Let’s talk about the most important reality there is: the love of God.
The Bible is full of stories that illustrate just how deep and how high and how wide the love of God is. I’ll focus on the first story, the Creation Story.
By the way, the you in the title refers to you, not God. You see, creation, really, is all about you (and me).
Have you ever noticed that there are actually two very different versions of the creation story in the Bible?
We have the first creation story, in Genesis 1, where God made heaven and earth and everything in it in 6 days and on the seventh day He rested. When did He create man? On the sixth day. Man was the pinnacle of God’s creation. Every creative activity of God was leading and building up to that moment when He created man and woman, with equal dignity and responsibility.
And then we have this other creation story.
This story is set after God had already created heaven and earth, and the action begins with God creating man. In this version, man was created first, before animals and trees. In fact, in this story, man was the very reason why God created animals and why God planted the Garden of Eden.
Yahweh God planted a garden in Eden, which is in the east, and there He put the man He had fashioned. From the soil, Yahweh God caused to grow every kind of tree, enticing to look at and good to eat, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. GENESIS 2:8-9
Here in the Garden of Eden, we already get a glimpse of the kind of love God has for man: it is a love that gives and it is a love that risks.
A Love That Gives
How many trees were there in the Garden of Eden? The verse says every kind of tree. In Hebrew it literally means that. Every. Kind. Of. Tree.
I googled how many varieties of trees there are in the world, and it only says there are thousands. In fact, there are actually 7,500 varieties of apples alone. So let’s give a conservative estimate. Let’s say there were about 10,000 kinds of fruit trees in that garden. All enticing to look at and good to eat.
A few verses later, in Genesis 2:16 it says: God said to the man, “You are free to eat of all the trees in the garden.” Wow. Can you imagine that? If they ate just one fruit for every meal, it would take them at least 9 years to make the rounds of all the trees in that garden. They would never get sick and tired of any one fruit. Those trees were meant to sustain them for the rest of their lives!
Now think. What do those trees represent?
They represent the many good things God has showered upon us and continues to shower upon us in our lives. Look around you and be amazed: you are deeply loved and cared for!
The psalmist looked up and came to realize just how much he mattered to God.
I look up at Your heavens, shaped by Your fingers, at the moon and the stars You set firm – what are human beings that You spare a thought for them, or the child of Adam that You care for him? PSALM 8:3-4
Probably the most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16. It says: God so loved the world that He gave… Let me stop the verse right here and highlight this truth: love gives. Have you ever loved someone so much that it compelled you to give your beloved a gift of great value? Of course you have.
In the movie The Red Shoes (2010 film written and co-produced by a Living Hope member, Jayel Ladioray), Marvin Agustin and Nikki Gil are lovers. Nikki is a rich girl while Marvin is below middle class status. He works in a bank, but his dream is to be a videographer. In one scene, they are having their anniversary dinner. Nikki gives Marvin a gift. When he opens it, the expression on his face changes. It’s a video camera. Marvin reacts, “Hindi ko ‘to matatanggap. Katitingin ko lang nito last week, discounted na ha, twenty one thousand…” Nikki interrupts him saying, “Hay naku. Bakit ba lahat ng bagay kinukwenta mo?” He says, “Kasi nga sobrang mahal!” And she answers, “Oo nga. Sobrang MAHAL.” They look at each other and smile.
I love that the word love in Tagalog is MAHAL. Mahal means love and mahal means costly. The word illustrates this profound truth: Real love is costly. But it never counts the cost.
Do you know that Eden in Hebrew is a word that means lavishness, extravagance, abundance, richness? From its opening pages, the Bible is already saying – no, shouting – GOD LOVES YOU! God’s got your back! He is your provider! He cares for you!
King David was able to grasp this truth that’s why he declared in his psalm: The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want! (Psalm 23:1) That means I have everything I need right here, right now!
A Love That Risks
It’s easy to understand and accept the kind of love that gives. But Genesis 2:9 has two parts. The second part of the verse says: …with the tree of life in the middle of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Notice. Two trees were specifically mentioned – the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Let me focus on the latter.
It is the only tree that had a prohibition on it. Remember in verse 16 of chapter 2 it says: Then Yahweh God gave the man this command, “You are free to eat of all the trees in the garden.” Verse 17 continues: “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you are not to eat; for, the day you eat of that, you are doomed to die.”
Whenever I give this reading in a Bible study, people always ask the same question. If God didn’t want Adam and Eve to eat from that tree, why put it there in the first place? That’s a very valid question.
To answer it, let me first give you a little perspective.
Out of the thousands of trees in that garden, how many trees did God say they should not eat from? ONE. One out of (our estimated) ten thousand trees they were free to eat from. That’s less than one percent of what God was offering them. To be more exact, that’s .01 percent of what God was offering them.
Is God being unfair?
A friend of mine gave her daughter a car for her birthday with one specific restriction: she’s not allowed to drive it after 7:00pm. If she’s going to go out with her friends beyond 7:00pm, either her parents or their driver will bring her to where she needs to go, or she can hitch a ride with her friends.
Imagine. This teenager has a car of her own. She could go anywhere she wants from 6:00am to 6:59pm. She even receives gas allowance from her parents. But is she thankful and happy to have the car? Yes. At first. But then after a while her focus shifted to the fact that she couldn’t drive her own car at night. And that made her miserable. She kept complaining about this restriction. “My parents are so unfair!”
Don’t most of us act like this teenager?
We are literally surrounded by thousands of signs of God’s love for us. And yet we tend to focus on God’s restrictions, not realizing that those restrictions are just a tiny bit compared to what God is offering us.
What we need is a little perspective.
So the next time you find yourself focused on what you cannot do and cannot have, look around you and try to count the many good things God is already showering upon you and is offering you. Look at the bigger picture. And gain a little perspective.
Now for a little theology.
Why did God put that tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden? Because God created Adam and Eve with free will. And freedom, in its simplest definition, is the ability to choose between alternatives. For example, I choose A over B, or B over A. Or at the very least, it is the ability to say no to what is being offered. For example, I reject both A and B.
This means that Adam and Eve were only truly free if they had the choice to reject what God is offering – the fruit of all the trees in the garden – and to defy His restriction – except the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. If God created them in such a way that they can only choose what is good, they wouldn’t be free at all, would they? If God created them in such a way that obedience to Him is an automatic response and not a result of an internal struggle of choice between opposites, they wouldn’t be free at all, would they?
What use are choices if man has no freedom to choose? And what use is freedom if man can only choose from among the things already pre-chosen for him?
In the first version of the creation story, it says that God created the world in six days. And when everything was finished, God looked at everything He had made and “Behold,” He said to Himself, “it is very good.” Everything God created was good, including man’s free will that allows man to reject God’s offer of love and to defy His restriction. Try to understand this. In the beginning there was no evil except the inclination of man to do evil, which is not evil in itself but only a necessary condition if man is to be truly free.
Parents of older kids and especially of adults, you of all people understand the risk God took in giving us the freedom to choose. When your children were just babies, you made every decision for them – what they will wear, what they will eat, where they will go. Would it have been better if they stayed that way and did not grow up at all? Of course not. And so they grew up and the time came when they already had their own preferences – on what to wear, what to eat, where to go, who to be friends with, what to believe in, etc. And then you had to make a crucial decision. Will you give them enough freedom to choose their own path even if it opens up the possibility of them going against your will? Or will you control them in such a way that they have no other choice but to follow your will? Remember, a love that seeks to control so that the beloved has no other option but to choose the lover is not love at all.
God gifting man with free will was a risky move on His part. But it was what love dictated. By gifting us with free will, God made Himself vulnerable to us and made it possible for us to affect Him – to bring Him joy or to break His heart. How crazy is that? We actually have the power to hurt God if we so choose.
I mean, who can really hurt us deeply but the ones we love so deeply?
God has given us the power to affect Him by making Himself powerless to control our response. That’s a risky kind of love.
So the next time you find yourself focused on what you cannot do or cannot have, remember this. That very ability to even contemplate about going against God’s will is proof enough of how God utterly, seriously and profoundly loves you.