Why Did God Prevent Adam and Eve from Partaking of the Tree of Life?

After Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, God placed “cherubim and a flaming sword” on the east side of the Garden of Eden. These heavenly sentinels ensured that Adam and Eve could not approach the tree of life and partake of its fruit (Moses 4:31, Genesis 3:24). Why was that necessary?

As we discussed earlier this week, the tree of life represents the love of God. On one level, this action simply represented one of the effects of the Fall: Adam and Eve were now subject to spiritual death. They were “cut off both temporally and spiritually from the presence of the Lord: (Alma 42:7, 9). They were going to have to act for themselves and be more independent. God still loved them perfectly, but just as they would now have to work hard to eat, they would also need to struggle to communicate with Him. As Job would later exclaim, “Oh that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat!” (Job 23:3)

The prophet Alma gave two other reasons why this constraint was necessary. In the city of Ammonihah, after he and his missionary companion Amulek testified of the resurrection, they were challenged by one of the “chief rulers” of the city. He asked the following question (which sounds more like an accusation than a sincere inquiry):

What is this that thou hast said, that man should rise from the dead and be changed from this mortal to an immortal state, that the soul can never die?
What does the scripture mean, which saith that God placed cherubim and a flaming sword on the east of the garden of Eden, lest our first parents should enter and partake of the fruit of the tree of life, and live forever? And thus we see that there was no possible chance that they should live forever (Alma 12:20-21)

Ignoring the hostile tone of the question, Alma provided two straightforward answers:

  1. God had told Adam and Eve that, if they ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they would die. He is always truthful, and so He couldn’t allow them to take an action which would nullify the promised consequence of their action (Alma 12:23-24).
  2. More broadly, if they had partaken of the fruit of the tree of life immediately, they would have been miserable forever, and God’s plan for them would have been thwarted (Alma 12:26-27). They were not ready to come back into His presence. As Amulek taught, God’s purpose is not to save us in our sins but from our sins (Alma 11:34, Helaman 5:10). And as Alma would later explain to his son Corianton, returning to God’s presence without overcoming our sins would not make us happy (Alma 42:5-8). Adam and Eve needed time to repent. They needed time to prepare themselves before becoming immortal and returning to God’s presence. So, what seemed like a restriction was actually a great blessing.

Brad Wilcox, who teaches ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, made the following statement about this event:

The cherubim and flaming sword were not evidence of God’s anger and rejection. Rather, they were evidence of his benevolence and love. This “closed door” existed not to bar Adam and Eve from God but to point them toward the open window of Christ’s atonement, which would enable them to return to God and live with him forever (“Closed Doors and Open Windows,” Ensign, December 1993).

Today, I will be grateful for a loving Heavenly Father who gives me experiences which are designed to lead me to eternal happiness. I will remember that the frustrations and challenges I face can help me to achieve success and happiness.

2 thoughts on “Why Did God Prevent Adam and Eve from Partaking of the Tree of Life?

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  1. During an intense study session, an impression came suggesting that the Tree of Life interpretation being the love of god, was symbolic in a greater nature than I had previously considered. It is the Lord himself, the greatest evidence and manifestation of the love of God for mankind. The tree of life is Christ.
    When we read the words ‘tree of life’ in these accounts and consider the actual ‘being of Christ’ as the tree, the meanings take on far greater potential for us. For instance, why restrict the man Adam and Eve from coming to the tree of life after the fall? Moses taught us that for him to come into the direct presence of the Lord he needed to be transfigured so that his telestial body would not be consumed unto death in the presence of a higher and glorified being.
    As fallen man conditions befell Adam and Eve, had they come back into the direct presence of the Lord at that time, without being transfigured, they would have suffered death in the presence of the Lord. To protect them, and to allow them time to grow in faith and in the mortal experience, they were not allowed back into the presence of the Lord. The tree of Life is Christ, and it is the fruit of the Lord that we might partake. This is at least one interpretation worth consideration and prayerful approach.

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    1. Your insight reminds me of President Nelson’s guidance that we shouldn’t talk about “the Atonement” as if it were an abstract reality, somehow separate from the Savior. “There is no amorphous entity called ‘the Atonement’ upon which we may call for succor, healing, forgiveness, or power,” he said. “Jesus Christ is the source.” (“Drawing the Power of Jesus Christ into Our Lives,” General Conference, April 2017.)
      I think your insight is related: instead of thinking of the tree of life as an abstract concept–“the love of God”–it might be more useful to think of it as a representation of God, Himself, who loves us. Maybe that’s why the angel explained to Nephi the meaning of the tree by showing him the baby Jesus.
      Thank you for sharing, and have a great day!

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