Remember the Trees
Now the serpent was more subtle than any animal of the field which Yahweh God had made. He said to the woman, "Has God really said, 'You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?'" The woman said to the serpent, "Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat, but of the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat of it, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'" The serpent said to the woman, "You won't surely die, for God knows that in the day you eat it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit of it, and ate; and she gave some to her husband with her, and he ate. The eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked. They sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. (Genesis 3:1-7)
I have long pondered as to why the serpent chose to open his conversation of deception with Eve by asserting what was clearly a lie, enticing her to attempt to refute it. I have heard plenty of reasons given for this that may all be correct, yet it seems there must be something more, something hidden, something much more subtle and sinister lurking in the background that not only ensnared Eve but that may still be blinding us as to what really happened there.
A few days ago as I listened to someone comment on this story, it suddenly struck me what the hidden under-lie might be. And because after noticing it I also realized how subtle it is yet today for so many of us, I think it might be the key insight I have sensed was missing for so long.
What has often been overlooked in analyzing this conversation that plunged all humanity into sin was not merely that Eve got tricked into believing lies about a tree or what God had previously said. What went unnoticed until now was the fact that what the serpent set out to do and did accomplish, was to set the tone of the discussion from the very start in such a way that it would not be noticed until too late, so late in fact that most of us still don't catch it. Never mind that the serpent's first words were a bald-faced lie. That in fact was the strategy, for the shock value of a blatant lie producing an instant gut reaction acted as the effective decoy to ignore the real nature of his deeper insinuation.
I always assumed that if the serpent were really all that subtle as the passage claims he was, starting out with what was clearly and unmistakably a lie would hardly be an effective way to remain concealed. If Satan speaking through the serpent wanted to remain anonymous, beginning a conversation with a lie that couldn't be ignored would not seem to be a good strategy – that is unless, the surface lie acted as an effective diversion for what he really intended to do and in fact succeeded in doing.
By looking past the direct subject matter of the question to consider more closely the tone and focus of the conversation, I went to look for context to see more clearly by comparing it with the context in the previous chapter containing God's actual words to Adam about this issue. But look beyond simply God's command to not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to particularly how God framed that instruction, not just the facts in His words.
Yahweh God planted a garden eastward, in Eden, and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground Yahweh God made every tree to grow that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the middle of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it was parted, and became four heads.
Yahweh God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. Yahweh God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it; for in the day that you eat of it you will surely die." (Genesis 2:15-17)
Did you catch the emphasis within the message in sharp contrast with the emphasis by the serpent? God began His words to Adam with a broad invitation emphasizing God's generosity of provisions, not merely with food to fuel the body but according to the description of the nature of the trees in the garden, fuel for the sensory stimulation of pleasure as well. In other words, God's words to Adam were not framed as restrictive but rather as a broad invitation to enjoy life to the fullest because God had already created an environment of pleasure in which he could thrive. Eden literally means pleasure, meaning that the home in which the first man was placed was the garden of pleasures. The following verses then explain how God took Adam through a series of experiences to make him keenly aware of his need to share pleasures with someone else so they could be amplified in a satisfaction he could only experience through love that would be impossible to do alone. But that is another discussion.
The point I am trying to make here is that it is all too easy to get hung up on the factual truth of what God said while missing the focus created by how the words are arranged. If God had begun His instruction to Adam by warning him about not eating from the forbidden tree before telling him that all the other trees were available to use, it would align with the format of how the serpent started his conversation with Eve. But God did not start with what we would think of as the negative and then get around to the positive. No, God emphasized the generous provisions He had already created for man's pleasure and nourishment and then, almost as an addendum, He gave the warning to avoid the one and only tree that provided an dangerous alternative way of thinking and living he should avoid.
The real intent of the serpent was not to initially try to convince Eve that God was wrong about the consequences of eating from the forbidden tree. He began by insinuating within his very first words that God is all about restrictions and thus has no real interest in His children having pleasure or being happy. The real lie was slipped in beneath the actual language, injecting the inference that God is stern, stingy and selfish, something trapped in our psyche ever since. This undercurrent of presuming that God is more about restrictions and severity than joy, peace, love and generosity, is the actual message infused into the heart of Eve like a hidden virus infecting her perceptions and poisoning her ability to think clearly.
Satan working through the serpent knew that if he could utilize the shock vale of a brazen, unbelievable lie to get Eve to react negatively and feel prompted to correct the content of the lie, she would likely miss the presumptions hidden within the question and thus he would be able to fasten them in her subconscious giving him immediate access to leverage them further from inside her mind. This was the Trojan horse tactic, where what seemed obvious was merely a decoy for the real virus being inserted until it was too late to notice the damage taking root deep inside.
The truth of God denounced silently but effectively was that God is nothing but love, full of generosity, energy, joy and pleasure. If the serpent had challenged that openly Eve would have had little problem spotting those lies and resisting them. But by using inference rather than open lies, the serpent was able to get Eve thinking negatively with doubts about God while at the same time trying to defend the truth.
As I came to perceive this for the first time, the implications of this began to reverberate all through many other things I have learned. I feel increasing conviction in my own spirit as I see how easily I am often ensnared in this very same trap, drawn into discussions or arguments that have hidden presumptions about God being restrictive or having a dark side while the surface issue seems easy to refute. By arguing over obvious lies while failing to pay attention to the atmosphere created by what is hidden underneath, I can find myself doubting God's love for me just as readily as did Eve. And one of the easiest ways the enemy does this is by getting me to dwell on what is wrong, either in me or others, rather than keeping my heart focused on how generous and wonderful God is and all His blessings around me. In essence, I have been conditioned to focus on negative religion while failing to focus on gratitude and praise and awareness for all the other trees in the garden of pleasure God offers me.
Ever since this revelation came a couple days ago, I find myself checking my own spirit, especially when I feel dark and brooding which is not uncommon for me. I also realize that my life-long penchant for fault-finding plays directly into this scheme that reinforces the lie that God is fault-finding like me, something that kept me in terror of God far too many years. As I look back on God's work in setting me free from that darkness of fear and emerging into more light over recent decades, I see that the truth about God's goodness, kindness and generosity are the elements that have the most power to set my spirit free from the fear, shame and feelings of condemnation that have oppressed me much of my life.
I recall what God brought to my awareness some years ago when I immersed myself in the book of James (see James 1:5-8). I felt confused as to the real reason why prayers seemed to so often go unanswered and kept looking for the right formula to unlock heaven's storehouses so as to get what I wanted from God. Then it started to become clearer to me what James was really writing about when he said that a double-minded man should not expect to receive anything from God. It is not because God is withholding anything from those who ask. Rather, it is our condition of double-mindedness that blocks us from being able to receive anything from Him that is the actual problem. This double-minded condition is a direct result of resistance to believing God's generosity, as well as imagining that God is is critical and always looking for faults in us to use as an excuse to punish or withhold or even take back what He has provided. In other words, entertaining dark feelings about how God relates to me blocks my capacity to receive the very things I desire. And because I don't receive, I then blame Him as the cause of my not receiving which only reinforces the original lie that He is stingy and fault-finding. That in turn hardens me further in my double-minded condition and the whole thing becomes a vicious cycle like a black hole sucking life and hope out of me.
Eve fell into this same vortex of doubt about God's generosity and goodness by choosing to try to defend the truth instead of opting out of a discussion with one who was clearly a blatant liar. The problem with questions from abusers is the extreme subtlety with which inferred presumptions can be embedded deep under the surface that go unnoticed. Yet by answering such questions directly, the respondent immediately has affirmed the hidden presumptions and the trap is set for defeat long before the unsuspecting victim becomes aware they have been duped. This is why Jesus so often refused to directly answer questions from His cunning opponents, because they were inspired by the same sinister spirit that seduced Eve with his cunning inference that God is stingy. Jesus refused to be drawn into hidden presumptions and never relied on His own human capacity for discernment, for in every situation He relied entirely on His Father to guide Him in how to respond.
This is precisely where Eve got off track, by trying to correct a liar instead of checking with God first. Jesus faced the very same kind of subtlety that Eve encountered, but instead of seeking to denounce lies directly or engaging in legal debates, Jesus remained connected to His Father through the Spirit giving Him direct access to wisdom as to how to respond beyond normal human ability at all times. Eve had the same advantage she could have accessed as the same Spirit was present for her to know the mind of God at any moment. Yet in thinking she could correct a liar instead of first asking God how to respond, she became infected with the hidden lie inferred within the question that quickly infected her heart while she dialoged with an abuser turning her into a victim before she had any idea what happened.
The entry point for being victimized was failing to rely on God first before responding to a liar. This allowed an insinuation to go unnoticed raising doubt about God's goodness, generosity and then His honesty. But because it was only inferred but not openly stated, the shock of the lie that was used produced a sense of urgency that she had to refute it immediately. Yet this emotion was manipulated to divert her attention from the more sinister lie that took hold internally giving advantage for the enemy to leverage her thinking to entertain more lies.
This is also where Jesus faced His most severe tests, for the same strategy used on Eve was repeatedly used to assault the emotions and thinking of the human Jesus when facing the many temptations we face. The same serpent that tricked Eve with a bait and switch question, inferring that God is not totally good, tried every way possible to induce Jesus to believe similar lies about His Father in heaven. But Jesus demonstrated how any of us may overcome Satan's strategy, by remaining so tightly connected to His Father's love and reliant on His presence at all times that no one could get Jesus to doubt in the slightest degree the real truth about what God is like. Jesus could never be induced into believing in the slightest any lie inferring that there was any darkness in God whatsoever.
Jesus refused to dwell on negative thinking or engage in fault-finding and criticism. Every day He made certain that He spent sufficient time alone with His heavenly Father retightening His connection with His Father's heart so that nothing could ever insert itself to inject the slightest lie about His Father's love for Him into His thinking. By making God His highest priority every morning above anything else in life, Jesus was empowered to overcome all sin and develop a perfect, complete, mature character and to recapture all of humanity in Him. This perfected character He then implanted into every human being in the form of a complete and perfect identity that is readily available to every person as a template around which they may shape their thoughts, their decisions and develop their own character according to His likeness.
How can we do this? By following the example of Jesus and ever trusting fully in the goodness of God just as Jesus did. God provides the same power as was given to Jesus through His Spirit for each one who is willing to embrace it. Thus we may practice what Jesus practiced and experience the same overcoming power that Jesus had, by choosing to cling so closely to the Father's heart that every lie embedded in our psych becomes exposed and we have power to expel them and experience freedom.
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. His commandments are not grievous. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world: your faith. (1 John 5:3-4)
Remember all the other trees reminding us of God's generous provisions in His great love for us.