When Tough Love is Truly Love

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. – Genesis 3:22-24

Little Cypress Creek Reserve Tree – Final | Cypress, Texas | February 2021

Maybe you’ve heard the term Tough Love. Tough love is the this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you moments of parenthood. Some may take the tough part too far, but true tough love is not just tough. It’s loving as well. It’s the interventions we make – big and small – when we “bring up the bottom” to prevent someone from hitting the true bottom: death.

In this case, however, the tough love of God actually brings about death. At the end of the account of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, and God’s judgment on them for their disobedience, there comes this startling action. God bans them from the Garden and posts a flaming sword to prevent them from entering back into the Garden and taking from the tree of life. They would not live forever. 

This might appear harsh. Pure judgment. No obvious love here. Just tough. Just just. No grace. God is always true to his word. And he had said that if they ate of the forbidden fruit they would surely die. Now he is keeping his word. If they were unable to get to the tree of life, they would die. It would be only a matter of time. If you’re in doubt about this, skip ahead to chapter five. An ominous refrain runs through the chapter: “and then he died.” Ugh. Death is at the door. There will be no escape.

So how is this loving? Consider the state of their brokenness. Shame has overtaken them. Their marital relationship is now strained with cross-purposes of husband’s and wife’s warring desires. Childbirth will be painful. Work will be sweaty. Their sons will war with each other and one will kill the other.

They are not inclined to go to God. They’ve tasted what it’s like to decide for themselves between good and evil. It will be very difficult not to become smug and self-righteous. Estranged from God. At war with each other. Facing challenges at every turn. Imagine an eternity in this fallen estate. Not just 125 years. Not 250. Methuselah’s 969 years is only the beginning (cf. Genesis 5:26). Eternity lasts a long time – especially in a fallen state. 

This is tough love on God’s part. He won’t subject them to that. But remember the promise to Eve. Her seed will crush the head of the serpent. Recall God’s gift of better clothes than fig leaves, and think of the robe of righteousness we believers wear.

This is harsh, but truly loving because God has a better plan for our eternity. It’s secured in Jesus. It’s stored up for all who believe. And it’s far better than the very best this life and world can ever offer. 

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