict with some of my early Christian world view.
1) Carbon dating while not without its faults should at lease cause us to pause and consider the fact that the earth is older than 4-6 thousand years; it is perhaps several million if not billions of years old.
2) The fossil record also creates a tension for Biblical literalist because the Bible does not speak about dinosaurs and pre-historic events but there is enough evidence to prove the existence of pre-historic creatures and humans that cannot be discounted.
3) The veracity of theories like the Big Bang theory is one of many possible and reasonable explanations regarding the cause and effect that were the impetus behind the origins of the earth.
All of these can be tested, measured, and studied in order to determine information regarding the origins of the earth and species that have evolved. The tension from a purely scientific perspective is that any view of the origins of the earth and living creatures that cannot be tested and verified should be relegated to the realm of mythology. Science is the only true methodology for rational and reasonable explanations regarding the origins of everything.
Because of these arguments I (and maybe we) have lived in a world that says that we must choose between one or the other – they are exclusive points of view. Or are they? I am a firm believer in science and a firm believer in religion so I happen to think there is a via media between the two.
1) The creation story of Genesis 1 and 2 isn’t intended to be a scientific treatise on the literal creation of the universe, earth, and living creatures. There are good and plausible scientific explanations that help us to understand process.
2) The Genesis account is intended to be revelation – the revealing of God as the sole impetus behind creation. While science cannot provide us the answer to who, theology tells us that it is God who is the intelligence, determinism, source and force of creation.
3) Science has the ask of defining how the creative process works; theology answers the question of who and why!
And with this union of the two the Genesis story becomes “an indispensable theological resource and an important paradigm on the way in which to integrate theological and scientific realities in a common search for truth about the world.” (New Interpreter’s Bible)
As such I truly believe that you can be a person of science and theology; a person of rationality and a person of faith. So let’s look again at the story of creation to discover what God created and why.
Some people interpret Genesis chapters 1 and 2 as two different creation stories. I have come to believe that they are different views. Genesis 1 to 2:4a is a macro-economic view of God’s creative activities from “day 1 to-day 6” and then God’s assessment that it was “good” so God rested. Genesis 2:4b and on is a micro-economic view of God, the creation of humanity and the garden.
1) God created the good realm of creation
2) God created man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into him the breath of life
3) God created a garden in Eden
4) God moved man into the garden to cultivate, tend, and eat of the fruit of the trees
5) God planted two special trees in the middle of the garden – the tree of life and the tree of knowledge and God commanded Adam not to eat of the tree of knowledge
6) God decided that it was not good for man to be alone so God created woman from the rib of Adam
7) Adam and Eve lived in the garden, cultivated it, ate of the fruit of its trees and walked with the God
This is what God created – the good creation with a garden of delight or bliss where his human creation lived and thrived in His presence.
So why two special trees?
Archie C. C. Lee once observed that “the two trees, the fruits of which are forbidden to Adam and Eve, represent the two aspirations of human beings – a longing for knowledge and a quest for immortality.”
The two trees represented choice – evidently neither Adam or Eve had eaten of the tree of life. What they had done was obeyed God’s command to not eat of the tree of knowledge. The tree of life was a symbol for the eternal presence of God – to eat of it would grant eternal life. If humanity had chosen to obey God then they would have fulfilled the divine will for vocation, permission and prohibition. They could have feasted upon the tree of life and lived with God in the garden.
However humanity made a different choice and as such the tree of life was removed as an option and the garden of Eden was lost. The garden God planted, the fruit of trees that would sustain life, the tree of life that would have granted us eternal peace, purpose and the presence of God were all removed because of human choice and in our brokenness we continue to dwell outside of God’s divine presence and will…but not forever.
Science might be able to tell us about the origins of creation and created beings, it helps us understand the fractured world around us but theology provides us what science cannot – a hope-filled future. Even though the tree of life is hidden, those of us who are redeemed through Jesus Christ will one day inherit the tree of life – it is our future as God reconciles and restores His creation. Just as John Milton wrote that paradise was lost, one day paradise will be regained.
Blessings for the journey