Don’t eat the cheese!

[Here’s an excerpt from the book that tries to deal with God’s commandment in the Garden. It’s a little more didactic than some of other pieces I’ve posted, but I thought I’d put it up here anyway. Mostly because I like the mousetrap story.]

THE MOUSETRAP

We’ve seen that Adam and Eve had a pretty good situation in the garden. But, as we’ll see in the next section, that didn’t last long. Adam and Eve failed to obey the one commandment that God gave them. “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17). That was it. Just, “Don’t eat from that tree.” How hard could that possibly be?

Before we try to understand what happened when Adam and Eve chose to disregard that command, let’s take some time and reflect on the command itself. Why did God give the command? Why not just leave Adam and Eve alone? Why put tree in the garden and then tell them not to eat from it? Isn’t that kind of like putting a big red button in the garden with a sign that reads, “Don’t push the button.” Why would you do that? What purpose could it possibly serve other than to wreck everything when Adam and Eve gave in and pushed the button? And, admit it, you’d have done the same thing.

I was sitting in a friend’s living room one time when a mouse scurried across the floor. (Why do mice always scurry? Why don’t they ever scramble, scuttle, or scoot?) Being fearless young men, we immediately jumped up and set about trying to catch the poor mouse. Unfortunately, we were ill prepared for the task. For some reason, I grabbed a tennis racket. And my friend quickly equipped himself with a baseball glove and a spatula. I can only imagine what that poor mouse must have been thinking to be suddenly set upon by two crazed humans with athletic equipment and a kitchen utensil. But, it didn’t take long for it to decide that it had something really important to do somewhere else. I’m not entirely sure what we thought we were going to do if we caught the mouse, and we never got the chance to find out. It doesn’t take a very smart mouse to escape from a trap like that.

A more effective trap would work like this. The mouse walks out onto the kitchen floor. It’s been there many times before, but this time it sees something different. There’s a big piece of nice smelling cheese on the floor. That’s unusual. Thinking back to Scavenging School, the mouse remembers that he had often been warned to stay away from suspicious pieces of food lying on the kitchen floor. “It’s a trap!” the scavenging master would warn. All he had to do was stay away from the trap and everything would be all right. But, that cheese looks really yummy. And, the mouse is sure it would taste so good. How could something like that possibly be dangerous? So, despite the warnings, the mouse creeps over and steps up next to the cheese. And, you know what happens next. SNAP! Trapped.

That’s a much more effective trap. Bait it with something beautiful, yummy, and good. Then, sit back and wait for the trap to spring.

That’s how many people view God’s commandment in the garden. We know from Eve’s reaction to the tree 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” (Gen. 3:6). So, God found something yummy, put it in the trap, and then sat back and watched to see what would happen. And, what comes next? SNAP! Trapped. Surely, that was much more effective than attacking us with a tennis racket.

THE GIFT

But, God’s commandment was not a mousetrap. It wasn’t any kind of trap. God’s commandment was a gift. Yes, you read that right. God gave us this first commandment as a gift. And, as a gift, it was ultimately given with our best interests in mind. Because of the terrible consequences that will come as a result of breaking this commandment, we find that difficult to believe. But, it’s true nonetheless.

First, the commandment was a gift because it was a clear reminder that this is a story about God’s glory. This story is about him; he is the Creator. There is no negotiation here. No haggling over details or working out the provisions of a contract. There is only God saying how things will be. This is a story about God’s glory, and the commandment makes that clear from the very beginning.

And, as a reminder of God’s glory, it vividly declares our purpose. We are God’s image bearers in creation. We are here to manifest his glory, not ours. The commandment is a gift, because it reminds us of our calling, our purpose throughout creation.

But, the commandment is also a gift because it proclaims God’s grace. “I am God,” it declares, “and everything that you have comes from me.” He has provided Adam and Eve with existence; he has given them a place to live; he has blessed them with relationship, sustenance, and beauty. In all of this, Adam and Eve are receivers. We will see shortly what happens when we forget this truth and try to take control of the story. But, for now, the commandment makes it clear that this is how things were supposed to be.

And, finally, the commandment is a gift because it is through this commandment that God’s established meaningful relationship with humanity. As we discussed in the previous chapter, God’s commandment created a real and significant relationship between God and his people. In the commandment, he spoke to them as persons who could enter into the kind of relationship that comes with expectations, responsibilities, and accountability. God could have created Adam and Eve to be robots—programmed to obey his every wish. Or, he could have treated them like the other animals—with minimal expectations and limited accountability. He could even have viewed them as mere infants—human, but not morally responsible beings capable of real relationship. But, he didn’t. He gave them the gift of creating them to be, and treating them as, mature persons—beings capable of significant and meaningful relationship. Without the commandment, none of this would have been possible. Without the commandment, Adam and Eve could not be God’s image bearers—manifesting his glorious presence in creation through meaningful human community. Without the commandment, humans cannot be human.

So, far from being a trap, the commandment was a gift. It was a gift because it was a clear statement that the focus of this story was on God’s glory and grace. As long as Adam and Eve remained faithful to their calling, living as a community of image bearers in creation, this would be an amazing story filled with wondrous blessing. And, it was a gift because it was in the commandment that God spoke to humanity and summoned them into meaningful relationship with himself. In many ways, it was in the commandment that we become human persons. That was an amazing gift.

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on July 4, 2010, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Sorry dude, that story your telling needs a lot of re-working. Try being more self-expressive and less of a fountain spouting the same tired and old bible-based ontological narratives. Lastly next time the mouse scurries around, instead of jumping up all full of self, try just observing the mouse. It might teach you something.

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