Perspective is a matter of faith―what we believe shapes the way we see the world, ourselves and each other. Do we see hope, life and glory or do we see despair, debauchery and destruction? This is much, much more than a 'glass half full', 'power of positive thinking' way of viewing life. This is a question that has its roots in the very foundations of the Christian faith.
The garden of Eden. A beautiful place. Literally a garden of delight, full of every good thing. Into this garden, They determined to fashion a creature reflecting their image. And so God created a man and woman, sharing breath with them and delighting in their presence. Man and Woman were captivated by the delight they saw in their Creator’s eyes for them and were sustained by the Spirit that was breathed back and forth between them and the One they were made to reflect.
Trees of our choosing
In the garden were two certain trees, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Tree of Life was given to mankind with completely unrestricted access as an expression of God’s goodness and grace. The Tree of Knowledge on the other hand, was expressly forbidden and dire warnings of devastating consequences were pronounced.
The choice was offered. How was humanity going to choose to see their place in creation? Would they trust and delight in their Creator's desire for them, or would they choose to believe God was holding something back from them and seek to create their own identity?
The sliding scale of goodness and not-so-goodness
In the end, we chose to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, a choice that has been owned by all of mankind throughout the entirety of human history. We love to decide what's right and wrong and play the judge. We hold to a scale of good and evil and are continually trying to find our place on it by comparing ourselves to others.
‘I may not be perfect, but I'm trying my best and doing pretty well. I'm certainly doing better than that guy over there’.
‘I mean seriously, does he think we can't see how his addiction is affecting his family?’
‘ISIS―don’t get me started on ISIS. They are the embodiment of evil. They all deserve to die!’
We can expect this kind of thinking to be prevalent in the world at large, but where do we, the Church stand? Is the tree we are eating from any different?
Throughout his ministry, Jesus exhorted his listeners to love their enemies and reject the desire to judge according to their standards of good and evil. When people wanted to draw lines and reject others, Jesus always placed himself on the other side of the line, embracing those who would be excluded and modelling a greater way.
The delusion of ‘good judgment’
In Matthew 21 Jesus tells the ‘righteous’ Pharisees, "the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of Heaven ahead of you". Their ‘good’ judgment was causing them to miss out on what God was doing right in front of them. He outlines for them the end result of their thinking―even if we were to brutally maim ourselves in an attempt to be holy and good, it would never be enough. Jesus consistently warns against the consequences of continuing to live with and lead others into a Tree of Knowledge mentality.
Jesus offers a new way to interpret the scriptures, going so far as to say that the scribes and Pharisees, with their thousands of years of scriptural study, never understood the heart of God. “No one has seen the Father”, he proclaims as he sets about breaking down the walls we use to separate ourselves from others, the walls which keep us from seeing the heart of the Father and loving our neighbour.
Our own desire to judge right and wrong only serves to highlight which tree is feeding our perspective. Jesus constantly taught his listeners to love their enemies, and find God in ‘the least of these’. It’s no mistake that Jesus tells us to lay aside our judgment and focus on him; to consider our own hearts rather than excluding others.
The Jesus Tree
It is our insistent, human desire to eat from the Tree of Knowledge that has kept us from seeing and eating from the Tree of Life. Jesus is this Tree of life personified, incarnated, offering an unrestricted and unconditional fruit of union and delight to every dark, aching corner of humanity.
So the choice once again, comes back to us. Do we take the words of Jesus and the biblical writers and fall into the same trap of the religious leaders of their day, legalistically trying to achieve life by our own efforts and judging others? Or could we view the entirety of scripture and see an inclusive, life-giving message? The tree that we choose could change our view of the world.
Russell Croft has a heart for community and reaching out to the marginalised and forgotten. He is getting to know the God of infinite goodness and is living a joy-filled life with his wife Belinda and three children in South-East Queensland, Australia.
See all previous articles by Russell Croft