Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What Did God Say?

One time I was teaching a Bible class to junior high students. It was a very good class of good hearted 6th through 8th graders. I would have been proud to have called any one of those students my own son or daughter. They were lovely young men and women.

During one of the classes, we were studying the Genesis account of Adam and Eve in the garden and the sin of the eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. You can read about this story in Genesis 2:15-3:19. It is a well known story and it includes a very interesting dialog between the serpent (whom many, myself included, believe to be Satan) and Eve. Let's look at that dialog and talk about an observation that 6th - 8th graders made about that story.

I posed the question to the class, "What did the serpent say that God said?" The good students referred to Genesis 3:1 and said, "You shall not eat of every tree of the garden." Then, I asked, "Is that really what God said?" They answered, "No." Easy question. Of course Satan did not accurately represent God. He is the father of lies.

Next, I asked, "What did Eve say that God said?" Again, they referred to Genesis 3, this time verses 2-3, and said, "You shall not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and you shall not even touch it, lest you die." Very good. Then, I repeated the question, "Is that really what God said?" Much more quickly than I expected, they said, "NO!" Then, they referred me to Genesis 2:16-17 to see what God really said. God's commandment was simple. They were allowed to eat of every tree in the garden except for the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Eating of that tree would cause death.

Neither the serpent nor Eve accurately restated the commandment from God. The serpent seemed to be persuading Eve that God was holding back something that would be good for her. It's a similar lie that Satan tells us today. "God really wants to hold you back. You could be so much better without His commandments. God doesn't really want what's best for you. He only wants what's best for Him and to keep you from being as good as you could be." What a lie! God's commandments are for our good always! Any doubt about that fact comes from our own lusts or from the adversary.

Eve seemed to think that God's commandment wasn't restrictive enough, so she added the restriction "neither shall you touch it."

Sometimes, when faced with temptation, I have done exactly what Eve did. I have added restrictions that God did not add. If I want to impose those restrictions on myself, that is fine. Eve would not have sinned if she had never touched the tree. However, God hadn't forbidden her from touching it. She was condemned for eating, not for touching. One of the students in that class made this observation. "God's commandment was better than what Eve said because they could have cut that tree down and burned it or buried it so that they wouldn't have been tempted to eat its fruit. God didn't say, 'Don't touch it.'" I had never thought of that! I'm not sure whether cutting down the tree would have been acceptable to God or not, but I do know this: there were two strong points of truth in the student's observation.

  1. The student's genuine wish was that sin had never entered the world. He/she wanted badly for things to have happened differently in the Garden of Eden. I admired that and commended that!
  2. God's commandment was better than what Eve said. AMEN!
How many times have I done what Eve did? How many times have I made my own restrictions or followed my traditions, and then tried to enforce those traditions and restrictions on others as if they were God's commandment? We need wisdom and humility to avoid elevating our traditions and restrictions to the level of God's commandments.

A final question about this story... What good did Eve's additional restriction do her? NONE! We can't legislate away temptation. We can set wise boundaries, for sure. I have several of those boundaries for myself. But the boundaries I set for myself may not be the boundaries that others have set. I must be careful not to condemn others if their boundaries are not  the same as mine. As evidenced by the young student's comment on cutting down the tree, others may have an equal or greater hatred for sin that allowed them not to set the same boundary that I set. I need not legislate where God has not. 

The way to avoid sin is to set one's heart on good, to truly love what is good and hate what is evil. Legislating restrictions that God did not legislate has not proven to be very helpful in the effort to avoid sin. It's futile to attempt to win an internal battle with an external rule. The ultimate determination of what is right and wrong is, "What did God say?"

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