I was reading Alma 42:3-7 the other day for my morning scripture study, and pondering the meaning of these elements: the tree of life versus the tree of knowledge – why it was important to separate man from the tree of life once they’d partaken of the fruit from the tree of knowledge, why giving man space to live in mortality was so necessary, and how being ‘cut off’ from God’s presence was a blessing in this space as well as a result of the Fall.
This led to some insight into those connections, which I felt like drawing in a diagram to represent how I was seeing it in my mind. It’s bringing together some things we already know well, but perhaps haven’t connected all together in this way yet. Diagrams can be really helpful in this, especially since the way we see things in our minds is often in concepts and pictures. (Or at least, that’s how it is in mine!) Here’s what I ended up with:
The reason I think it was dangerous to partake of the fruit of the tree of life (hereafter ‘TOL’) after having tasted the fruit of the tree of knowledge (‘TOK’) is that a taste would only, perhaps, have opened up awareness, not knowledge or wisdom. This fruit isn’t something that can be truly appreciated – really eaten – without the process of time. It involves many experiences and growth opportunities; gaining actual, experiential knowledge. Eating the fruit of the TOL after the first taste of the fruit of the TOK would have doomed man to misery and unwise dominion.
A taste is not knowledge; it’s the beginning of awareness without yet having the wisdom to use it. Like Alexander Pope wrote, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and you must drink deeply to overcome the danger and truly know – and use it well. The explanation given in the scriptures (Genesis, Moses, and Alma) is that man would have lived forever ‘in his sins’; I see the need for space and time to experience mortal life properly as further explanation of that.
In pursuit of this experiential knowledge – including sacrifice and costly love – being separated from God’s presence is both a necessary ingredient and a blessing. It’s also a curse, in that it doesn’t feel so good, makes life more difficult, and reduces the beauty and glory of existence. But it’s both necessary and merciful because it allows us to experience and choose for ourselves in a very different way than would occur in that presence. Dealing with difficulty and unfairness, and seeking God’s light with all our souls stretches us, forces us to grow, and brings us to a fuller knowledge of what life is. Through it, we learn how to live. We develop the sort of eternal character that will make immortality a pleasure. This is coming to know ‘as the Gods’ what is really contained in the fruit of the TOK.
Because this process means there are lots of ‘by-products’ – pain, sorrow, and other suffering; sin, ignorance and discouragement – a Saviour is provided who, through His own perfect obedience and power, gives us the grace to be cleansed from our mistakes and lifted up from these things. As we follow Him, He extends His saving power and perfection to us, little by little, redeeming and sanctifying our souls until, eventually, we are brought back to the Father’s presence.
Thus, the distance caused by the Fall is closed, and its by-products are resolved. We return to our heavenly home, but in a fuller, more glorified state; transformed by the real knowledge we now have and the changes it has wrought in our souls. In this state, we can experience a fullness of joy – the true gift of the tree of knowledge, now combined again with the beauty of the tree of life. This fruit, then, is truly ‘delicious to the taste’; but only once its bitterness has been assuaged, by the space of ‘time granted unto man to repent’ through real experience.