"Mercy in Judgment"
Genesis 3:22-24, "And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life."
This morning, man constantly stays in a state of desire. We want something all the time. As we mature, we begin to realize the folly of many of these desires, but throughout our lives, we can look back at a time when we got something that we wanted only to discover that it brought ruin rather than pleasure. Due to our fallen condition, we seem to repeat this cycle far too often. Rather than learn to temper our desires, we repeatedly fall victim to them. During these times, we find that others can see the situation better than we can sometimes. Parents know that a child's desire is not good for them or in their best interest. Friends may tell us that our path is one of destruction. Whatever the case may be, the party involved in the desire many times is the least able to determine what is really good for them or not.
The verses above detail the tail end of events in the Garden of Eden. Man has fallen by breaking God's singular commandment, and as a result, many evils on the world today can be traced to this event. Women's pains in child bearing, sweat in working, weeds in the ground, and ultimately death itself all began on this dreadful day. When God handed down these curses and judgments, He also gloriously referenced the coming cure to His people's problems in the person of His Son (Verse 15). Finally, God speaks within the Godhead and bars the tree of life from man. This final judgment was specifically stated to keep man from eating the tree of life and living forever.
Many years ago, I was at a meeting, and an older and wiser elder than me was called to fill the stand. In his discourse, he said something to the effect, "What a mercy this was from God! Can you imagine what life on this earth would be like if you lived perpetually after sin was here?" The statement was so different than anything I had heard about this event before that I was at first a little credulous about it. However, upon much reflection, I have come to the conclusion that his thinking was indeed correct. Imagine for a moment all the problems that we have in our own little lives now? What if those problems never had an end?
Having watched loved ones lie on beds bearing the afflictions of cancer and other diseases, I cannot imagine the heartbreak that would come with watching loved ones suffer with no end in sight. What if the ravages of cancer lasted for 6,000 years or longer? Some people live with fear of what blood thirsty evildoers can or will do to them. People living in large cities must cope with gang violence, drug peddling, and a myriad of other social evils. What if these bloodthirsty devils could perpetuate their depravity forever? These people's fears would never cease if we all lived forever in these conditions.
All of the problems outlined above would not be in existence without the presence of sin in the world. Because sin is in the world, these problems will continue as long as the earth stands. When God barred the way to the tree of life, these problems - though not yet manifested to the degree they are now - were potentially present in the life of man. These problems shortly appeared on the scene when Cain murdered Abel, and they have been ceaseless since then. Would any of us deign to live forever like that?
We might say that the world was such a bad place that we would simply stop eating the tree of life, but man's desires to live and exist would trump those. Much like the child who keeps foolishly wanting the thing that is not good for them, we would keep desiring to live and live and live, even though it was not good for us. Therefore, God mercifully kept His people from such a condition, while knowing that He had already made provision for a better and endless life that is free from bondage.
God opened the way to the true Tree of Life by having that flaming sword smite His Fellow (Zechariah 13:7), and thereby opening the door to the sheepfold so that the sheep would be admitted into the portals of eternal life and bliss. This endless dwelling differs from perpetual life here, as the one there will not be tainted with the problems, afflictions, and sorrows that sin produces here. That life is such that Paul would describe it as "far better" in Philippians 1. Though God's mercy is great to us here, the greatest mercy is being with Him in perfection where nothing ever defiles. Why would we want to prolong this, when the better way has been ushered in by the Son Himself?
Though it was a great judgment to drive man from what he previously had access to, God's mercy is still seen by not allowing us to make even more ruin of our lives with perpetual misery. Death - though not desired by the flesh - is a great blessing for God's children. We get to leave the problems and trials of this life, which is why God's children should have no fear of death. (Revelation 14:13) To those that Christ has granted entrance into heaven through His precious blood, death is not the end but the opening into a far better and blessed existence. God has had mercy on us here, continues to have mercy on us, and will have mercy yet in the future. He had mercy in keeping our dust from a life of perpetual misery. He has mercy on us now by keeping our dust from multitudes of evil and problems. He will have mercy on us by raising our dust to a plane of existence that is free from all the encumbrances and problems of this world.