“And the Lord God commanded Adam, saying, ‘You may eat food from every tree in the garden; but from the tree of knowledge of good and evil you may not eat; for in whatever day you eat from it, you shall die by death.’” (OSB)
St. Paul seems to step into the persona of Adam, reflecting on the cataclysm of the Fall, when he says,
… I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, "YOU SHALL NOT COVET." But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. (Rom 7:7-11)
Of course, the commandment “You shall not covet” comes from the Mosaic Law—and yet we hear unmistakably the voice of Adam here, and think of the covetous “grasping” of Adam & Eve towards the tree (contrast Phil 2.5-11). And this is precisely St. Paul’s point: Israel’s story is Adam’s story, and vice-versa. Both Israel and Adam are created by God, placed in a Garden-Temple, endowed with free will, and given a commandment to activate that freedom. Both disobey, engage in idolatry, worshipping the creation rather than the Creator, turn away from communion with God, and are exiled to the East.
One fundamental difference, however, between Adam and Israel is that Adam was, it seems, in a state of innocence when he sinned, whereas Israel already had sin and death at work in her members (Rom 7.5; though cf. 1 Tim 2.14). This, too, is part of St. Paul’s point: that the Law was always intended—ironically—to expose the human predicament for what it is, that all those “in Adam,” even God’s special covenant people, suffer the ravages of Sin and Death, and need to be saved, to die and be raised to new life in the New Adam, Christ, and thus be constituted as a New Israel, a New Humanity.
When we reflect on the story of Adam (and Israel) as a paradigm for our lives, we inevitably find, if we’re honest, that “the shoe fits.” How often are we led to abandon the childlike innocence required in the Kingdom with flights of doubt about God’s goodness. How often do we glance across the “fence” and suppose that the forbidden fruit just out of reach is what will really satisfy. How often do we suppose that the boundaries God establishes are because He desires to deprive us of good things, rather than to protect us from what will harm us and/or from that which we are not yet prepared to receive.
Therein lies the tragic irony of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil—perhaps it was never God’s intention to withhold such knowledge forever anyway! For “in [Christ],” who is the Mystery of God, “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2.2-3). As we partake of the Mystery of Christ, ascending from glory to glory, let us do so with fear and love, cooperating with God’s grace to progress unto maturity in Christ, in His time!
~ By Reader Justin Gohl