Growing up the son a minister had far more advantages for me than the disadvantages so many associate with such a lot in life. Hide and seek in the sanctuary. Access to the staff breakroom. And knowing everyone really well. A distinct one is familiarity with the holy book. Far from contempt, the longstanding relationship I’ve had with this book has bred a fascination on into middle age. And across the years I have not only been fed by those passages which make up the bone and marrow of knowing God and man but also by those I have sat staring into with wonder.

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There are places in the sacred writings I seem to never get at.  They are the door of escape in a dream gone bad or the brass ring, which is always out of reach. These passages cannot be fully grasped and answers never satisfy. One of those places has been a favorite since I was a kid.

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 3:24

So Adam and Eve eat the fruit and the pristine relationship between God and the height of his creation is broken, shattered like your grandma’s prized vase on the Linoleum. And so he kicks Adam and Eve out of paradise to keep them away from the tree of life so they won’t live forever. And then, get this…he sets up an angel to guard the tree with a flaming sword. A. Flaming. Sword.

And I just have one question.

Is it still there?

I mean, is there still an angel ready to go all book of revelation on intruders with a flaming sword wherever Eden was…is? I mean, there once was.

There is a part of me hoping so. The 10-year-old in me, who likes to still think in terms of Indiana Jones and likes to stare into the sky and dream of Narnia, wants it to be true. I want the tree of life to still be standing there majestic, unspoiled by the fall and all its hellish effects. And in its shade, one of the mighty and holy cherubim, with no less power and energy than the day he began his charge, standing sentinel to take down any who come close to his keep. He is able to elude all who do not threaten but when no other option is available, the flaming sword is wielded with holy fury. There he is placed till the end of days and the beginning of time undone, reminding us all of what was lost and has been promised to be regained.

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Actually, it’s a fairly sad picture, epic though it is. This soldier of the heavens was positioned just there all because the height of God’s creation declared war on God. Did he think it was familiar? Were there whispers of another coup among the heavenly host? This was not the first time God had moved defensively in response to an act of war. So while the boy in me is mesmerized by the idea of an otherworldly being clutching a flaming sword, its presence was…is an echo of the curse that made it all so necessary. Perhaps that is why it sounds so sad when Emmylou Harris sings,

I have seen the flaming swords,
There over east of Eden,
Burning in the eyes of the Maker.

The result of him being on guard there is death. Death was the great punishment for the insurrection in the garden. As it were, death guards life. And does so with fiery ferocity.

So every time we face the final effect of sin in the face, we are looking into a pair of eyes set like a flint on limiting the length of our time here east of Eden. The sharp pain of every sickness threatening future health is the piercing of sharpened steel forged in the fires of eternal intent. Every spouse who looks in the eyes of their beloved after getting the news of cancer is staring down into the unfathomable depths of a sheath emptied in opposition to forever knowing.

For those who believe, death ushers us into the great hall of reversal. A world where the sword has been beaten into a plowshare. A world where sharp-edges bounce off skin and pointed tips are no longer pointed at those who have sinned. Sin is no more. Death is no more.

*      *      *

Maybe it’s a mercy he was situationed there. Adam and Eve and everybody else’s passion to be like God should be squelched as much as possible. Adam and Eve had already procured a knowledge forbidden them, to their great detriment. So as an act of mercy, the severe kind, a sword burns bright. Even now.

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