What’s up with that mysterious old tree of life standing in the center of the garden? For when Adam and Eve are banished, we read:
Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” (Gen. 3:22)
How are we to interpret this? Superficially it sure looks like a good argument that Adam and Eve would have, prior to the fall, indeed lived forever, and so they must be denied access to the tree of life.
But I cannot see this argument as satisfactory even to those who believe Adam and Eve would have lived forever. Surely the tree isn’t magic—eternal life comes from God, not from the fruit of a tree. It cannot be that the fruit was “magic” although many commentators and bible notes treat this verse as such. I have a bible with a footnote that argues that man was (paraphrasing) graciously preserved from the pain of living eternally in a fallen world. That doesn’t smell right to me. It sends the message that the tree had a power apart from God, so God had to make sure that Adam and Even stayed away. God could have, had he chosen to, vaporized the tree ending any risk. No, I think the explanation is elsewhere.
Although this verse always troubled me, I have learned a simple explanation that is not inconsistent with my belief that Adam and Eve, even absent the Fall, would have eventually died. And even for those who believe they’d have lived forever, I think it is better than the “magic fruit” view.
We begin by pointing out that when we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we use the same language as used for the tree of life. We talk of eternal life being found in the meal that we share. I believe the explanation for the tree of life in the garden is that it was a sacramental tree. It was a seal that signified eternal life—just like the bread we partake of. The tree of life was the seal—and for Adam and Eve to eat of it, after they became covenant breakers, would have been profane. Likewise, eating the bread in an unworthy manner is profane. God did not prevent them from eating of the tree of life after the fall because they would have literally lived forever. The tree contained no magic. He prevented it because for them, in their fallen state, to partake of the sacrament signifying eternal life would have been obscene.