Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
Everything was good. Very good, in fact. All creation existed in perfect harmony, and at the center piece of everything was the crown jewel of creation. The man and the woman lived in perfect fellowship with God, walking without guilt, shame, or any other hindrance with Him. And into this harmony slithered the cunning serpent armed with what must have seemed like a very innocent question. It’s such a simple question that we might easily miss the cunning nature of it.
On the surface, it’s a question about a tree. It’s about one specific tree, and one specific prohibited action associated with that tree. It looks like an informational question – that the serpent was just making an innocent inquiry about what God had said or hadn’t said. But that’s just the surface. There is something much deeper – and more sinister – going on here.
Behind the simplicity was the cunning undertone, for behind this simple exchange which set off a cosmos-rocking event, the fork-tongued liar was leveling charges against the character and nature of God. What came off like a question was really an accusation. The serpent was making a claim that God was not loving and generous because He had held something back. And that accusation was enough to get the mental wheels of doubt spinning in the first humans.
So even though on the surface the question was about the tree, it was not really about the tree at all. Not really. Not ultimately. The question was really about what the first humans believed to be true about God. And in that, we find a principle that’s still applicable today about the heart of temptation:
It’s not really about the tree.
Of course, you can substitute anything in the world in that last sentence in place of “the tree”:
- It’s not really about the sex.
- It’s not really about the money.
- It’s not really about the power.
- It’s not really about the self-advancement.
Not really. In each and every case of temptation, there is something deeper going on. It’s always about more than the particular temptation on the surface. It’s always, in the end, about what we believe to be true about God.
If we go back to the garden, we see that God indeed did prohibit the human beings from eating from one particular tree:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Gen. 2:15-17).
The rule was real; the prohibition was in place. The question, then, is why did God make that declaration? To answer that question, think about the issue from the standpoint of a parent. As parents, we make all kinds of prohibitions in our homes nearly from the day our kids are born. Why do we do that? Well, the reason we make those rules is really a reflection of our character as moms and dads.
We might make a rule because we are bad parents – because we don’t really love our kids, we intentionally hold something back from them. Or we might make a prohibition because we are inexperienced parents – we don’t really know what we are doing and so we are overprotective when we don’t need to be.
Then again, we might make a rule because we are both loving and knowledgable – so the rule is a reflection of both our knowledge and our love. We keep our children from something because we love them and we know the effects of them doing that thing. It is for their good.
That brings us back to the deeper issue. When God tells us “no” about something, the deeper issue is always what we believe about His character. Is He inexperienced? Is He unloving? Is He not generous? Or is it the absolute opposite?
This is one of the ways we can actively battle temptation in our daily lives – by the grace of God, we can remind ourselves that it’s not really about the tree. It’s about who we know God to be. And who do we know God to be? We know Him to be our Father who knows how to give good gifts and keep us from what is less than the best. We know Him to be the God who demonstrated this kind of love and wisdom and generosity by giving the life of His Son, Jesus, for our sake.
No, friends, it’s not really about the tree. It’s about God, and our faith in Him.