There are three requirements for “heaven,” or “perfection,” as we understand it:
- God’s people, in
- God’s place, under
- God’s rule, experiencing God’s blessing.
Try to keep these three things in mind as we trace our way through the story I’m about to tell.
This story begins, like many good stories do, a long, long time ago. It begins with one character: El Shaddai. El Shaddai was creative and powerful, and decided that it was time to tame the chaos of the cosmos. And so El Shaddai began to create.
Like a master artist, El Shaddai used his voice as his paintbrush, bringing into being and imbibing with life a desolate and solitary planet. El Shaddai created vast landscapes with varying terrain, mountains and oceans, valleys and rivers.
But he wasn’t just content to let them sit. In this beautiful, wonderful world, El Shaddai began to introduce life. Life abundantly, exceedingly, beyond all else. Animals – from the smallest of the crawling animals to the largest of the stampeding. From the quiet to the loud. From the swimming to the flying. His creativity knew no bounds.
And then, El Shaddai breathed a breath of anticipation, because El Shaddai knew what was coming next. He had held off on this moment because it was the pinnacle. He created human life, breathing into it his own breath – giving it not just life, but his life. El Shaddai’s life.
With that came blessing. These were El Shaddai’s people, in El Shaddai’s place, under El Shaddai’s rule. It was perfection. It was complete.
In this new place, El Shaddai made it possible for them to eat from the trees, and he placed two specific trees in this perfection. One was the seemingly silent cousin of the other, but we will focus on that one first. El Shaddai introduced a tree that was, at its root, a tree for life. In the creative act that El Shaddai had just undergone, perhaps the naming of the tree was the most uncreative aspect. Its name was its consequence. When one ate of it, one received life.
But now we move our focus away from this tree.
We move to the first tree of our story. The tree whose name, also, leaves a lot of creativity wanting. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil. You see, created by El Shaddai in perfection, the humans knew only good. They understood it, saw it, experienced it, and lived it. And so El Shaddai decided to create another tree. El Shaddai did not make an evil tree, nor did he create a tree whose fruit was bad. Very simply, the name once again is its consequence. Indeed, this perfection had one unique twist that El Shaddai introduced into it: the ability to choose. You see, right from the beginning El Shaddai knew that the story wouldn’t be the same if he didn’t give his people a choice. They were his people living in his place under his rule, but love is not love if it has no choice. And so El Shaddai created this tree. El Shaddai told the created humans that they could not eat from the tree. But yet it was there. And so perfection was created with a clause, like an asterisk behind its name – perfection, with a choice. To obey or disobey.
El Shaddai warned the people: to eat of this tree is to die. You see, the tree’s name implied its consequences: the knowledge of good and evil. But with knowledge of evil also came the knowledge of its consequences: pain, suffering, and, eventually, death.