QUESTION: Why did God guard to the way of the tree of life [Gen. 3:22-24]? If Adam eats the fruit of the life, will he live forever? God had told them before this: you will return to dust (will die). So how can he live forever after the curse? What does it mean?
ANSWER: The first ten or eleven chapters of the Bible cover a great deal of time, often with little detail. There may be things we wish God had told us, but He has not. Likely because the Lord knew the information would not be helpful to us.
We know that God made the first man and woman in a state of innocence. That is, they had never sinned, never having had an opportunity to do so. And the Lord put before them a simple test of whether they would be willing to believe and obey Him. They were given free access to the fruit of every tree in the garden of Eden (Gen. 2:16)--which possibly included the Tree of Life, at first. There was only one exception.
Only the Tree of Knowledge (of good and evil) was kept from them. They were warned that if they ate of the fruit of that tree, they would die (Gen. 2:17). Sadly, they disobeyed. We know that the whole human race now experiences physical aging, dying and death. But since the first pair didn't die physically for many years (Gen. 5:5), this may refer in particular to spiritual death (separation from God).
The Bible describes lost sinners as being "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1). Though physically alive, they lack the spiritual sensitivity to comprehend God's will and ways (I Cor. 2:14). Neither do they possess the spiritual desire and power to do the will of God (Rom. 3:11; 8:7). In that fallen state, they need a new spiritual birth (Jn. 1:12-13; 3:3; Gal. 5:25).
If Adam and Eve had been uncertain about whether something they proposed to do was good or bad for them, they could have asked the Lord about it. They didn't require the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge to live right. But the devil (the serpent) tempted them with the prospect that they didn't really need God's help at all. They could, in fact, go their own independent way, and be their own gods (Gen. 3:4-5).
As we know from Scripture, our first parents believed the devil's lies, and ate the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:6). When the Lord confronted them, Adam blamed Eve (and God too--"the woman whom You gave to me," Gen. 3:12), and Eve tried to blame the serpent (Satan, vs. 13). Actually, they were all guilty before God.
As an ongoing object lesson of the destructive results of disobeying Him, God put a curse upon creation (Gen. 3:17-19). Work that had no doubt been pleasant before (Gen. 2:15), became toilsome labour, in a natural world gone destructively awry. There were also painful results for the woman in child-bearing (vs. 16). But even in that there was grace. In the first hint of a coming Saviour, God promised One who would be born of the woman who would crush the serpent's head (Gen. 3:15).
As to the Tree of Life (Gen. 2:9), we aren't told anything at all about the fruit, except that, in some way, it had the power to sustain physical life. That was no problem before Adam and Eve sinned. But for them to go on living forever in their corrupt and sinful state would have been a terrible thing.
That is why the Lord kept Adam and Eve from further contact with the Tree of Life (Gen. 3:22-24). However, we're not done with it. The Tree of Life will be blooming and bearing fruit in Paradise (the heavenly city, Rev. 2:7). In our perfected state, the saved will have the right to partake of its life sustaining fruit (Rev. 22:1-2; 14).
Some have wondered why the leaves of the tree provide for "the healing of the nations" in heaven (Rev. 22:2), where there will be no sorrow, pain or death (Rev. 21:5). The Greek word translated "healing" gives us our English word therapeutic. So, it could simply mean that the leaves will somehow enhance and increase our physical powers in some way. William MacDonald suggests it's a figurative way of saying that they'll "enjoy perpetual health" (Believer's Bible Commentary, p. 2,381).
As with many details, both about Eden and about the heavenly Paradise, we simply don't know. Those and other mysteries will be explained when we get to Glory.