James MacDonald in his book, “Gripped by the Greatness of God” gives an illustration that helps me with the age-old debate concerning the free will of man and the sovereignty of God. He says to imagine a ship leaving England and sailing for New York. As the ship leaves Liverpool, the passengers begin to make choices: what they will eat, what to wear, what activities they will enjoy. Some will read on deck, some will play shuffleboard. Some will eat steak and others will go for the salad. Yet no matter their individual choices, the ship is going to tie up at the pier in New York.
So it is with the plan of God. Human choices can either enhance this plan or appear to mess it up. Our meddling started with the first choice. Adam and Eve decided to disobey God and eat from the only thing forbidden to them, the tree of knowledge. They wanted to know on their own what was good for them rather than rely on God for that understanding.
At that point, sin entered the world. The power of choice remains and was always there, but the ship seemed to have run aground and God’s perfect plan seemed to be thwarted. At that point…
(God) 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 3:24)
The rest of the Bible tells of God’s redemptive plan, culminating in the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In dying for our sin, God offered a new choice. We can turn to Christ and accept Him as our Savior. When we do, He forgives our sin and becomes our life. In Him, we can live forever.
When we step from this life onto eternity’s pier, God will give us another look at that tree once guarded by the angels.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:1–2)
Today’s devotional adds a marvelous thought by Alexander Maclaren …
How remarkable and how beautiful it is that the last page of the Revelation should come bending round to touch the first page of Genesis! The history of man began with angels with frowning faces and flaming swords barring the way to the Tree of Life. It ends with the guard of cherubim withdrawn; or rather, perhaps, sheathing their swords and becoming guides to the no longer forbidden fruit, instead of being its guards. That is the Bible’s grand symbolical way of saying that all between—the sin, the misery, the death—is a parenthesis. God’s purpose is not going to be thwarted. The end of His majestic march through history is to be men’s access to the Tree of Life, from which, for the dreary ages that are but as a moment in the great eternities—they were barred out by their sin.
God provides the sailing ship and His invitation for everyone is the wonderful glad cry: “All aboard!”
Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. (Revelation 22:14)