The Twisting of the Two Trees

Proud womanity recommends that you and I see "the two trees" in the Garden of Eden as representing the distinct roles of man and woman in the salvation of the children of men - one escorting their souls into this world, and the other helping them qualify for entrance into the next; one physical and the other spiritual. Right? I WONDER. I have had the hardest time getting excited about the two trees analogy widely heralded and presented most notably by Valerie Hudson Cassler. Too many lines are blurred for the metaphor to have much appeal and, what's worse, the entities that the trees seem to point to the most are not Adam and Eve but God and Satan, Life and Death.  

True enough, women's bodies are the veil through which our souls pass into this world, but we are next born of Christ (God) and not of men. That men are God's earthly administrators of the Covenant, there is no doubt, but we are all on the side of Life: mothers, fathers, and God with His handmaidens and priesthood holders. Fathers play a role in bringing about the birth and the growth of children's bodies, just as women play a vital role in their spiritual rebirth and development.    

There is a simple yet elusive elegance in the symbolism of the two trees that is worth exploring here. Lehi says it plainly:  

It must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life.
— 2 Nephi 2:15

The simple truth is that the tree of life has its opposite in the tree of knowledge of good and evil. One is the gateway to the kingdom of God and one, quite frankly, is the gateway to the kingdom of God's adversary. When Adam and Eve partook of the tree of knowledge of good and evil they chose to experience the fallen realm where a fallen angel had been planted by God himself ("I have created the waster to destroy") in order that Adam and Eve's posterity might experience what it was like to be subject to evil. 

When Adam...partook of the forbidden fruit...and became subject unto Satan, he was banished from the presence of God...He was as absolutely thrust out from the presence of God as was Satan and the hosts that followed him.
— Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, pg. 432

Note that, in scripture, it is always referred to by its full name "the tree of knowledge of good and evil." Like Joseph Fielding Smith taught about Adam's condition before the Fall, "He had knowledge, of course...but under the conditions in which he was living at that time it was impossible for him to visualize or understand the power of good AND evil (emphasis mine)." Had we experienced good before we entered mortality? Of course we had; we lived in the presence of God and were His subjects and partakers of His goodness. What we had ZERO experience with was being subject to evil and all its attendants: death, pain, suffering, sickness, etc. 

"Subject to death" is how we hear mankind described due to Adam and Eve's decision. "Subject to death" means so much more than the eventuality that we will die. "Death" is a name for Satan just as much as "Life" denotes Christ. We are Satan's subjects here because he is "the god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4). We must experience the devil's counterfeit reign in order to appreciate the value of God's righteous kingship, and be equipped to reign, one day, ourselves.

Our literal saving grace in this world dominated by Satan is the Atonement of Jesus Christ.  

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.
— Psalms 23:4-5

On a daily basis, the power of the Atonement enables us survive and thrive even in a world of darkness, where Satan is having his day. The Lord feeds us right in front of Satan's face ("Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies"). He is the Tree of Life that we must continually feast on and its fruit dots the pathway back to the Garden.

Interesting is the visual image of the earth as the footstool of God. "The heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool." (Isaiah 66:1). The Psalmists wrote about the Lord's enemies also being His footstool (Psalms 110:1). When you add to this Joseph Smith's statement that "Salvation is nothing more nor less than to triumph over all our enemies and put them under our feet" you see the earth and its current designation as His footstool in a whole different perspective. God has put what we are now passing through under His feet; He has triumphed over it.

The tree of knowledge of good and evil was planted in the midst of the Garden just as Lucifer was planted there. As symbols, they go hand in hand. Its fruit was forbidden and so is that which we are tempted of the devil to do. Just as the fruit of the tree of life points to the love of God and a taste of what it's like to dwell in His presence, the forbidden fruit does just the opposite. It was the means of introducing Adam and Eve into a world cut off from God, where Satan and his followers are allowed to rule until they have served their purpose.

I cringe to hear Eve compared with that tree. To do so is to twist and wrestle her into a place she hardly fits perhaps out of a desire for womanity to enunciate her own, independent importance. She, of necessity, partook of the fruit, initiating a sacrifice that all mothers can relate to. But Father Adam partook as well and voluntarily laid down his life "that man may be." As Hugh Nibley pointed out, "Both of them bring forth life with sweat and tears, and Adam is not the favored party." In my mind they both stand, undivided, on the side of life. 

Another excellent point made by Nibley was the "condition of total identity" and "perfect unity" between our first parents...that "we are told not that the woman was made out of the rib or from the rib, but that she was the rib, a powerful metaphor." She is called "woman, because she was taken out of man" (Moses 3:23) and Nibley notes this "is interesting because the word woman is here mysteriously an extension of man..." Compare this with the type of language used by Valerie Hudson Cassler: "I believe that when we think about it—two people, two trees—that what we’re really thinking about is two stewardships."Cassler goes on to say, "I believe also that it was just and proper that women open the door... Surely the daughters of God were given at least an inkling of what would befall them—rape, forced marriage, sex trafficking, treated as chattel throughout much of human history. If no woman was willing to open the door to mortal life and all that it would mean for women, I don’t think it would have been opened, and that would only be just." 

I think Nibley would agree that Cassler paints things to appear as if the woman was getting the short end of the stick, instead of an equal participant in all the joys and miseries of mortality. Perhaps, if we were to take a broader view and consider, as my husband pointed out, that the sons of Adam have had to deal with their fair share of atrocities at the hands of those inspired by "the god of this world;" unrighteous dominion that takes the form of things like warfare, abuse (let's not forget that they are not excluded even from things like sexual abuse), etc. I don't see how women could benefit from seeing themselves as the "special victims."   

In the spirit of dismantling anything that is not built on a sure foundation, I find that I must protest against the suggestion that the two trees represent a divided Adam and Eve. That they represent a divided God and Satan, I am much more confident.    

What say ye?