Was Humanity Immortal in the Beginning?

I often get so focused on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in Eden that I forget that there were actually two trees in the garden—the other one being the Tree of Life. Reading the story in this light shows us that death was already in the world. God told Adam and Eve that if they ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they would die, which often makes us think that there was no such thing as death at the time, but it becomes clear that Adam and Eve’s ability to avoid death was their access to the cure that was in the Garden of Eden: the Tree of Life. So long as they can eat of the fruit that cures death (whether symbolic, supernatural or scientific), they can continue to live. Living in the presence of God is their cure.

This connection is furthered by God’s judgment upon Adam and Eve for eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Among the consequences for their disobedience is their removal from the Garden of Eden, and therefore their access to the Tree of Life is cut off. They are now like all the other life that exists outside of the God’s temple of Eden. John H. Walton says it well in his book, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate.

….from the start people were mortal, and pain and suffering were already a part of a not yet fully ordered cosmos, we cannot think of death and suffering as having been foisted on us by Adam and Eve’s malfeasance. Many have thought it unfair that all of us should suffer the consequences of their offense. Instead, we can have a much more charitable attitude toward Adam and Eve when we realize that it is not that they initiated a situation that was not already there; it is that they failed to achieve a solution to that situation that was in their reach. Their choices resulted in their failure to acquire relief on our behalf. Their failure meant that we are doomed to death and a disordered world full of sin. These are profoundly significant consequences for what was a serious offense. In contrast, Christ was able to achieve the desired result where Adam and Eve failed. We are all doomed to die because when they sinned we lost access to the tree of life. We are therefore subject to death because of sin. Christ succeeded and actually provided the remedy to sin and death.

This, of course, isn’t groundbreaking—even Hollywood gets it. I’ve seen movies and played video games (Uncharted 2 anyone?) where the story is based on trying to find some kind of sacred and mythical vegetation that provides eternal life. So that theme plays a part in our own story as Christians—granted, Jesus is now our answer, for he “came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10).

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