Friday, May 6, 2016

Good and Evil; Life and Death: Genesis 2

There’s one part of Genesis 2 that we usually skip over without much thought, and that’s the rivers around Eden. The Bible records that the Garden of Eden is located between the Tigris, Euphrates, Pishon and Gihon Rivers. It’s not important where exactly, but that it’s a real place with real boundaries. 

When God created us He placed us within boundaries. Later, humans would spread everywhere, but only after they had mastered life in Eden. It was a kind of nursery for the human race. In Genesis 1: 28, we were given the whole world, but in Genesis 2, we were only responsible for the land between the rivers. 

There was an experiment done with preschool children where they let them play in a small playground. They played all around the yard up to the limits of the fence. Then they placed them on a bigger playground and they played on every square inch. Finally, they put them in a field with no fence. But instead of roaming, the children stayed in a close huddle. They did not explore, because they were afraid. Boundaries rather than being restrictive are essential for emotional support. 

So it was with Adam and Eve. First, they had to stay within their boundaries. They lived under restrictions. If we don’t learn to be happy within boundaries, then we’ll never be happy without them.

It is clear from Genesis 1 that God intended Adam and Eve’s descendants to move beyond those rivers eventually. But first, God wanted them to thrive within the boundaries. They were not ready for full freedom. Those who are given too much freedom too soon in life never amount to much. 

Have you ever heard of the “26” club? That’s the term for celebrities who die around 26 or 27. They include James Dean, Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, Heath Ledger, River Pheonix, Tupac Shakur, and Amy Winehouse. Other celebrities died in their early forties and fifties--Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Pressley, Michael Jackson and Prince. They were given money, fame, and freedom and lived beyond their boundaries.  The result for all of them was disaster.

But what if their lives had been different. What if, instead of getting it fast and easy, they had more obstacles to face, greater restrictions and the help of someone who could truly manage them? I wonder how many would have stayed alive, and what these people would have accomplished over a long period of time if they had had boundaries. They might have lived long enough to deal with fame and fortune. Instead, all they got from unlimited freedom was disaster.

God placed man in boundaries. Boundaries help us focus on what is really important in life, and give us time to grow and thrive.

Henry Cloud and John Townsend wrote a series of books called Boundaries, which address the need to respect the boundaries between our lives. We should not try to rule the world, or control the lives of those outside of our existence, but we should concentrate on thriving within the boundaries God has set. When we thrive where we are, then God brings other opportunities, but when we meddle in things outside our boundaries we take on too much, and we are crushed by the weight of the world. This is what the Psalmist means in Psalm 131:

“Lord, my heart is not haughty
Nor my eyes lofty,
Nor do I concern myself in great matters
Or things too wonderful for me
But I have calmed and quieted my soul
Like a weaned child on its mother’s bosom
So is my soul within me.
Yes, my soul is as a weaned child.”

Within these river boundaries, God planted two trees, which were called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Tree of Life. God gave them instructions that they should leave these trees alone, especially the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  

Now, if there were a government back then, it would never have allowed God to do this. Why put something as dangerous as these two trees in a nursery garden, where innocent people could stumble upon them? Wouldn’t it be better to plant them outside of Eden—say at the North Pole or the top of Mt. Everest?  Then no one could have been so foolish as to eat of them and die. 

But God did not do that. He put those trees right in Adam and Eve’s living room. God places temptation inside our boundaries, not outside. The greatest struggles we ever have are inside our own souls. If you can master your soul, then you master the world.

Before the first humans could multiply and have dominion over all creatures, they had to first learn to have dominion over themselves. If they could stay away from the tree, then they could stay away from all other temptations. But without learning obedience at home, they would never have survived in the larger world.

Temptation and evil are right inside our own houses. Whether it be pornography on computers, television shows we shouldn’t watch, the chocolate cake in the refrigerator, or getting along with our families, our own homes are the location of our strongest moral temptations. 

But if evil is present in our homes, so is good. We learn to enjoy the pleasures of daily life. We learn to witness in our relationships with family and friends.  We learn conflict resolution in marriage. We don’t have to leave home to help the needy. The best things in life are right within the boundaries God has placed in our lives.

If the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is within, so is the tree of life and death. 

A woman comes to the preacher and says, “My life is unfulfilled.  My husband is holding me back from happiness.  I can’t believe God wants me to stay in this marriage.  I have to get out.”

My first response is, “What part of ‘till death do you part’ did you not understand?”
My second response is that God places us all within boundaries. Marriage is a voluntary boundary, which we take on freely.  In marriage we become one flesh.  Marriage may be the Garden of Eden, or it may be hell, depending on what you make of it. What makes the difference is our willingness to make the most of life based upon the boundaries God has set for us. Some boundaries are thrust upon us. The commandments of God are such boundaries. So are the boundaries of age and birth. Other boundaries—like marriage—exist because we agreed to them. Either way, we never will enjoy life unless we live within the boundaries.

When we resent boundaries, we exaggerate their importance “God won’t let me do anything!” Not true. Mathematically speaking there are an infinite number of things you can do with your life. Your life choices are only limited by your imagination. The number of things that God forbids are finite. They are only as many as there are commands of God. We cannot conceive of all the good things God has given us permission to do. As long as we don’t do the things He doesn’t want, we can do a million things He does want. Our inability to enjoy life is mainly because of our lack of imagination.

Our ability to partake of the Tree of Life is limited by our knowledge of good and evil. If we reach out too quickly and try to snatch what God intends for later, then we never get the good tree. God limited Adam and Eve to Eden. Inside Eden, He only forbade them to eat of two trees. Everything else was fair game.

Some day in Eden, there was to be a Graduation Day. God had ordained the time. It was a time when having proven faithful, Adam and Eve would have been granted permission not only to learn about good and evil, but eternal life as well. They never made it to that day. They became impatient, and disobeyed the boundaries. As a result, the Tree of Life was forbidden. Instead, they got the tree of death.

As long as we are on this earth, we are bound by the earth. Our bodies have limitations. They grow old, get sick and die.  Yet Jesus Himself took on such a body and lived. His body only lasted him thirty-three years, yet in that time, He truly and fully lived. 

To live within God’s boundaries we must humble ourselves and do what God says. Obey His rules, but only for a little while. Then one day, God opens the door and lets us go freely.

Think of what God put in the garden!  First there was all the food he could ever want. There were animals of all kinds. Imagine playing with lions and bears! He had a beautiful wife, a perfect mate, and the two of them enjoyed all kinds of sexual and emotional delights. What more could you ask?  It was paradise!

Adam could complain about it. Sure he had vegetables, but no chocolate bars! How tragic!  Sure, he had animals for entertainment, but not even basic cable! Sure he had a wife, but why couldn’t he have two? When we sit and complain, we never appreciate what God has given.

What are you missing in life that would make you happy?  Nothing!  Everything you need to be happy is already here!  Don’t fret about what God has not given you, enjoy what He has given you.  If you look at it in that way, then your life is not hell—it’s Eden. 

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