“We don’t form our partnerships around our statements of faith or doctrine but rather our common love and commitment to our community.”
The Externally Focused Church
— “And the LORD God said, ‘Now that the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil, he must not be allowed to stretch out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever. ’” Genesis 3:22 (NET)
Some translations of this text (like the NET) have God forbidding sinful humanity the tree of life, therefore making us mortal. The literal text has God saying it more emphatically: “lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever” (KJV). The idea is that such a thing would be the worst imaginable fate: immortality is a curse to sinful man. So, until God takes care of our sin problem, eternal life is off limits.
For God to have not driven us out of Eden would have been to condemn us to an eternity of sin. God is not irresponsible. He would not curse us with immortality in our fallen state. He allowed death so that we would return to him for redemption and deliverance from sin. I. C. Agagbor says He ‘mercifully drove (Adam and Eve)… out of the Garden of Eden because if they had eaten of the fruit of life, they would have become immortal without the opportunity for repentance and salvation.’
The fall in the Garden is the bad news with which God wants us to compare his good news. There is a new tree that he wants us to partake of. It is Calvary’s tree. God in his grace wants us to look at that symbol of life that became death to us all, and see his Son dying on it as a sign of his grace. The loss of the tree of life symbolized our lost relationship with God, and mortality was one of the many repercussions of that loss. The death of Christ on the cross by God’s grace allows us another chance at the tree of life in the holy city, after sin and its consequences are a thing of the past.
Until then, only God has immortality, because only God is free from the sin that makes immortality into a curse instead of a blessing. Our Lord Jesus Christ conquered sin and death by his death, and brought life and immortality to light.
The gospel is this good news, entrusted to us as its messengers. It offers a new chance to gain immortality, the right way. As Witness Lee puts it, “It was God’s original intention that man should eat of the tree of life. But due to the fall of man the tree of life was closed to him. Through the redemption of Christ, the way to touch the tree of life, which is God himself in Christ as life to man, has been opened again.” The tree of life was lost to us in Eden, but reappears in the New Jerusalem, after sin is destroyed. This tells us that God wants us to live forever, but not in our present sinful state.
That is why Plato was wrong. He imagined that immortality was everyone’s birthright. He ignored what Moses said in Genesis, and suggested that immortality was an innate endowment from our creator, rather than a curse that our creator prevented us from obtaining. Augustine believed in Plato’s version of human nature, and Calvin, Wesley and numerous other theologians went along with Augustine. Who would not want to believe that death is an illusion?
However, the cost that comes with accepting Plato’s version of reality over that of Moses is that it necessitates us rewriting the gospel as well. Since the goal of the gospel is eternal life, and Plato argued that we already have eternal life, theologians who accepted Plato had to find some other objective. Enter, the new solution: getting our immortal souls to heaven when our bodies die. Suddenly heaven ceased to be the place where Christ was returning from. It became a place where the immortal souls of believers are going to. Suddenly, hell ceased to be the second death on Judgment Day, where Christ finally will take care of sin and sinners for good. It became a place for God to torture immortal souls forever, without a chance of ever getting rid of sin.
It is time for believers to take back the gospel from the pagan traditions that have supplanted it. We need to show the world that God is not guilty of cursing sinners with immortality. He promises immortality only to the redeemed. Only the saved are capable of living eternal lives to his glory.
If you have any questions about this teaching, you can ask me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Join me for this entire series as we search the scriptures to learn about the gift of life.
(listen to the audio file at Afterlife)
Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson, The Externally Focused Church. (Kindle location 1747).