Eating Freely of Every Tree in the Garden: The Restoration's Expansive, Generous Picture of God vs. the Narrow, Pinched, Stern Tradition
I have been pondering something for a long time, because it's had a significant impact on my life. For years, it was a deeply negative impact. More recently, it's been a potent--and growing--source of joy. I don't think I'm the only LDS to whom this applies, so I'm writing about it in hopes it may help someone else.
It has to do with what we really, deep down, believe about the nature of God, and how we perceive his character, and, consequently, the ways in which we try to emulate and please him.
We are familiar with one of God's earliest commandments, the time he warned Adam: "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee; but, remember that I forbid it, for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Moses 3:17).
This commandment is very clear. It consists of a rule and a clearly-stated penalty.
If this is the starting point for our relationship with God, then we might come to believe that the main or major characteristic of God and our relationship to him is obedience: he commands and we obey. We please him if we obey, we displease him if we disobey.
That's not exactly wrong. There are bits of truth in that. God does ask us to obey. Jesus said that if we loved him we would keep his commandments (John 14:15). Obedience is important, critical--the first law of heaven, according to Presidents Tanner, Benson and Elders Wirthlin at least.
I am not arguing with any of that.
However, there's a way in which good-hearted, faithful people can become so focused on obedience that it becomes an end, rather than a means. If it defines the relationship with God, if that is the main and only aspect, then it also narrows that relationship. And, I believe, it causes us to misunderstand who God is and why he wants us to obey him.
While we speak often of the strict commandment God gave Adam, what I think we don't remember or speak of as often is that it is actually part of a much larger instruction: "And I, the Lord God, commanded the man, saying: Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat..." (Moses 3:16). And this part comes after the Lord described planting a garden filled with "every tree, naturally, that is pleasant to the sight of man..." (Moses 3:9).
In other words, that more strict commandment is true, but in context, it's a modifier for a much more expansive, generous, gentle statement.
In very simple terms, what was the ratio of encouragement to prohibition? How many more trees did God allow--even encourage--Adam to eat than he forbade?
There are two ways to look at God, based on these verses. One focuses on the strictness of God's commands as his primary characteristic. The other focuses on his generosity and goodness, but includes his hope for obedience. If we focus only one the commandment we are fast-forwarding, freeze-framing, and focusing on a fragment.
The entire point of the Restoration was that it was to bring us the whole picture again, to unfold and unfurl the truly infinite and eternal plan of happiness. If the plan is broad and unlimited, how can we imagine the planner to be any less expansive or dimensional. How can God be narrow when the fullness of his work is infinite?
The beautiful thing about the Restoration is that it allows all the pieces to fit. A god who is expansive and generous can still ask for obedience. In fact, a fully dimensional view explains exactly why he wants us to obey: because he loves us! But in this view, obedience is a means, not the end. It is an important part of the relationship, but not the primary, defining element: love is. And from that love flows many things, including his request that we obey him and our willing compliance. Obedience binds us to him and creates a pipeline through which blessings and love and knowledge flow, but no one mistakes a pipe for the life-giving water it brings, or a fiber-optic cable for the data it transmits.
This post is too long already, so I will come back to this later. Part 2 to follow soon! If you don't want to miss it, you might consider subscribing to this blog or, following it on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.