In Genesis 2:9 we read

“And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”

There is every reason to believe that the text wishes to describe two real, literal trees, both bearing fruit that could be picked and eaten. And yet the names of the trees express another reality.

The tree of life was essential for continued human life. Without eating continually from this tree, the human body would begin to lose its vitality and die. This is expressed in Genesis 3:22. “And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:…” Eating from the tree of life would give immortality, the power to live for ever. But without the fruit of the tree of life, a man was mortal, subject to death at any moment. This verse tells something about the tree of knowledge of good and evil as well. Having eaten of that tree, a man would be able to distinguish for himself between good and evil.

But eating from the trees was mutually exclusive. One could not have both. One must choose between between them. Eating from the one represented the realization that life is dependent on God’s continual providence. Eating from the other represented the desire for independence from God and the will to determine right and wrong on one’s own behalf without reference to the divine will. That is why the trees were mutually exclusive. One cannot be both dependent on God and willfully independent from Him.

While we are no longer faced with the possibility of eating from either of the two trees in the garden, we are still faced with the mindsets of both. We may realize our complete dependence on God for life, the knowledge of what is right and wrong, and salvation and redemption. Or we may claim to be independently immortal, to have the right to define right and wrong for ourselves, and to attain salvation and redemption by our own human efforts. Strangely or not, this trinity of attitudes in both alternatives always seems to hang together.

When the tempter confronted Adam and Eve, he said to the latter

“Ye shall not surely die.” Genesis 3:4.

The lie was in contradicting the unalterable reality that one cannot be dependent on God for life and at the same time willfully reject God’s definition of right and wrong for our own. If we choose independence, we choose death. But the lie returns. We want to believe that we can be immortal and independent of God.

With jubilant malice the human heart rejoices to see that the bite out of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil does not result in immediate entrance into the tomb. In that very day the vital link to the source of immortality is cut. But the body lingers on, slowly and imperceptibly sinking into silence and dissolution. The human rebellion blinds the eyes from realizing that the cold hand of death has already clutched the throat in which the bite from the fruit of the tree is still to be found. But even when the body is laid in the grave, the lie continues. Ye shall not surely die. The perverse desire to believe a lie causes the human mind to cling beyond all evidence of the senses that there is an immaterial human soul that survives death and the grave and lives and must live eternally. This lie is at the foundation of all false faiths and false hopes.

The foundation of true faith is in the ten commandments. False faith will deny one or more of these. It will insinuate that God is more than one. Thus arises trinitarianism and polytheism in all its forms both gross or appealing. False faith will insinuate that the Sabbath need not be kept, or that there are times when we must purposefully take the life of another human being. After all, taking a human life is not so serious, since people do not really die, goes the justification. False faith always opens the door to lawlessness and violence. But behind it all is the lie “Ye shall not surely die.”