Why a Tree to Teach Respect?
The study of God’s character is not merely a theme related to the Great Controversy, – it is the very subject of the Great Controversy. So, how did this Great Controversy come about and why does it need to continue today and for the foreseeable future? It is a question man has been trying to answer since Adam ate of the fruit. It is the reason God had the book, we call the Bible, written so that he could convey His message of Hope to a fallen world.
Contrary to what many believe and teach, the controversy did not begin on earth, instead it began in the most unlikely of places, that place was heaven itself, the very home of God and the place of creation for the angelic host. The first and foremost of this angelic host was, Lucifer.
Let’s quickly go back to the book of Genesis. In the first verse Moses the author makes a dramatic point by stating in verse one: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The word God used in the singular in our modern translations was used in the plural in the original Hebrew. We see this plural aspect or multiple Gods aspect brought out further in Genesis 1:26 where it says; “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in our own image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’”
This is further brought to view in Genesis 3:22 where God says, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.” Again, God uses the word Us to describe the Godhead that live in heaven.
So then, who are these Gods in heaven. We have learned that Genesis 1:1 states God in the plural form. Genesis 1:2 gives us additional information on one of these persons of what we today call the Godhead. “The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” This “Spirit of God” was no other than the “Holy Spirit” the third person of the Godhead that really came into prominence in the New Testament after the ascension of Christ into heaven.
Genesis 1:1 states God created the heaven but uses the plural, but John and Paul bring to light that it was the Pre-incarnate Christ that spoke the world into existence (See John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:15-16; Hebrews 1:1-4; Hebrews 11:1-3)
Therein lies the rub that began in heaven and eventually spread to this planet we call home.
At the risk of over simplifying this, and perhaps giving the wrong impression, parenthood gives us perhaps the most wonderful representation of the relationship between God and created being. Mankind was given the power to procreate or create new life. This was granted to mankind so that this newly created world could become populated. When my wife and I had children, it became very evident at an early age that they have a mind of their own and are often willing to express the fact that they will do what they want to do. This gives us a glimpse into the working of God. Although God created the angels and mankind he did not create them to be arbitrary beings. Meaning, he did not create them to be robots, but created them with the capacity to learn, think and make choices. As parents we often see our children make choices that are not in their best interest. It hurts and is painful to see and live through as they suffer, but this is the means that we learn by. But this was not the way God originally intended it to be. This way of learning is the result of this Great Controversy that started in heaven and eventually moved to planet earth.
So, how could it start in heaven and what does this have to do with respect?
Lucifer was the first of the created angels in heaven and it is said that he and the Pre-incarnate Christ used to sing together in heaven. Yet Lucifer had the choice and the same choice that all God’s created beings have. What is this choice? The choice is to respect God and by faith accept God at his word. But Lucifer could no longer see God as He is. How did this happen? It happened because Lucifer allowed Pride to ripen into rebellion and once this began, he began to mis-represent the character of God to elevate his own position in heaven. In other words, the created being who could not completely understand the mystery of God, sought to place himself above God. All the result of lustful pride in wanting the power to produce life as Christ could in the creation of the world. He also pridefully wanted the adoration that was given to Christ to instead be directed to himself.
Ever since, wherever those misconceptions have taken root, rebellion has raged on. Therefore, only when those misconceptions have been completely cleared away will rebellion end and permanent, universal peace return.
This does not mean that God is seeking a personal vindication of Himself. That is the last thing He would do. He is seeking the vindication of that which will ensure the eternal life and happiness of everyone of His creatures throughout the full immensity of the universe. God knows that Satan’s misrepresentation and lies about God’s character and government have brought only misery and death into this world. Therefore, it is to save us, and not Himself that God seeks the vindication of his own character.
This is better appreciated when it is seen that God’s law and government are an exact expression of His character. God does not have one code of behavior for Himself while he governs His people on other principles. This is so with earthly rulers, but not with God.
As the leader of all angels lived, he grew in wisdom and abilities, according to the laws that govern all of God’s creatures. Marvelous was his progress until he became the brightest of all the creatures.
By the abundance of your trading you became filled with violence within, and you sinned (Ezekiel 28:16).
Likewise the needless corruption of the covering cherub through the abundance of his talents and wealth has repeatedly destroyed humanity. The quest for greatness and material possessions has increased since the first sin was committed. In essence “Respect” was lost, for as respect and dependence upon God wanes, material possessions come to be looked upon as the basis and guarantee of security. Thus it is an error to say that people lose faith. Instead, they transfer it from God, who gave the gifts, to the gifts were given by God.
This is the path Lucifer took as he descended from the throne of God until he was thrown out of heaven and still maintains today. Lucifer within his own mind became the critical measurement by which he measured all things. Instead of respecting God, he relied upon his own wisdom and strength. Even the Son of God, the one whom he sang with in heaven came under his critical measurement. So as inflated as his view of himself became that he saw himself being actually superior to the Divine One, as it is written, “You corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor” (Ezekiel 28:17).
To understand or comprehend the development of evil in Lucifer, it is only necessary to observe the same process in humanity. It is readily seen today that when a person arrives at this point, the last thing they are inclined to do is recognize that the fault lies in themselves. Everybody and everything else is to blame but never themselves.
Lucifer fully believed that he had experienced a great awakening. He felt that he had thrown off the shackles of a terrible bondage. He became hostile toward God and specially toward Christ for having, as he supposed, to hold the angels in deception for so long a time and he determined to assert his rights and reform the government of God.
Lucifer led first the angels and then humanity to doubt the word of God, and to distrust His goodness. Because God is a God of justice and terrible (awe-filled) majesty, Satan caused them to look upon him as severe and unforgiving; a teaching that is still held near and dear by many.
Satan’s objective of enlisting others in rebellion was achieved through the use of a certain very successful method. The method was to persuade angels and humans that God’s character was that of a deceiver, and oppressor and a liar. This was the method used, and to whatever extent it was successful, rebellion followed.
So, this brings us to the purpose of the tree. What tree? Why the tree that was placed in the center of the garden in which God said, “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the Garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Genesis 2:15-17).
This seems to be a pretty harsh statement for a God that is a loving God. And this was the point Satan was trying to make without directly saying so when he tempted Eve. Instead he pointed out that she could be elevated above what she was, if she would just eat of the fruit of the tree.
Yet, God intended the tree as a gift. It was for their benefit, designed to teach them about obedience and respect. As they used their ability to create life (Procreate), all that they had would have to be shared with the increasing population. All that they had had been shared with them by God, except for the tree, which he said was His. It was His and His alone to teach them a lesson they could learn no other way, and it was by complete faith in Christ that this lesson could be learned. And unless the lesson of absolute respect for the property of another was deeply ingrained into their minds, contention, strife, confusion, and open war would develop as man sought to wrest from each other that which they desired.
God built into mankind the ability or the desire for more. This was a good thing, for with this desire, mankind would want to learn more of God and the mystery of his power and His ability to sustain life. But this all hinged upon Faith and Respect. Satan sought to take this desire and warp it from its original intention of wanting to learn more about God, to wanting things to increase our own power, wealth, and prestige among our fellow mankind. With sin, this has manifested in killing, strife, war and all forms inhumanity to man as man reaches for that which he does not have because in the Garden Home respect was lost, when first Eve and then Adam partook of the tree.
The instant man accepted the temptation of Satan, Christ, the Son of God, stood between the living and the dead, saying, “Let the punishment fall on Me. I will stand in man’s place. He shall have another chance.” This is the message of the book that I began to read, that caused me to be a student, then teacher, but ultimately be a student of the book.
For the Lord that keeps all things; He sustains the heavenly bodies and systems down to the minutest atom of matter. It is the Creator of all things who maintains their proper function and place. God . . . has in these last days spoken to us by his Son . . . through whom also He made the worlds’ who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His Person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:1-3).
Even after sin entered this world a loving creator year by year has caused the earth bring forth its bounties and continues its march around the sun. The hand of the infinite One is perpetually at work guiding this planet. It is God’s power continually exercised that keeps the earth in position in its rotation. It is God who causes the sun to rise in the heavens. He opens the windows of heaven and gives rain. It is by his power that vegetation is caused to flourish, that every leaf appears every flower blooms every fruit develops.
Here comes a very bold but true statement. If any one of his creatures in any part of the vast universe – except where the presence of the Savior provides for a delaying factor, puts another god in place of the real God, then the power of God as an upholder of the mighty forces of nature will have been removed from that place, and as surely, they will become uncontrolled forces of terrible destruction. In that very day, those who have made the fatal mistake will die, not because God will strike them down, but because they have placed themselves where life is impossible.
The only reason that such a cataclysm of destruction has not obliterated this earth is because of the merciful interposition of Jesus Christ. Therefore, God’s instruction to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden not to partake of the tree was given to protect them from destruction. In no sense was it to protect Himself or His own position. Rightly understood, the restriction placed upon the first couple was a true revelation of the perfectly righteous character of God. It was an act of kindness and mercy. It was the work of a Savior, not that of a despot.
Therefore, the subject of the character of God is not something apart from the great controversy. It is right at the heart of it. The weapon the devil uses to lead souls into rebellion against God is the misrepresentation of His character. The more he is able to convince men of these deceptions, the more they enter into unrighteousness and rebellion.
I apologize for the length of this post but deemed it important to cover this in one sitting. Our next post will be on the Character of God and the End of the Great Controversy. We will try to answer the question, “Was the cross the end of the battle, and if so, why are we still here?