The Manand the Trees

Gordon L. Bissett, Penarth, Cardiff, Wales

Man’s life began with trees

They stood, the man and his wife, looking out across the most beautiful woodland park the world has ever seen. All around them stood trees so varied that a year-long supply of food was ready at hand at all times, and the work of tending this garden was not so hard as to prevent them from enjoying the beauty on every side. Here was no hairy, slouching, ape-man of science fiction. Made in the image of God, he and his wife were able to appreciate beauty as well as food. In fact this appreciation, misdirected, presently played a part in their downfall, Gen. 3. 6, ’When the woman saw that the tree was . . . pleasant to the eyes’.

Man has always lived with trees. They have channelled his culture by challenging his strength and skill; they have provided him with shelter, food, and heat. At times man’s thoughtlessness has made him the trees’ enemy through burning and deforestation in his perspiring conquest of the resistant soil, Gen.3. 19, ‘In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread’.

Two trees to choose from

In that forest reserve stood two trees whose importance far exceeded that of all the rest. One, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was to divert man’s spiritual history at its very spring. The other, the tree of life, would appear again only at the beginning of a new, happier, and unending chapter of that history, to help undo the havoc of that first deviation from the revealed will of God, Rev. 22. 2. The leaves of that tree will be for the healing of the nations.

We know nothing about the botanical identity of those two trees, nor does it matter. Paleobotany tells us that in fact there were very many species of plants before the flood which disappeared leaving no clue as to the chemistry of their fruits; but these two trees may have been unique. Our ignorance about these points in no way invalidates the truth of the inspired history.

Why did Adam and Eve not eat of the fruit of the tree of life? They were not prohibited from doing so. Perhaps in the tireless vigour of unspoiled manhood and womanhood, they felt no need yet for renewal. They were not naturally immortal, only God has immortality, 1. Tim. 6. 16, yet had they eaten of that tree, they would have lived forever, Gen. 3. 22. Even after the fall man’s lifespan was at first prodigiously long. Adam lived 930 years, Gen. 5. 5.

They did eat of the forbidden tree, with all the measureless tragedy that followed and which envelops us today. There is a sense in which that first fall is enacted over and over again all round the world, day after day. Man does not feel his need of today’s ‘tree of life’, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, for he neither feels nor believes that spiritual death is a reality; but every time he sees the ‘forbidden tree’, whatever is barred to him by the word of God, he rebels against the restriction. He wants, he is persuaded to ignore the commandment; he ‘eats’, but neither does he find what he hoped for, nor can he then turn, apart from the grace of God, to take the life now lost to his grasp, ‘No man can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me, draws him’, John 6. 44

Trees to cover up nakedness

The man and the woman then did something with the trees that they had never done before. First, they tore off leaves in a pathetic attempt to ward off that frightening and new sensation of embarrassment because of their nakedness. Next, they hid themselves from the Lord. Where? Where do you think? Of course, amongst the trees of the garden, sadly ashamed of their new sense of spiritual nakedness, having disobeyed Him.

How far back across the centuries was the event and yet how up-to-date it is! Men and women are always patching up their consciences with the ‘leaves’ of religion and of moral or political conformity in order to feel ‘respectable’ and thus socially acceptable in their culture.

On the other level of their standing before God, the situation becomes more complex. On the one hand man is drawn towards some concept of his Creator; on the other he flees from Him. Yet, because His absolute holiness is intolerable to him, man overcomes the tension by ‘making God in his own image’ - idolatry. He feels he can approach such a deity. Curiously, this idolatry has at times taken the form of the worship of trees, as by the Druids of ancient Britain, or of idols made of wood, Isa. 44. 14-20. How devastating the divine sarcasm of those verses! In more modern times professing Christendom has been guilty of worshipping the cross, attributing to the wood itself, or supposed fragments of it, saving virtues that belong to Christ alone.

But at heart man still hides from the true God; there is none who seeks after God, Rom. 3. 11. He hides amongst the very ‘trees’ which God gave for his legitimate profit and pleasure: love; family; studies, business; and holidays. Trying to bring the gospel to the student, the housewife, the businessman, the pensioner, often brings out the same time-worn excuse, ‘I just haven’t got time’, fending off the unwelcome possibility of facing the facts of sin, righteousness, and judgement to come; of meeting God.

Sadly have we not felt it in ourselves? Where does it come from, that horrible, utterly unchristian, reluctance to pray? We remember that magazine article to read or that letter to write, a broken thing to mend, each yet another excuse for putting off the moment of prayer.

Let’s come out from behind our ‘trees’ The wonderful thing is that our Father God, who knows exactly where we are and why, awaits us with the ‘garments of salvation’ to cover our shame, provided by the death of His Lamb. Come, let us enjoy afresh that blessedness that finds us as ‘accepted in the beloved’.

Life forever more, the tree restored

Finally, let us look at the phrase, ‘lest he live forever’, Gen. 3. 22. Compare this with John 6 verse 51, ‘he will live forever’. Perpetual life on earth through eating the God-given fruit of the tree of life might have been a blessing to unfallen man, but one step of disobedience had changed a ‘blessed hope’ into a spiritual nightmare. The tree of life was mercifully denied to a fallen race, and is destined not to flourish on earth till the curse of God is ended, Rev. 22. 2-3. But ‘where sin abounded, grace did much more abound’, and in His wonderful words recorded in John chapter 6 verses 47 and 51, the Lord promises to the believer a life that is ‘forever’: eternal. Like Onesimus, who once born again was returned to a new and infinitely better relationship with his master Philemon, so the ‘saved’ sinner is brought back to God, to know Him in Christ now not only as his Creator but as his Redeemer and as his Father. Our fellowship is then ‘with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ’, 1 John 1. 3. How true are the words of the hymn:

‘In Him the sons of Adam boastMore blessings than their father lost.’

In Christ we find more than ‘Paradise Regained’!