Don’t Eat the Tree

I led a leadership retreat this past weekend. It was awesome. I love retreats anyway, but when I get to lead them, I enjoy them even more.

To lay a quick foundation for what we were going to discuss, I had a conversation with some of the leaders concerning the Old Testament covenants. The first one, of course, is found in the opening pages of Genesis. This is the one theologians like to call the Adamic Covenant (theologians are clever like that). God enters into a covenant with Adam and Eve in which he gives them a couple of instructions—one positive and one negative. The first is to tend the garden. I suspect they handled that one rather well. The second didn’t go quite as intended, however.

“Don’t eat the tree.”

As the discussion progressed, I asked the group to tell me what Adam and Eve’s role in the covenant happened to be. The answer most would give would be something like, “They were not to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” The person who answered did so rather quickly and it came out as, “Don’t eat the tree.” I liked that answer so much, I went with it.

It’s not that it’s a literal interpretation, but it definitely rolls off the tongue with greater finesse than the correct answer. Besides, everyone knew what the person meant. I suppose one could eat the fruit without eating the tree, but we were hip to what she was saying. It was also a bit funny.

The more I think about that short command (“Don’t eat the tree), the more my mind conjures up images of our first set of parents sitting down to a dinner (actually, many dinners) of pomegranate, wood, and bark. That’s not what I like to think of as a good fruit salad, but I’m thinking they had much better teeth than we have today. I’m also thinking everything had a better taste that the stuff we grow these days. I’m pretty sure the ensuing curse eventually took its toll on both teeth and taste.

“It’s who we are…”

As far-fetched as all that sounds, there’s a possibility it could have gone that way. Think about it. What if the Lord had actually said, “Don’t eat the tree”? Sooner or later, they would have tested him. Why do I think that? It’s who we are, that’s why.

I’m not sure why that is, but there’s something within us that just won’t leave well enough alone. We’ve always got to push the envelope. We’ve always got to see what’s on the other side of the wall. We’ve always got to test authority to see if we can find a better way.

It must be in our DNA. Adam and Eve must have, unwittingly, passed it down (along with original sin). A quick look at my own life seems to prove it. I’ve always been something of a renegade in the spiritual arena. At least I come by it honestly.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently pastor of Smith Chapel in Great Falls, VA.]

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