In chapter 17, Kuyper considers the nature of the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
He considers at some length the question of the trees being a symbol and the extent to whether they were given to strengthen faith and the nature of faith.
But the point which occupies the majority of this chapter concerns the dichotomy of the two trees: one tree of life, one tree of wisdom. He parallels the two trees to the two aspects of human life, a physical life and an intellectual or spiritual life.
The tree of life – in Paradise – would have stood as a pointer to an eternal life, which we will obtain in the New Earth. But in Paradise, Adam still needed to eat and sustain life. But there is a promise of something more than the maintenance of life.
The tree of knowledge was to provide another sort of good.
He here makes some fascinating observations. The pair in the Garden were expected to desire to eat from the tree to sustain their physical life. But, when it came to knowledge, they were explicitly forbidden to seek such knowledge from natural means. They were to refrain from that tree.
The knowledge which God had for them came first from refraining to take and obeying the command. They were too seek that knowledge not from the tree but from God.
Then, having fallen by their reversal of God’s instruction for the trees, they were faced with the prospect of continual physical life – should they have taken from the Tree of Life. That would have been a catastrophe beyond measure.
Where then does this leave us. Alone in the world, remembering those trees:
Today the extravagant sinner still grasps for all that nature offers him to strengthen his body weakened by sin, so that he can all the more freely indulge his appetite for sin. The urge to do this springs up of its own accord. Sin gives a feeling of weakness, also in relation to the body. And the first thing the sinner does is to seek not the welfare of his wounded soul, but the renewal of strength for his weakened body. And what then was more natural than that fallen man, feeling God’s wrath upon him and threatened in his existence, was in the first place intent on taking from the tree of life and seeking in its fruit the strengthening of his life?
This quotation reminds of how Nietzsche spoke of the “last man,” pathetic and obsessed with health:
The earth is small, and on it hops the last man, who makes everything small. His race is as ineradicable as the flea-beetle; the last man lives longest….
One is clever and knows everything that has ever happened: so there is no end of derision. One still quarrels, but one is soon reconciled—else it might spoil the digestion.
One has one’s little pleasure for the day and one’s little pleasure for the night: but one has a regard for health.
And so the irony of our state: in seeking to be gods, we became small and weak — even the smallest strand of virus, a necklace of amino acids so small as to be incomprehensible may fell us. And we spend are small lives obsessed with health.