Then come the climax and the crisis. A climax is the climbing to the top rung of the ladder. A crisis is the meeting place of possible victory and possible disaster. A single step divides between the two -- the precipice-height, and the canon's yawning gulf.
It was a climax of opportunity; and a crisis of action. God's climax of opportunity to man. Man's crisis of action. God made man sovereign in his power of choice. Now He would go the last step and give him the opportunity of using that power and so reaching the topmost levels. God led man to the hill of choice. The man must climb the hill if he would reach its top.
Only the use of power gives actual possession of the power. What we do not use we lose. The pressure of the foot is always necessary to a clear title. To him that hath possible power shall be given actual power through use.
This opportunity was the last love-touch of God in opening up the way into the fulness of His image. With His ideal for man God went to His limit in giving the power. He could give the power of choice. Man must use the power given. Only so could he own what had been given. God could open the door. Man must step over the door-sill. Action realizes power.
The tree of knowledge of good and evil was the tree of choice. Obedience to God was the one thing involved. That simply meant, as it always means, keeping in warm touch with God. All good absolutely is bound up in this -- obeying God, keeping in warm touch. To obey Him is the very heart of good. All evil is included in disobeying Him. To disobey, to fail to obey is the seeded core of all evil.
Whichever way he chose he would exercise his God-like power of choice. Whichever way he chose, the knowledge would come. If he chose to obey he would know good by choosing it, and evil by rejecting it. He knew neither good nor evil, for he had not yet had the contact of choice. Knowledge comes only through experience. In choosing not to obey, choosing to disobey, he would know evil with a bitter intimacy by choosing it. He would become acquainted with the good which he had shoved ruthlessly away.
With the opportunity came the temptation: God's opportunity; Satan's temptation. Satan is ever on the heels of God. Two inclined planes lead out of every man's path. Two doors open into them side by side. God's door up, the tempter's door down, and only a door-jamb between. Here the split hoof can be seen sticking from under the cloak's edge at the very start. Satan hates the truth. He is afraid of it. Yet he sneaks around the sheltering corner of what he fears and hates. The sugar coating of his gall pills he steals from God. The devil bare-faced, standing only on his own feet, would be instantly booted out at first approach. And right well he knows it.
A cunning half lie opens the way to a full-fledged lie, but still coupled with a half-truth. The suggestion that God was harshly prohibiting something that was needful leads to the further suggestion that He was arbitrarily, selfishly holding back the highest thing, the very thing He was supposed to be giving, that is, likeness to Himself. Eve was getting a course in suggestion. This was the first lesson. The school seems to be in session still. The whole purpose is to slander God, to misrepresent Him. That has been Satan's favorite method ever since. God is not good. He makes cruel prohibitions. He keeps from us what we should have. It is passing strange how every one of us has had that dust in his eyes. Some of us might leave the |had| out of that sentence.
See how cunningly the truth and the lie are interwoven by this old past-master in the sooty art of lying. |Your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God knowing good and evil.| It was true because by the use of this highest power of choice he would become like God, and through choosing he would know. It is cunningly implied with a sticky, slimy cunning that, by not eating, that likeness and knowledge would not come. That was the lie. The choice either way would bring both this element of likeness to God in the sovereign power of choice, and the knowledge.
Then came the choice. The step up was a step down: up into the use of his highest power; down by the use of that power. In that wherein he was most like God in power, man became most unlike God in character. First the woman chose: then the man. Satan subtly begins his attack upon the woman. Because she was the weaker? Certainly not. Because she was the stronger. Not the leader in action, but the stronger in influence. He is the leader in action: she in influence. The greater includes the less. Satan is a master strategist, bold in his cunning. If the citadel can be gotten, all is won. If he could get the woman he would get the man. She includes him. She who was included in him now includes him. The last has become first.
She was deceived. He was not deceived. The woman chose unwarily for the supposed good. The man chose with open eyes for the woman's sake. Could the word gallantry be used? Was it supposed friendship? He would not abandon her? Yet he proved not her friend that day, in stepping down to this new low level. Man's habit of giving smoothly spoken words to woman, while shying sharp-edged stones at her, should in all honesty be stopped. Man can throw no stones at woman. If the woman failed God that day, the man failed both God and the woman. If it be true that through her came the beginning of the world's sin, through her, too, be it gratefully and reverently remembered, came that which was far greater -- the world's Saviour.
The choice was made. The act was done. Tremendous act! Bring your microscope and peer with awe into that single act. No fathoming line can sound its depth. No measuring rod its height nor breadth. No thought can pierce its intensity. That reaching arm went around a world. Millenniums in a moment. A million miles in a step. An ocean in a drop. Volumes in a word. A race in a woman. A hell of suffering in an act. The depths of woe in a glance. The first chapter of Romans in Genesis three, six. Sharpest pain in softest touch. God mistrusted -- distrusted. Satan embraced. Sin's door open. Eden's gate shut.
Mark keenly the immediate result that came with that intense rapidity possible only to mental powers. At once they were both conscious of something that had not entered their thoughts before. To the pure all things are pure. To the imagination hurt by breaking away from God, the purest things can bring up suggestions directly opposite. Through the open door of disobedience came with lightning swiftness the suggestion of using a pure, holy function of the body in a way and for a purpose not intended. Making an end of that which was meant to be only a means to a highest end. Degrading to an animal pleasure that which held in its pure hallowed power the whole future of the race. There is absolutely no change save in the inner thought. But what a horrid heredity in that one flash of the imagination! Every sin lives first in the imagination. The imagination is sin's brooding and birth-place. An inner picture, a lingering glance, a wrong desire, an act -- that is the story of every sin. The first step was disobedience. That opened the door. The first suggestion of wrong-doing that followed hot on the heels of that first step, through that open door, struck at the very vitals of the race -- both its existence and its character. That first suggested unnatural action, with its whole brood, has become the commonest and slimiest sin of the race.
Here, in the beginning, the very thought shocked them. In that lay their safety. Shame is the recoil of God's image from the touch of sin. Shame is sin's first checkmate. It is man's vantage for a fresh pull up. There are only two places where there is no shame: where there is no sin; where sin is steeped deepest in. The extremes are always jostling elbows. Instantly the sense of shame suggested a help. A simple bit of clothing was provided. It was so adjusted as to help most. Clothing is man's badge of shame. The first clothing was not for the body, but for the mind. Not for protection, but for concealment, that so the mind might be helped to forget its evil suggestions. It is one of sin's odd perversions that draws attention by color and cut to the race's badge of shame. It would seem strongly suggestive of moral degeneracy, or of bad taste, or, let us say in charity, of a lapse of historical memory.
Mark the sad soliloquy of God: |Behold the man has become as one of us: He has exercised his power of choice.| He tenderly refrains from saying, |and has chosen wrong! so pitiably wrong!| That was plain enough. He would not rub in the acid truth. He would not make the scar more hideous by pointing it out. |And now lest he put forth his hand and take of the tree of life.| |Lest!| There is a further danger threatening. In his present condition he needs guarding for his own sake in the future. |Lest| -- wrong choice limits future action. Sin narrows.
With man's act of sin came God's act of saving. Satan is ever on the heels of God to hurt man. But God is ever on the heels of Satan to cushion the hurt and save the man. It is a nip-and-tuck race with God a head and a heart in the lead. Something had to be done. Man had started sin in himself by his choice. The taint of disobedience, rebellion, had been breathed out into the air. He had gotten out of sorts with his surroundings. His presence would spoil his own heaven. The stain of his sin would have been upon his eternal life. The zero of selfishness would have been the atmosphere of his home. The touch of his unhallowed hand must be taken away for his own sake. That unhallowed touch has been upon every function and relationship of life outside those gates. Nothing has escaped the slimy contact.
Sin could not be allowed to stay there. Its presence stole heaven away from heaven. Yet sin had become a part of the man. The man and the wrong were interwoven. They were inseparable. Sin has such a tenacious, gluey, sticky touch! Each included the other. It could not be put out without his being put out. So man had to be driven out for his own sake to rid his home-spot of sin. The man was driven out that he might come back -- changed. Love drove him out that later it might let him in. The tree of life was kept from him for a time that it might be kept for him for an eternity.
When he had changed his spirit, and changed sides in the fight with evil started that day, and gotten victory over the spirit now dominant within himself, those gates would swing again. When the stain of his choice would be taken out of his fibre it would be his right eagerly to retrace these forced steps, and the coming back would find more than had been left. Love has been busy planning the home-coming. The tree of life has been grown in his absence to a grove of trees. The life has become life more abundant.