God is an arborist, among other hobbies. He specialises in the cultivation and care of trees and shrubs, does tree surgery. Over and over again we see his interest in trees in scriptures. He keeps using arboricultural analogies: “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing.” John 15:5-8 MSG. Christians of non-Jewish origin (Gentiles) are referred to as tree grafts in scriptures: “But some of these branches from Abraham’s tree—some of the people of Israel—have been broken off. And you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in.” Romans 11:17 NLT.
God’s creativity knows no bounds when it comes to trees. And we see this creativity on display in the Garden of Eden. There were the trees we’re familiar with in that garden. Normal trees. But there were also crazy hybrids and futuristic experimentations. The Tree of life for example will feature in the New Jerusalem: “Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flowed down the centre of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.” Revelation 22:1-2 NLT.
But without a doubt the wackiest tree in that garden was the tree with a sentence for a name – “The tree of knowledge of good and evil.” It was the only dangerous tree in the garden, the only tree that had a penalty. That tree would mess up Adam and Eve, and pretty much the whole of humanity. The serpent, a political operative of Satan had promised Adam and Eve enlightenment as well as elevation if they ate from that tree. He promised they’ll see what’s really going on – essentially saying they were being deceived by God. “Immediately the two of them did “see what’s really going on”—saw themselves naked! They sewed fig leaves together as makeshift clothes for themselves.” Genesis 3:7 MSG. Before eating the fruit of that tree they were blissfully unaware of their physical state. Ignorance is sometimes bliss. But they became self-aware after eating the fruit of that tree. They hid from God. What the tree of knowledge of good and evil did therefore was give them consciousness of wrong doing, which then prompted them to seek a covering. Strangely, unintelligently and incongruously, Adam went for fig leaf.
It will turn out the two trees – the tree of life, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil, are representative of powerful but opposing ideologies. They are analogical of the sharp dichotomy between Christianity and other religions. It’s a dichotomy not many Christians appreciate, which explains the search for aggregation with other religions. The result is often a troubling, naive and ignorant syncretism.
The basis of salvation as advocated by so many religions of the world is the numeric preponderance of good deeds over evil. The more good I do relative to my sins determines my fate in the after life, say these religions. It’s a quantitative system, a very strange materialistic metric of immanence and values. How do you count goodness and character? They’re not objects. Besides, a wicked heart can do a good deed. The overriding ethical values of Zoroastrianism for example is Humata, Hukhta, Huveshta: “to think good, to speak good, to act good.” This it is claimed is divine expectation of humans. Like many religions, Zoroastrianism says a person’s goodness determines his ultimate fate after death. To be sure, the religion is an ancient pre-Islamic religion of Iran. It was founded 6th century BC by Zarathushtra (Gk: Zoroaster). We will come across Zarathushtra with respect to a 19th century philosopher later. Christianity however insists human goodness can never lead to salvation, that salvation is a gift of God through Jesus Christ. He is represented by the tree of life. “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus said. John 11:25. In other words the dialectic between Christianity and other faiths is a dialectic of the tree of life versus the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
In Christianity seeking salvation through goodness is nothing but seeking to cover one’s nakedness with fig leaves. It is a poor cover material – highly ineffectual though psychologically comforting. Human goodness cannot address the criminal nature of sin. The wages of sin is death. Sin is a capital offence. If you’re sentenced to capital punishment you don’t seek acquittal by saying you did good to your neighbour last night, or that you gave alms to the poor. How does that address capital offence? Christianity insists all that goodness is human righteousness and it cannot save; that the righteousness that saves is freely given through Jesus Christ. It’s not something we work for. It’s grace and mercy.
Here is the big problem with denominating morality as the basis of salvation: human values change. What was considered sin in 1919 is not necessarily sin in 2019. There is no constant standard therefore. Standards change. And some things now accepted as okay were viewed as immoral just decades ago. Human goodness cannot be the standard for righteousness. There’s no constancy. Worse, sometimes goodness and evil are determined by geography. Anti-Semitism was considered okay in Germany in 1945 but was not acceptable in much of Europe. Hitler murdered 6 million Jews. Human goodness cannot be the standard of righteousness. Then take something as basic as economic ideology. Capitalism was considered good in America in the 1900s, being tied as it were to the principles of free market economy and bill of rights. But to the man in Russia in 1917 capitalism was evil. Communist ideology held sway. Karl Marx, the godfather of communism envisaged a perfect society that would not require government, but only administration. He predicted a conflict free utopian society under communism, one in which political power as understood will come to an end, because there would be no good reason for dissent or criminality. Yet communism led to brutal dictatorship. Marx’s idealism refused to acknowledge the fallen nature of mankind as propounded in Christian theology. He assumed poverty was the only cause of criminality. He even assumed a communist society will give birth to a new form of human being. It was the kind of propaganda elucidated by the serpent in the Garden – the belief man would evolve into a God-like being upon attainment of “enlightenment.”
One other reason human morality cannot be the basis of salvation is that philosophers like Nietzsche advocated “revaluation of all values,” which again raises the question of the standard of morality. And what happens while we’re revaluating values? Does fate stop? Besides who’s the arbiter? What will be the standard against which we measure these re-evaluated values? This is the challenge of moral relativism. It says what is considered evil here may be considered moral there. There’s no standard for evil therefore, also no universal standard of goodness. It’s interesting the title of Nietzsche’s book in which he examines these issues is, Beyond Good and Evil. It’s a reference to the Garden of Eden. And his link to Zarathustra? He began one of his discourses with a fictional narrative of Zarathustra. The title of the book was, Thus Spoke Zarathustra. But who is Nietzsche?
Friedrich Nietzsche was born 1844. Perhaps his most famous pronouncement is the proposition of a dead God. It is strange given his pedigree. His grandfather, father and uncle were ministers of the gospel. They were Lutheran ministers. How can a lineage of ministers produce a rebellious child who wrote a diatribe against Christianity and titled it The Antichrist? Nietzsche was intellectually gifted. He was the youngest ever to hold the Chair of classical philology (the study of Latin and Greek languages) at the University of Basel. He attained that feat at the age of 24. But in 1889 at the age of 44 he collapsed in the street while attempting to prevent a horse from being whipped. He suffered a complete loss of his mental faculty. He never recovered from mental breakdown. He was only 56 when he died. Nietzsche believed many of the things we consider good are in fact ways of limiting life or turning away from life, especially the desires of the flesh. He wanted to put an end to life-denying philosophies so humankind can see itself in another way. He therefore calls priests of all religions “preachers of death”, because their teachings encourage us to turn from this world, and from life to death. Unfortunately for Nietzsche his writings ended up inspiring Hitler. His concept of the “superman” – a life affirming being, fed into Nazi rhetoric. His call for eradication of Jewish-Christian morality was attractive to Hitler.
This is Christian theology on human goodness and salvation: Man is a sinner. He is not a sinner because he sins, he sins because he is a sinner. He genetically inherited the sin nature from Adam. Salvation has to lie outside of man. Sin disqualifies any man from being his own saviour. A saviour must be sinless. It’s why God became a man to save mankind. The God-man, Jesus died on the cross in this regard. He died in representative capacity for mankind. Because he rose from the dead death cannot hold humanity down. But to benefit from his sacrifice we need to acknowledge the sacrifice, and then appropriate it. We appropriate it through faith. Just believe. If you believe please say these words: “Father I acknowledge that I am a sinner, that Jesus died for me, that you raised him from the dead. Father please forgive me. I accept Jesus today as my Lord and my Saviour. Amen.”
This concludes the Total Man series. Check previous posts to read parts 1-7.
Theology Trivia: What is the criteria for salvation according to Christianity theology?
The e-version of my new book, The Genesis Project is now available for purchase and download at www.genesisprojectonline.com.
© Leke Alder | email@example.com.Human goodness cannot be the standard for righteousness. There’s no constancy. Click To Tweet