The biggest drawback to immortalizing your ideas in writing is that you have to admit when maybe you haven’t been seeing things clearly. And that you have lots of words you’ve put out into the world that may not match your current understanding of things. Today is one of those days for me.
I started rereading the Old Testament this morning. My goal was to go back through all of the scriptures and find all of the evidences of God’s perfect love for his children. To catalog, in a way, all of the tender mercies we can find throughout the stories of imperfect people seeking the face of God in written record. A big undertaking, I know, but business has been slow lately and I figured I had time.
I didn’t get very far. When I got to Genesis 3, a new way to read the story of the garden presented itself to me. Adam and Eve had been living in the garden and eating the fruit of the tree of life. They were partaking of the fullness of God. Until Satan shows up and convinces them to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge. He tells them that if they eat they will be like God, knowing good from evil.
I don’t want to argue whether or not they were eventually supposed to eat that fruit or if it was necessary for the fall to happen. I think there’s a decent amount of evidence to make the case that the fall may not have been completely necessary the way we understand it, and there’s plenty of evidence that it was. But what I do find interesting is that in the garden we had everything we needed. We were eating of the tree of life daily. We were invited to wait for further light and knowledge from the Lord and given space to make our own choice, with a way back to the tree of life prepared just in case.
If we had the tree of life, if we had the fullness of the Lord’s presence, what did we need the fruit from the tree of knowledge for? Perhaps this was Satan’s first big lie to us. Not that we should eat of the fruit of that tree, but that we somehow needed to eat it. That the tree of life, the presence of God, and his loving instructions are not enough. Absurd. But given the argument that we must learn to be like Father we fell for it. Literally fell.
The first thing we do with this new knowledge is declare that who we are isn’t good enough. We’re naked, we should hide. Then God mercifully clothes us, sends us out into the world to deal with this knowledge we wanted for ourselves so we can get clear of it, and provides us with all sorts of tools and messengers to keep teaching us just like we were taught in the garden. But that knowledge thing has really messed us up. Adam thinks he knows that the world is lone and dreary because his senses tell him that, even though God continues to walk with him. Eve thinks she knows that bearing children is always just hard and painful because her senses tell her that, even though God had given her all of the gifts and privileges that come with creating life.
Cain thinks he knows how to sacrifice, but finds out he was wrong. Noah thinks he knows that since he was saved from the floods he’s good to go and that getting so drunk he could be taken advantage would be okay. Abraham thinks he knows how to sacrifice too, but also finds out he was wrong. Peter thinks he knows Jesus, but then sinks in the water and smites the soldiers ear. James and John think they know Jesus but still try to rain fire on people. Mormon thinks he knows how to win battles in God’s name, only to find that fighting never wins souls.
I could go on, but the point is that the scriptures are full of beloved sons and daughters of God who have to struggle with this knowledge of good and evil. When they are learned they think they are wise. But God is infinitely merciful, and throughout the entire record he patiently teaches them to look to Christ and live.
The universe is just, and God lives according to the just laws of the universe which describe the natural condition of things, or he would cease to be God. We can choose death. This death forever separates us from God, because we could never be gods and live in that same sphere he lives in if we never recognized and lived up to our divinity. God is full of equity, and when we choose to be less than that we have iniquity. This condition cannot be ignored. Mercy cannot rob justice.
God does love us, though. He’s not going to just let us die. There was a plan proposed and accepted which provided a savior. This Savior would meet justice head on by suffering the full depth and breadth of what it is like to be completely away from God, the fullness of spiritual death, which was so ineffably intense as to cause his physical being to be torn apart and bleed from every pore. God’s power is order and creation. An existence away from that, away from God, would literally tear us to pieces. And Christ suffered it all.
This put him in a unique position. He condescended below all things, maintaining his divinity and perfection but simultaneously experiencing the full consequences of the denial of that divinity. He could now prove to us that there is a way back to God. By experiencing it all there would be no excuse we could ever give that would permanently keep us from God. He showed us how to be reconciled to God and our own godliness, and provided a way for us to retake our rightful seat in the council of heaven.
But how is it to be done? How can we overcome this desire for man’s flawed knowledge and rediscover our divine natures, our garden selves, who we were when we were daily partaking of the fruit of the tree of life? Christ lived like this. And he taught us how. He beckons us to follow him, and declares blessings unto us. Blessed are the poor in spirit, the peacemakers, and the pure in heart. Blessed are the meek, the merciful, and those that mourn. Come, take up your cross, and follow me. His entire life is the way.
His entire life, and his death. He proved, once and for all, that death has no sting for a Christian. We can confidently live as he lived, understanding that in this world that path will often lead to being crucified, because he overcame it all. He rose from the dead and declared that all things are complete. We are made whole in him. We have been justified and shown the way, now the only thing that remains for us is to remember who we are, take up our cross, and walk with Christ back to the presence of the Father.
Living our lives like Jesus lived seems so out of reach most days, doesn’t it? He wants us to know how easy it really is, and that he’s there to help, but we’ve got to start somewhere. Alma describes it as a seed of faith, a determination that we will just try one little thing to live as if we remember who we are, and then to let that work in us. Water it, cultivate it, dung it. And it “shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life” (Alma 32:41). We are the tree of life. If we exercise faith, even if all we have is a tiny seed, and let our lives be one grand experiment of living like Christ lived, we will discover who we truly are. We are destined for the council of gods. The tree of life is you, and it is me.
So, here I am today, sitting with something new, trying to deal with all of the times I’ve wanted to just know stuff, even religious stuff, instead of just living a Christ-like life. I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts and they began discussing how they don’t like the word “become”. Whatever, I love that word. Then they explained why, and I realized I’ve got to change a few things. I’ve been talking about “becoming” like God. I even had a category of posts called “Becoming like Father”. But we aren’t “becoming” anything at all. We are like Father. We were made in his image. We, fundamentally and from the very beginning, are partakers of his love. In fact, we are everything that is his love, divine and perfect. The tree of life is in us, waiting to bring forth fruit. And the enemy of our souls has convinced us that we are not worthy. He has convinced us that we need some sort of knowledge to be like Father. Quick, hide.
This was the lie of all lies from the start. We do not need to learn good from evil. It is our very nature to know that God is good and that everything else is evil. Christ, himself, shows us the way to judge. All we really need is to remember who we are. We are good. And when we believe that, our lives will emulate that truth.
I’ve changed my “Becoming like Father” category to “Being like Father”. I’m going to pay more attention to the way I live my life, and see if I can catch myself going after the fruit of the tree of knowledge. I’m going to see if I can plant more seeds of faith and see what grows. I’m going to stop stressing about what I’m supposed to do or not do. I’m going to stop letting anxiety keep me from living a full life. I’m going to start believing that I am my Father’s daughter. I’m going to stop over-thinking things and just follow Jesus, every day. I’m going to start believing my Savior.
Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you.
Yea, he saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely. (Alma 5:33–34)
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:29–30)