“He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat and live forever.” Genesis 3:22b
Part of becoming a Christian for me was accepting the Bible as the final authority on every area of life and doctrine. I was brought up in the Lord by people who believed that the Bible was clear on the nature of hell’s punishment, so I never even questioned it.
The argument went something like this: Because men and women are made in the image of God they are automatically eternal beings. The great tragedy of someone rejecting Christ, therefore, was that they would live in conscious torment for all eternity. No one chooses, whether they are eternal, I was taught, it is just a by-product of being in the image of God. Everyone is born with eternal life – they either spend it in heaven with Jesus or in the conscious torment of hell with Satan and his angels.
In the last few years I’ve questioned whether this is true Biblically or if it is only a tradition of man that was passed down. The context of the passage quoted above was God putting Cherubim with swords at the entrance to Eden because He wanted to ensure that Adam and Eve would not eat from the tree of life and live forever apart from Him.
Apparently being in the image of God didn’t mean Adam and Eve would automatically live forever, but only that they had the potential of being eternal. According to the text, to live forever they would have to eat of the tree of life.
Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Eternal life is God’s gift to humanity in Christ; without it, I believe, you and I will eventually perish. It was never in God’s heart that we would be able to live forever apart from Him.