Sjolander Road Fellowship

Declaring the God of Unconditional Love

the beginning of the salvation story



The Genesis account of the Fall is fascinating on many levels. Few seem to pay much attention to the symbolism of the two trees which are integral to this story. The Tree of Knowledge is generally treated as just some arbitrary prohibition dreamed up by God to test Adam's obedience and subservience. For most interpreters, the prohibited item could just as well have been a box of chocolates as far as the gist of the story is concerned. God said don't do it and that was all there was to it. No need for any symbolism or deeper understanding. Just obey whatever God says or else he will get you.


In the beginning Adam was in the image and likeness of God. He ate of the forbidden tree and became like "one of us to know good and evil" in the words of God. It is noteworthy that the reason for taking of the Tree of Knowledge was the desire to be like God. This all suggests a progression of assumed divinity. The reaction of God to Adam's disobedience, barring him from the Tree of Life, seems to suggest that there were yet further steps toward greater divinity. Becoming more godlike would seem to be a good thing except for the fact that God forbade it.


Strangely Adam's first reaction after gaining the knowledge of good and evil and thereby growing to be more divine was to be ashamed of his nakedness. Beforehand he was perfectly happy to be naked. Then suddenly he saw it as shameful. By implication, the first thing that Adam did with his new knowledge was to pass judgment on himself. The immediate result of this forbidden knowledge was self condemnation. That is the most basic thing about human judgments and condemnation of one another; it instills guilt and shame in the human accuser.


Almost universally commentators assume that God told Adam to avoid the Tree of Knowledge because, if Adam did not, God was going to act against Adam punitively. Few seem to consider that God was simply warning Adam about the consequences of that knowledge, given Adam's human limitations. Perhaps, even though the knowledge increased Adam's godlikeness, it was dangerous to him given that he lacked the ability to use the knowledge correctly.


I believe that the knowledge of good and evil has a positive potential but also a devastatingly negative effect, depending on its use and the state of the user. As a personal moral compass it could be great. As a weapon to condemn and abuse others it was deadly. The tree can rightfully be called the Tree of Death since that was the promised result of its fruit. In that regard the Tree of Knowledge stands in sharp contrast to the Tree of Life. They represent two diametrically different life paths, one which kills and the other which makes a live. One is the Tree of human judgment and death; the other is the Tree of Life and Love. When we reject love, we reject life and become dead. If we again embrace love, we can resurrect and live once more.


Returning to the question of why gaining in godlikeness could be bad for Adam and humanity, I ponder the difference between Adam being a judge and God being one. What would be different. How was God able to handle this knowledge while the same knowledge killed Adam and all humanity after him. One obvious difference was omniscience. God judges from the position of perfect knowledge which prevents condemnation. God stands in the position of knowing perfectly which allows him to forgive completely. Unconditional love and grace are natural outgrowths of divine omniscience.


The story of human history since Adam has been a long, agonizing tale of using the knowledge of good and evil to segregate and oppose one another. The practice of labeling each other as good or bad turns a great deal of our lives into zero sum games, where winning is the only thing that counts. Winning is good so good people win. Losing is evil, so evil people lose. Judgment and retribution come now at the hands of good people or later at the hands of God.


Given this take on the Fall, what can we assume about Jesus and the writers of the NT books. I believe Jesus came to show mankind how to deal with the Tree of Knowledge positively and at least potentially to reverse the effects of Adam's actions. The Sermon on the Mount perfectly encapsulates what mankind needed to know about human judgment. Forget about judging others; you will be full up with trying to correct yourself. Barring omniscience, mankind needed something to compensate if his judgment was to ever be valid. What was that? Jesus' lifestyle and the words of Paul point to an answer. Meekness, humility, and the fruits of the spirit- these characteristics negate the human tendency to misuse the knowledge of good and evil. Such characteristics provide the means to live and let live, to forgive ones enemies, to overcome evil with good.


So the ethical instructions of Jesus are not just some high blown principles which are thrown out as a superhuman challenge here and now or as a preview of the hereafter. Instead they form a most basic element of how Jesus served as God's agent on earth. These profound pronouncements are both a product of Jesus' salvation work and at the same time an integral part of what it is to experience salvation in any meaningful way.


Salvation is not some unobservable otherworldly change of state or status in the eyes of God. That story reduces us to hoping that salvation will one day be revealed as a tangible reality after death.


Instead salvation is the experience of an abundant life lived while feasting on the Tree of Life/Love. We can know it as a present reality but only to the extent we choose the Tree of Life rather than the other Tree.