It isn’t knowledge we need more of, it’s trust

In Genesis 2 a man was given the job of taking care of a garden of God’s making. Inside that garden – and again of God’s making – was a tree named ‘Knowledge of good and evil’, and anyone eating off it would die.

So if you were that man, landed with the job of caring for God’s garden, and here was this tree that could kill people, what would you have done? You’d clearly want to keep people away from it, right? Which is exactly what God wanted the man to do, because in telling him to “take care” of the garden, he meant guard and protect it.

The same wording is used of the cherubim guarding the tree of life in Genesis 3, so no one could eat off that tree either. The cherubim were doing for the tree of life, therefore, what the man should have been doing for the tree of good and bad – keeping people away from it.

So why didn’t the man build a large rock wall round the tree with big signs all round it saying, “Keep out or die,” and stand on guard like a sentry warning anyone who got too close to move away from there? If he’d viewed that tree with the same seriousness God viewed it with, think how different things would be now.

But a serpent – again of God’s making – took the seriousness right out of it, by asking what harm there could possibly be in knowing good and evil, and why God would prevent humans from knowing what he knew. It’s a good question worth answering, which explains why God created a serpent to ask it, because humans have always been faced with having to figure out what’s good and what’s bad, so wouldn’t it be a great idea for humans to have the same ability God has to discern between the two?

But the answer from God, is “No, it’s not a good idea,” because keeping evil out of this world doesn’t depend on knowing what’s evil and what isn’t, it depends on trusting him, a point he got across when Adam didn’t trust him, and look what happened: Evil weaseled its way past the man and entrenched itself permanently in their world.

And unfortunately that’s how evil has been weaseling its way into our world and messing things up ever since too, through humans who believe they can figure out good from bad themselves, rather than trusting in God. Think what might have happened instead in World War 2, therefore, if millions of Christians had trusted God rather than deciding it was good to kill people, including their fellow Christians.

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Does gender in humans really matter?

Obviously to God gender really matters because he made humans male and female. That was his design and for a clear purpose too, that rulership of this planet by humans was best done by what both male and female humans brought to the table with their gender differences and their sexual relationship.

We learn what God is like through male and female humans too, because both genders were made in God’s image. God is both male and female, in other words, which surely makes us want to know what we’re made of as males and females to get a clearer picture of God. It was also God’s intent through making humans male and female, with fixed and unchangeable sexual differences, that humans could reproduce more humans.

It’s also rather startling to realize that God made humans male and female to keep evil at bay too. We see that in Genesis 2 where God first of all creates and trains a man in the fundamentals of rulership, and then creates a woman to be his “helper.” Anyone looking into the Hebrew meaning of “helper” or “help meet” soon realizes that the woman is a powerful force to be reckoned with, and without her the man would never be able to fulfill his role. But together, when man and woman both understand and love what God put into them as males and females, they become almost scary in the power they exude.

The greatest tragedy that ever happened on this planet, therefore, was that first man and woman not cottoning on to what God had put into them as males and females, in both their maleness and their femaleness, and in their sexual relationship. If they’d understood and valued what God had set up through them as male and female they would have sent the serpent packing, and we would not have the mess we’ve got now. Because in God making a male and a female the way he did, and bonding them through their sexual relationship, he formed the perfect guardians of his plan.

It is God’s plan to fill the Earth with everything that he is, starting with a small plot in Eden where he took up residence and trained a man to care for it. But “care” not only meant care for it physically, it also meant guard it from anything evil getting in. That was the man’s job, but he couldn’t do it alone. He needed the help of a woman, but a woman of such power and strength that together they would be unbeatable. If only, then, they’d both grasped that. And the same goes for men and women today too.

Jesus kept the Sabbath, so why shouldn’t we?

If I was an Old Covenant Jew like Jesus was, of course I’d be keeping the Sabbath like he did. I’d also be selecting or buying a Passover lamb every year, building a temporary shelter out of tree branches at the Feast of Tabernacles in the autumn each year, have blue cords hanging from the corners of my clothing according to Numbers 15:37-41, and be trying to obey every other Old Covenant ritual as perfectly as Jesus did. I’d also be attending a synagogue every Saturday, offering sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem three times a year, and celebrating Hanukkah – like Jesus did.

If we’re going to do what Jesus did, and keep what Jesus kept, then all those things would be required of us, just as they were required of him. But many Christians don’t do some (or all) of those things, their reason being that Jesus introduced a New Covenant that cancelled out all those rituals in favour of looking to him.

But surely the Sabbath wasn’t a “ritual,” right? It’s one of the ten commandments. But how did God want the Sabbath commandment obeyed? By obeying all the Sabbath rituals he attached to it, like not working, not lighting a fire, and not harvesting, etc. In reality, then, the Sabbath came down to rituals too.

Jesus then showed in Matthew 12 that those Sabbath rituals fell into the same category as the rituals God gave about the temple shewbread. Both sets of rituals were equally subject to human need, which in both cases – of the disciples snipping off grain on the Sabbath, and David and his men eating the temple shewbread – was hunger. According to the Lord and Designer of all the Old Covenant rituals, therefore, human need overruled ritual, including Sabbath ritual. Jesus also made that clear when he said the Sabbath “was made for man.” It was made to serve human need.

Taking that into account, then, what is our greatest human need today? Is it keeping all the Old Covenant Sabbath rituals as strictly as possible, like the Pharisees, or is it trusting Christ? Well, Jesus himself already answered that question in the previous chapter, Matthew 11, when he said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” He wanted people focused on him and trusting him as the solution to human need.

And that was the focus he encouraged the Pharisees in Matthew 12 to concentrate on too when he said, “I tell you that one greater than the temple is here.” All that temple ritual – and every other ritual too, therefore – had been superceded by Jesus himself.

Is the Sabbath done away?

No, the Sabbath is not done away, as Hebrews 4:9 makes clear: “There remains, therefore, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.”

So what is this “Sabbath-rest” that’s still in operation today? It’s the same Sabbath-rest that God himself took on the 7th day of Creation, “for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his,” verse 10. And when did God rest from his work? Verse 4, “And on the seventh day God rested from all his work.” And why did he rest on the seventh day? Because, verse 3, “his work has been finished since the creation of the world.” So the Sabbath-rest that remains for us today is the same Sabbath-rest that God took on the 7th day of Creation when all his work was finished.

But why, if it’s supposed to be a rest, does it take “effort to enter that rest,” verse 11? Because it’s possible to fall short of it like Israel did, verse 1: “Therefore since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.”

So how does one fall short of the Sabbath-rest? By lack of faith, verse 2, “because those who heard (the gospel) did not combine it with faith,” but verse 3, “we who have believed enter that rest.” The Sabbath-rest that remains today, therefore, is still entered by the same method – by faith. Without faith, God “declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest,'” verse 3.

The effort involved in entering the Sabbath-rest, therefore, is faith, but faith in what, though? Faith in Jesus Christ, verse 14: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” We enter God’s Sabbath-rest by doggedly hanging onto our trust in Christ.

And why do we trust Christ? Because “Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house,” Hebrews 3:6, and we “come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first,” verse 14. We get to share in Christ’s faithfulness if we keep on trusting him to see us through, and that’s what Hebrews means by the Sabbath-rest: It’s all about trusting in the faithfulness of Christ, and always “approaching the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need,” Hebrews 4:16.

And that’s the Sabbath-rest that remains for the people of God today. It’s Jesus Christ – and he’s certainly not done away.

In a lifespan that’s so limited what are we supposed to learn?

The question above was stirred by a dream about an old train station being demolished and carted away to the last brick and railroad tie. I woke up thinking that my life too is destined to be demolished and carted away to the last breath and heartbeat.

In a lifespan that’s so limited, then, what are we supposed to learn? Well, we learn that we’re limited. We age. We deteriorate. We’re running on battery power alone and the batteries aren’t rechargeable. And when our batteries run out of juice, that’s it, we too are carted off to be disposed of.

And the reason it’s this way, embarrassingly, is because we chose it. We were the ones who decided we wanted a limited lifespan. God did warn Adam not to eat off a tree that would kill him, but he was easily persuaded to shorten his lifespan by a woman. And she was just as easily persuaded to shorten her lifespan by an obviously lying  serpent. It didn’t take much, therefore, to persuade either of our formative ancestors to treat life so casually. They didn’t seem to care about limiting their lifespan at all. Or maybe it didn’t register that God was serious.

Either way, how daft could we humans be turning down the chance to extend our lifespan for a piece of fruit? And a similar question could be asked today, as to why we say things like, “This is the only life we’ve got so make the most of it” – or – “Life is not a dress rehearsal,” meaning this life is it, you only get one shot at it and there are no second chances.

And we’re satisfied with that? You mean we’re accepting without complaint that this life is all we’ve got – and that’s it? Then we’re just as dumb as Adam. Just like him we’re trading a life that could be extended forever for a brief kick at the can now.

Fortunately for us, Jesus was one human who did not view that kind of thinking as smart or normal, or even mildly acceptable. Instead, he lived the life Adam could have lived, a life of childlike trust in the Father of all humans, believing it was the only way a person could live forever, and the only way that made life worth living forever too.

Jesus, therefore, opened up our imaginations again as to what God made possible for humans from the beginning, that there is a life we can live that has no limited lifespan, and how that life can actually be lived now. That’s what he came to teach us. That, then, is what we’re supposed to learn.

Did Adam need to pray?

The question of whether Adam needed to pray, or not, came from studying Genesis chapter 2 and realizing he actually had God instructing him personally. In verse 15 God himself “took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden,” and in verse 16 God personally “commanded the man” not to eat off a certain tree, and in verse 19 God actually “brought” animals and birds to Adam to name. Adam had God right there with him doing all these things. I’m assuming, then, that this was the kind of relationship God wanted with humans. It was never meant to be God “up there” and us “down here,” or the only contact being possible by prayer. It was meant to be face-to-face, and instructions given by God directly and in person.

The man didn’t need to pray for wisdom or guidance, therefore, because he could go to God in person and talk things over right there with him in the Garden of Eden. And God had chosen this man for just that purpose, to work closely with him, so that the man would know exactly how God wanted his creation to be ruled. And since God had also made the man in his own image, it made communication between them easy.

The woman then made the unfortunate mistake of not consulting with the man God had chosen when the serpent turned up. It was unfortunate because God had made it clear up to this point that he’d chosen the man to work with first of all, and then the woman later on as Adam’s perfect other half and helper, so it was certainly not God’s purpose for the woman to act independently of the man, just as the man shouldn’t work independently of God.

The unfortunate result was the loss of the free and open relationship God had begun with Adam. We see that in Genesis 3:8 when Adam and Eve both hid from God when they heard him walking in the garden. So even at this point God was still willing to be with them and talk to them personally, but they didn’t want that anymore. They preferred God to be distant, not up close and personal.

You could say, then, that it was Adam and Eve that stuck us with this distant relationship with God, where contact is now limited to prayer. And even Jesus in human form was stuck with prayer being the only way he could contact God too. It’s like texting instead of talking today, but thanks to Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-26 that free and easy, one-on-one and face-to-face relationship with God that Adam had will be fully restored.

Is it an “Act of God” when bad things happen, or an act of man?

In The Shack, the movie, Wisdom asks the man who lost his daughter to a serial killer, who was to blame for the girl’s death. Did the blame stop at the door of the deranged killer, or did it go back to the killer’s parents who messed up his childhood, or to the killer’s grandparents who messed up his parents’ lives? Or did this awful thread of insanity and evil in the family DNA get started many generations before that, going all the way back inevitably to Adam and the wrong decision he made that set all humanity on the wrong course?

But surely that means it was ultimately God’s fault, because he was the one who created Adam, and it was he who created a good looking tree offering humans the knowledge of good and evil, and he who created a crafty serpent to tempt Adam and Eve into eating the fruit off it, which let evil out of its cage, leading to all the horrors we experience today. It was God, therefore, who got this mess started, so everything bad that happens to us should be called an ‘Act of God’, right?

It was also an Act of God, though, that created another tree that Adam could have chosen to eat off instead, and that tree would have enabled Adam to tap into God’s power to resist evil. Adam had a choice, therefore, as to which tree he would eat off. And he chose the wrong tree. It was an ‘act of man’, therefore, that set the ball rolling of bad things happening, not an Act of God.

From the very start, then, we’ve got an Act of God providing the solution to all evil – in the potent healing power of the tree of life – but an act of man rejecting it, allowing evil to spread. And that scene now repeats itself every day in our day too, as people either accept God’s solution to evil or reject it. God’s solution is still eating off the tree of life, which today is more than a tree it’s the actual life of Christ made available to us so we can resist evil like he did. And it was God who provided that. He was the one who sent Christ to solve our problem with evil. It was an Act of God, therefore, that started the ball rolling of stopping bad things happening, and reversing what the acts of man have caused.

So rather than blaming God for bad things happening, he is our only hope of bad things not happening – the bad things that we, not he, got started.