2 November 2012

Genesis 2:4b-9, 15-17

"And the Lord God commanded the man, 'You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.'" (v. 16-17)


Today's passage is from a second account of the origins of everything, in which the beautiful garden is already in place and man is a kind of special creation with particular horticultural responsibilities.  His task is to look after the garden. It will provide him with food for his body.

But within the garden there lies a forbidden knowledge. What is this knowledge? And why is it forbidden to the humans? Also given that it is forbidden, why is it there in the garden at all?

There have been countless theories, and every advocate of a new theory suggests it is so blindingly obvious that disagreement is beyond comprehension. Modestly, therefore, here is some food for thought: the story of the forbidden tree is an example of what is properly called 'mystery' - not in the sense of a difficult problem that hasn't been solved yet, but rather a problem that cannot be solved within any framework that humans can devise. Oddly, one of the most significant results in twentieth century- mathematics is a proof that there are problems we can describe perfectly clearly, but cannot ever solve.

This story, then, serves as a reminder that despite our immense human capacity for scientific investigation and engineering application we remain creatures subject to limits. Our calling may be to become God-like in character (because we are made in God's image), but not to be God. We can't predict where we shall find the boundaries, but boundaries there certainly are, and we must be watchful for them.

To Ponder

  • According to this story the first man was assigned his place and responsibilities. How do you react to the idea that your place in the grand scheme of things is fixed and predetermined? What freedom do you feel you really have?
  • Are the boundaries universal-the same for everyone? Or are (perhaps in addition) there personal boundaries that arise because we are unique individuals? What boundaries have you discovered for yourself?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr John Ogden

John Ogden spent most of his life (he is now in his late 70s) teaching Computer Science in the universities of Glasgow and Reading. A local preacher since 1964, he served the Reading and Silchester Circuit as a circuit steward in the 1980s, then candidated for (non-stipendiary) ministry.

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