Genesis 2:9 - And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground ...

And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground - trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:9)

Where can we find some of these trees?

This verse is rich in symbolism and allegory. As for those who attempt to derive a literal translation from these words, what is a “tree of life”? And what is a “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”? Have we ever seen such trees? If we are to believe that there was a physical ‘garden’ planted somewhere on earth with these two trees in it, why aren’t there any of these trees left? How come the only types of trees we see on this planet are trees with leaves, bark, and fruits?

We have never seen such trees because these are not physical trees. They are symbolic: Just as this entire description of the “garden” is symbolic and allegorical.

This does not mean that the place and the event being described did not exist or happen. It simply means that the event and place are being described in such a way the listener or reader could relate to.

Symbolism and allegory are used to describe complex and technical events all the time. Just consider how a parent might answer this question from their young child: “Mommy, how are kids made?” Mom will likely use a significant amount of symbolism and allegory to describe the process of procreation between a man and a woman. She might say something like: “A man gives a woman a package of seeds and she plants them in a garden and after nine months, a baby sprouts up.”

Now, this description of procreation between a man and woman is not literally or technically accurate, but it is functionally accurate. The package of seeds, the garden, and the sprouting are all symbols that represent something that really happens. But they cannot be taken literally. She doesn’t want the child out digging up the garden looking for a younger brother or something.

In the same way, Genesis uses symbolism to describe the event of the fall of the spirit-person from the spiritual world.

We know that this is certainly not a description of the creation of the physical world because that was already described, including the creation of plants and trees, in the first chapter of Genesis. And God had already given humankind the fruits from the trees and the plants to eat in Genesis 1:29. This would conflict with that version if it were to be considered as part of the creative process.

What do the trees symbolize?

Remember from the previous verse that the “garden” symbolizes the spiritual world. As such, the “trees” symbolize the activities of the spiritual world. Within the spiritual world, there are so many activities taking place. These activities relate to the loving exchanges that take place between God and His associates, whom He created. God has innumerable associates, and each of us shares a distinct and unique personal relationship with God. As such, God is involved in so many different events with multiple individuals, all simultaneously. This is the nature of God: He is able to expand Himself without limit, and share a unique relationship with each of us.

So these trees that are “pleasing to the eye and good for food” represent the various activities that take place in the spiritual world, that come from the variety of loving relationships between God and His children. These activities are “pleasing” because they are fulfilling to His children and to God. They are “good for food” because they provide the sustenance of those within the spiritual world: Love and loving service.

Love pervades the spiritual world. Everyone there is infected with a rampant love for God. Their focus is to please God and make God – their Beloved – happy. All of this love is centered around each spirit-person’s intimate relationship with God and their loving service to God. The entire atmosphere of the spiritual world is love, and everyone feeds off of this love. This love can thus be adequately symbolized by the word “food.”

“In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” What does this mean?

The “tree of life” symbolizes love for God. This is what gives life to each of the living beings within the spiritual world, because each of us was created to love, and loving God is the lifespring of the living being.

Just consider, every living being here in the physical world is constantly looking for love. We look for love in our parents, our friends, our workmates, our fans, our teachers and whatever other opportunities we find. The search for love in the physical world translates typically to gaining the attention or admiration of others. We seek the attention and the admiration of others constantly because we need love.

We also spend a significant amount of our life looking for our soul mate. We attempt to find that single person who fulfills our need for exchanging an intimate relationship of love. The problem is, we can never seem to find that perfect person here in this world. No matter how hard we try, we always end up compromising with someone. It is for this reason that so many marriages are unhappy, and so many people break up and/or divorce. It is because these relationships are not fulfilling. We are in fact looking for our lost relationship with God in others.

Now when a person cannot find any love among their family, friends, spouse or others, we become depressed. We become empty and forlorn. In other words, we are empty without love.

What is the tree of life?

Notice that the “tree of life” (love for God) is planted in the “middle” of the “garden.” Why is it in the middle? Because it is the most important “tree.” It is the most important aspect of the spiritual world. It is the most important activity of the spiritual world. It is the essence of life, and this is why it is called the “tree of life.”

But next to the “tree of life” is another “tree.” This is the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” What does this symbolize and why is it next to the “tree of life”?

“Good” here is taken from the Hebrew word טוֹב (towb), which does not mean “good” in the sense of righteousness, as placing it next to the word “evil” suggests. Rather, טוֹב means something that is ‘pleasant, agreeable, rich, happy, prosperous’ and ‘valuable in estimation’ according to the Hebrew lexicon.

Furthermore, “evil” is being translated from the Hebrew word רַע (ra’), which can mean ‘evil’ or ‘wicked,’ but the more practical translation, according to the lexicon, is ‘bad, disagreeable, malignant, unpleasant, giving pain, displeasing, sad, unhappy’ and so on.

In other words, the “knowledge of good and evil” is a poor translation of the Hebrew, put forth by those without a clear understanding of the event and situation Genesis is describing. The more precise translation would be something akin to the “knowledge of pleasure and displeasure,” or better, the “knowledge of pleasure and pain.”

What we are talking about is self-centeredness. If someone has the knowledge of pleasure and pain, or the knowledge of pleasure and displeasure, they have become focused upon themselves. Just consider a person who is not focused upon themselves. They are not aware of their own pleasure or pain because they are focused elsewhere. They won’t be able to understand what is truly pleasing or enjoyable. And they do not understand or “know” the opposite of pleasure, pain.

Consider, for example, a person who is working for the pleasure of someone else, and focused only upon that other person’s pleasure. And say, during the execution of their work, they are met with some potentially pleasurable experiences. Do they feel that pleasure? Not so much, because their focus is on the other person’s pleasure.

Now, what if the same person working for the pleasure of someone else is met with some painful experiences during their effort? Do those experiences feel painful? Again, not so much, because they are working for someone else’s pleasure. Their focus has been drawn away from themselves.

Rather, if that person’s efforts indeed please the person they are working for, then their pleasure will become connected to the pleasure of the person they are serving. They will be pleased if they please the person they are working for.

So why is self-centeredness being represented by one of the ‘trees’ in the ‘middle of the garden’? It is because God is ultimately the Enjoyer in the spiritual world. He enjoys the love and the loving service of His children. Because He understands (“knows”) pleasure and pain, He is the ultimate Enjoyer.

The citizens of the spiritual dimension enjoy God’s enjoyment. When God is pleased, they experience pleasure. So their pleasure is connected with His pleasure.

This might be compared to a finger. By design, the finger can only be healthy if the stomach receives food. If the stomach has no food, the finger withers. But if the finger helps bring food to the stomach, the finger becomes healthy. In the same way, by design, our real pleasure is connected to pleasing God.

But we know from this verse that God offers us the choice to also know pleasure and pain. We have the choice to try to become enjoyers. Though it is not our natural position, we still have the choice to seek to enjoy independently of God.

This sort of “knowing” enjoyment is about wanting what God has. By wanting to experience enjoyment independently, we are effectively wanting to take God’s position. This is called envy, and it is at the root of why we are away from God. This was symbolically confirmed by the serpent later on in Genesis:
“For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5)
Again, the words “good and evil” are weak translations of the Hebrew words described above. They are better translated to something like “pleasure and pain,”.

These are practical realities of this world, and those issues we are constantly being tested and challenged with as we dwell within this physical world.

These are ultimately relating to our desire for independent enjoyment – which relates directly to self-centeredness. It also relates directly to envy of God, which is indicated with the symbolic serpent’s phrase: “and you will be like God.”

The bottom line is that we were created as God’s lovers and loving servants, and God is our Beloved. Envy of God's position becomes expressed in this world as taking on physical bodies that experience pain and pleasure.

What is God's position?

This makes God effectively the Enjoyer. He enjoys our loving service, and we (in our natural position) enjoy pleasing Him and exchanging a relationship with Him.

However, we can also desire to be the enjoyer, and be the beloved. We can strive to enjoy for ourselves and try to attract others to love and worship us. This is our choice: To love God or be envious of God. Being envious of God is equivalent to striving for His position as the enjoyer.

But having the “tree” in the garden and eating of its “fruit” are two different things altogether.

For example, let’s say we work at a company that has a person in the human resources department assigned to receive complaints from employees. It is one thing to have the assigned employee at the company for complaints, and another for an employee to actually go in and complain about their boss.

They are two different manifestations. The assigned complaint person is a product of the company offering that choice to its employees. While an employee who takes that opportunity and complains about their boss rather than trying to resolve that complaint directly with their boss is often times a disgruntled employee who would probably be happier if they left the company, the existence of that complaint department represents the employee’s freedom of choice to complain and even leave the company if they wish.

Are we God's subjects?

By nature we are inferior, and God is superior. God is the Knower and we subjugate our knowing and enjoying to God’s knowledge and enjoyment. God is the Enjoyer, and we were created to help God enjoy. This is our natural position, and ultimately, this is what fulfills us.

However, if we become envious of God, we want to be the enjoyer independently. We want to experience pleasure for ourselves. This is by nature God’s position, but because we were created by God, we have a piece of God, and we thus have the potential (and freedom) to become jealous or envious of God’s superiority: Because God wants us to love Him out of choice; He gave each of us this freedom to become envious.

We see this element throughout this physical world. We see that most of us are struggling to enjoy, often at the expense of others. Yet none of us are satisfied with this enjoyment. No matter how much wealth, power and fans we may have, we are not satisfied.

That is why so many wealthy movie stars succumb to drugs, alcohol, and suicide. They are not satisfied with their wealth and fame. This is because our natural position is not being the enjoyer. This is not fulfilling. We derive more satisfaction from serving. And we derive the ultimate pleasure by loving and pleasing God because this is our natural position within the spiritual realm.

Consider another translation of this verse in Chapter Two of the New Book of Genesis.