The Message in the Trees Series: 1. The Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil

The Messages Found in the Trees:

  1. The Tree of Knowledge Good and Evil (January 28, 2018)
  2. The Cross: A man-made tree (February 4, 2018)
  3. The Tree of Life: Eternal Life (February 11, 2018)

 

Let’s begin with a foundational statement:

The Bible is literature. God has gifted all with unique talents; and the Holy Spirit is God’s presence alive within human beings. In no way does this message challenge anybody’s belief in the holiness or sanctity of the Bible. The faithful have preserved The Word in these books, broken down into Old Testament and New Testament. The Bible is the foundation for all faithful followers of God, regardless of the denomination, the translation or published language. The Bible is literature, it is a historical record, it is a textbook, it is a hymnal and it is God speaking to each individual who decides to pick it up and read The Word.

This is the image of the stained glass window now installed at the Church of the Resurrection, Leawood, KS.

 

The Messages Found in the Trees:

  1. The Tree of Knowledge Good and Evil (January 28, 2018)

 

Today’s reflection spins off from the artistic expression of The Word presented in stained glass. Leawood, Kansas’s Church of the Resurrection commissioned the window for its latest worship center and includes three different tree images: The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, The Cross, and The Tree of Life. Today, we review the message behind the Bible’s story of The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil:

 

Scripture: Genesis 2:9-17, NLT

     The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

     10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

     15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

 

Scripture: Proverbs 1:7, NLT

Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge.

 

Scripture: Psalm 111:9-10, NLT

He has paid a full ransom for his people.
He has guaranteed his covenant with them forever.
What a holy, awe-inspiring name he has!
10 Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.
All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom.

 

Looking at the stained glass image of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil does not match my personal image created in reading the creation story in Genesis. In the window, the tree has yellow leaves and dots of red, supposedly representing the fruit. The yellow leaves troubled me, but in the Church of Resurrection’s explanation, the yellowing leaves indicate the withering or dying of the tree.

The verses from Genesis 2 introduce the image of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil:

In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

 

The Tree of Knowledge establishes a basic life rule for us, but understanding the significance of the tree is difficult. The rule simply is follow God’s law, avoid evil’s temptation and he will take care of us. The problem is that such a simple rule becomes complicated when evil forces battle for control in our life. Good versus evil takes a disciplined lifestyle that begins with The Word.

Reading the Bible is essential to hear God speaking to you personally. God speaks to each one of us in his own way and in his own time. What we hear depends on the filters of our own lives. These filters include our upbringing, our nationality, our experiences, and even the people who interact with us. Reading the Bible is a discipline necessary to manage the ever-changing face of evil and to hear God’s timeless wisdom even today.

For instance, the artist’s representation of a wilting, dying Tree of Knowledge (TREE OF KNOWLEDGE) does not match my image, which is of an apple tree like that of my childhood orchard or those in the commercial orchards along Hwy 24 in Lafayette County, MO. The childhood story of Eve eating the apple from the TREE OF KNOWLEDGE created the visual image of a healthy, vibrant, fruit-filled apple tree.

What happened after Eve ate that first apple/fruit was the story of Adam caving in to temptation as he bites into the fruit, too. The symbolic meaning of this bite teaches us that giving in to evil’s temptation is destructive. Nothing written in the scripture states that this human decision destroyed the tree itself, but as an adult I can see the artist’s interpretation of how giving into evil temptation destroys.

Today’s world now includes the visual language of emojis. Today, we use emojis to openly express our feelings. Therefore, I wanted to introduce the TREE OF KNOWLEDGE to the kids through the happy face and the sad face emojis—just the two emojis, not the myriad of emotion images available through our social media. Why? The TREE OF KNOWLEDGE is defined as simply the knowledge of good and evil—the happy face and the sad face.

How simple life can be if it can be boiled down to just a simple decision of whether something is good or evil. There would be no grey zone of emotions, of right or wrong, of good or evil. Unfortunately our world is far more complex, and as we look at the full color version of our stained glass windows here and in the COR’s window, we know life cannot be just good or evil.

The Word begins with the story of the Garden of Eden where Eve picks the fruit and convinces Adam to take a bite. The result symbolically unleashed the forces of good versus evil in all human lives. The TREE OF KNOWLEDGE in the window towers over the images of the Old Testament stories so familiar to readers. These stores serve as lessons about all the different ways humans must battle the forces of evil. (And even the images in the window are only a few of the Old Testament stories.)

Reading the Bible is a critical element in being a faithful Christian.

In the words of Proverbs 1:7:

 

 Fear (and remember this means ‘respect or revere’ by 21st century understanding) of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

 

We are reminded how important it is to read The Word so we develop wisdom and discipline. The stories develop our skill to determine good and evil. We will make mistakes; but God is forgiving, and each story we read shows us how God forgives over and over. We have the ability to make our own decisions; but if we live randomly, putting our personal selves in the center, we fail:

  • We fail to keep God at the center of our lives.
  • We fail to love one another, as we want to be loved.
  • We fail to choose good over evil.

The Bible is our “how to” manual for life. It guides us in how to take care of our world, our families, our communities, and yes, ourselves. But we must be disciplined in reading The Word.

As we step away from the heightened awareness of Christ’s birth, the excitement of Christmas diminishes as we face the reality of daily life—the bills, the broken water pipes, the extreme cold, the work world, the loneliness, and the uncertainties swirling around us: we need God. It is so easy to lose our self-discipline.

The TREE OF KNOWLEDGE of Good and Evil is the opening message of the Bible. It is the first story humans need to know and to understand in order to be equipped with the skill to journey through life. Evil lurks around us all the time. Evil begins when the eyes open. There is the temptation to ignore everything and stay in bed because it makes us feel safe–warm and cozy.

But evil lurks even in the safest places in our lives. We need God all the time to guide us in good versus evil. Learning good and evil begins with one’s first breath; therefore, parents need the knowledge of good and evil to provide the best environment possible for their children. Sadly, even then evil lurks around our homes as we all too often learn from the news.

The Word must be part of our lives so we can develop the knowledge of good and evil and be able to defend ourselves from evil. The symbolic representation of the dying TREE OF KNOWLEDGE reminds us that without The Word we, too, can wither and die. Our responsibility to God is to read and to teach The Word. The Bible is our tool. The stories create the inner knowledge of good and evil. The stories equip us with the knowledge necessary to defend us from evil in virtually every setting imaginable, in every relationship we develop, and in every transaction we make.

The Psalms are examples of hymns written to help the faithful maintain their worship discipline. In Psalm 111, The Word looks ahead and tells us that God, even when we make the mistake and get tangled up with evil, forgives us as long as we continue to ‘fear’ or as we would now say, respect or revere The Word:

He has paid a full ransom for his people.
He has guaranteed his covenant with them forever.
What a holy, awe-inspiring name he has!
10 Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.
All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom.

 

As Christians, we accept God’s role in our lives, but we also accept the responsibility to share the story with others. True, that begins in our own families as we teach our children the knowledge of good and evil, but it also continues in our lives’ journeys. We are to teach in our churches, in our communities, in our work places, in our recreation, and in our choices as citizens—not only as national citizens, but as global citizens.

Knowing how to identify evil is so very important, but it must be taught by our words and our actions so evil can be rebuked, confined, and hopefully ended. Our work is never done, and we are reminded that by the visual image of the TREE OF KNOWLEDGE in the stained glass window. We are reminded that in the books of the Bible. We are reminded that when we are in Christian fellowship with each other.

Today, we can see the damage that evil causes in the image of the withering, dying TREE OF KNOWLEDGE of the stained glass window. We can see the emoji-dressed tree our kids have created. We can read the story of the TREE OF KNOWLEDGE from the Bible, and we can hear the story told over and over in so many different ways. But do you understand the importance of the story? Do you accept the responsibility to continue telling the story? Do you need to re-read and study the stories of The Word to reinforce how you live a good versus evil life in God’s world?

Each week, join your church family to do just that. Keep the mental picture of the TREE OF KNOWLEDGE present in your mind. Talk about it with others. Evaluate your decisions whether good or evil. Read The Word and find God talking to you. Your life will be a window to others so that they may see God in their own lives, too.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

Protect us in our daily lives from the evil

that swirls around us.

Teach us through your words and works

to understand how good wins over evil.

Thank you for sharing The Word through gifts

you granted faithful artists and writers.

Thank you for giving us the ability

to understand The Word in all forms.

Guide us to use the gifts you gave us

to share The Word in our own ways.

May we be the model of disciplined, faithful Christians

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