Always Options

Genesis 2:15-17 (Today’s New International Version)
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man. “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will certainly die.”

Camping one summer in the Adirondack Park in upstate New York, we had absolutely perfect weather. Warm during the day, but not too warm. Cool at night, not cold. No rain. Blue skies with high, puffy clouds in the distance. A nice breeze coming off the lake. Just lovely. Perfect.

Except for the black flies. Nasty flying bugs that seemed to take out small chunks of flesh with their bites. I laughed when one morning around the campfire my mother-in-law sighed deeply and said, “God put black flies here so that we wouldn’t confuse the Adirondack Park with Eden.”

Each of us probably has a picture of an Eden-like place we’ve been to– a place of beauty where we felt at peace. For some it would be the beach, for others a mountain cabin, for someone else a quiet forest. Whatever your “Eden” looks like in your imagination, the actual Eden would have surpassed it in beauty and perfection.

So, why, in the midst of Eden, would God have placed this “tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” and then order Adam not to eat from it? Why would God do such a strange thing? It certainly seems at first glimpse as if God is setting Adam up for failure: “Here’s something great and yummy. Now… don’t touch it!”

One of my seminary professors used to say, “Unless you have the option of saying no, your yes is meaningless.” If we can only say yes to God’s plan– if that is our only option– then what meaning does that “yes” really have? God could have created us with only the ability to do what God has told us to do, only able to say yes to God’s plan. But, instead, God took the amazing risk of giving us free will. We get to choose! The tree in the garden is not really about temptation. It is about the choice of saying “yes” or “no” to God’s command.

Scripture talks about “fruits of the Spirit,” characteristics that grow in us when we’re faithfully following the healthy path God has for us: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). But God doesn’t force us to act, speak, or think this way. We can instead choose hate, dissatisfaction, impatience, cruelty, meanness, disloyalty, intolerance, and damaging behavior. That’s not a list that most of us would want to lay claim to. But the point is that we have a choice– every day, in every interaction– about how we are going to let God work in and through our lives.

In this past week, how well did your actions and words illustrate those “fruits of the Spirit”? Which “fruit” was the biggest struggle for you? What challenges in your life kept you from living that way?

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