The Knowledge of Good and Evil

“And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Genesis 2:16-17 NIV

The word “genesis” literally means “origin.” The Book of Genesis is exactly that: a book about the origin of all things. The story of Adam and Eve, which explains the origins of man’s fallen condition, is familiar to people of every faith. In the center of the garden in which G-d had placed man there stood two trees: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. G-d told the man that he could eat from any tree in the garden, except for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. If man were to eat from that tree, then G-d said “…you will certainly die.”

Now the understanding is that if man were to eat of the Tree of Life, he would gain eternal life, so the choice was literally between life or death. Of course we know that along came the serpent, the craftiest of creatures, and he told the man a different story. In fact, he directly contradicted G-d and told them, “You will certainly not die.” Man, in an astounding demonstration of misplaced faith, believed the serpent instead of G-d, and ate the fruit of the forbidden tree.

The rest, as they say, is history. One of the things I am most curious about is, why was the knowledge of good and evil forbidden to man? It seems that this would be something that could come in handy. Maybe if they had known good from evil, they would not have disobeyed G-d, and we all would still be living in paradise! Another question that comes to mind is, why was the penalty death? Surely this is a little drastic for simply eating from a fruit tree, especially for a first offense!

I believe that there are some pretty big clues in the story that explain this. The first is that G-d had placed man in paradise, where all of his needs were provided for. To be sure, man was given a job. Actually, he was given a couple of jobs. His first job was to name the animals, and his second was to tend to the garden. One thing this demonstrates is that even in paradise, there is work to do. This also tells me that anyone who thinks heaven will be akin to an eternal retirement home is in for a rude awakening.

The other big clue is that, if man had eaten of the Tree of Life, he would have gained eternal life, but eternal life apparently without the knowledge of good and evil. On the surface, this does not seem to make sense. After all, how would man judge the worthiness of his own words and actions, and that of others, without the knowledge of good and evil?

Finally, maybe the biggest clue of all is that at the root of man’s disobedience was a lack of faith in G-d and in His Word. Adam and Eve readily believed the serpent over G-d! They then acted on this misplaced faith in brazen disobedience to G-d’s command!

Where do we begin to unravel these mysteries? Perhaps the best place to start is with G-d and man’s initial relationship. As previously mentioned, G-d created man and placed him in a paradisaical garden. Here he provided for all of man’s needs. In addition, He entrusted man with dominion over the whole Earth and everything in it. G-d was a loving Father to man, whom He treated as a beloved son.

For man’s part, it was his responsibility to tend to the garden and, most importantly, to obey G-d. In other words, to be a loving and obedient son. G-d walked with man in the garden and man had communion with Him. It is important to note that in this relationship, man was completely dependent on G-d.

This, I believe, is the key to the mystery. If man was dependent on G-d for all things, and man was expected to be obedient to G-d, why would man, independent of G-d, require the knowledge of good and evil? I think it is clear that man did not require this knowledge, given his dependent status.

This doesn’t quite answer the question though, because it does not (yet) explain why this knowledge was forbidden to man. It is one thing to say that one doesn’t need something, and another to say that one can not have it.

We have to consider here what the serpent said to Adam and Eve after he told them they would not die. In essence, the serpent said that G-d was jealous because He knew that if they ate of the tree, they would become like Him, knowing good from evil. Man, according to the serpent, would no longer be dependent on G-d, but could act independently, just as G-d acted independently.

There are a couple of things wrong at this point in the narrative. Yes, man now had the knowledge of good and evil like G-d, but the problem is with that knowledge comes the responsibility to follow, or obey, the good, and reject the evil. Was man equipped to do this? Well, we just said that man was created to be dependent on G-d for everything, so the answer is no, man has no independent intrinsic or inherent capacity to follow the good and reject evil.

Paul himself testifies to this in Romans when he said, “I have discovered this principle at work, Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.”

So this is the dilemma: man has been “blessed” with the knowledge of good and evil, but because he is cut off from communion with G-d, his source of strength, he is cursed with the inability to follow the good and reject the evil. Here is where man’s sense of guilt, shame, and fear come from. He now has a conscience which condemns him, for he recognizes that he has done evil by disobeying G-d, and he also recognizes that he has no way of correcting the problem, try as he might. What is his solution? Hide!

He tries to hide from G-d. Man also realizes his nakedness, his inability to conceal what he has done, but he tries to cover his guilt and vulnerability with leaves, both for him and his wife. When G-d catches up with them and questions them, the first thing the man does is blame Eve, “The woman you gave me…”, and indirectly G-d, for his disobedience. The woman, not willing to accept responsibility for her part, blames the serpent.

After G-d pronounces judgement on the three of them, He then makes garments from animal skins for the man and the woman, indicating that only He could deal with man’s sin, and not without the shedding of blood. This also shows G-d’s continued love for man, even though he has rebelled against Him and turned dominion of the Earth and evrything in it over to the serpent.

I think we can start to see from this story why the penalty for man’s disobediance is death. Man’s spiritual communion with G-d is broken and man can no longer gain guidance, support, and wisdom from that communion. Man has essentially died spiritually already. He is also in a state of denial over his transgression, blaming everyone but himself for his plight. He knows in his heart that he is guilty, but he doesn’t accept responsibility for it.

We can start to see it here, but it isn’t until we look at the course of history, and see what man has done to himself and others, that it is clear that man had to sufffer physical death. Imagine if man had partaken of the Tree of Life in his fallen state and become immortal. There would be no end to the evil that men could do, the pain he could inflict, and what he would become. I am reminded here of a dark comedy, “Death Becomes Her”. It shows in a very funny, but effective, way one possible outcome of human beings given immortality in their fallen state. If you have never seen the movie, check out the trailer at the end of the post.

This could have been the end of the story, but it wasn’t. G-d, when pronouncing judgement on the man, the woman, and the serpent, also made a promise. He said that through the woman, someone would be born who, although injured by the serpent, would in the end crush the serpent’s head. Isn’t it interesting? Through the woman, with the man’s agreement and cooperation, the serpent would lure man into rebellion; and through the woman, a man would come who would slay the serpent, thus restoring man to his rightful place as the crown of creation and ruler of this world.

So what relevance does this story have for us today? How can it help us fulfill our G-d ordained destiny as monarchs? Like pretty much all Bible stories, the story of The Fall is a story of faith. Man’s problem wasn’t that he had no faith, it was that he put it in the wrong place. Had he put his faith in G-d, he would have believed G-d and obeyed G-d. Instead, he put his faith in the serpent.

Someone, I forget who, said that there is a G-d shaped hole in all of us, and this is the source of our problems. He went on to say that we are constantly trying to fill that void, that emptiness with something. These are the things we put our faith in: money, sex, drugs, government, other people, ourselves… What we too often don’t try to fill it with is the original occupant before The Fall: our Creator, our Father, our G-d.

It might be a good question to ask the next time disappointment strikes, when we don’t get that thing we strived for so mightily; that thing that was going to make our life just all right and complete. Where were you, and where are you, putting your faith?

The Desires of Your Heart

Do not fret because of those who are evil
or be envious of those who do wrong;
for like the grass they will soon wither,
like green plants they will soon die away.
Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Psalm 37:1-4 NIV

We were speeding down the highway, on our way to a Christmas Eve party, for which we were considerably late.  We were exceeding the speed limit, that is certain, but we were driving safely, and staying in our lane.  Suddenly a car sped up behind us, and the driver, unwilling to wait for us to shift lanes and let him pass, and after dangerously tailgating us, quickly shifted lanes himself, and sped by.

Already somewhat annoyed at the driver’s unsafe maneuver, not to mention the prick to our pride, we became even more agitated as he continued down the highway, weaving in and out of traffic at high speed, sometimes traversing two lanes in one move.

The whole event became the topic of conversation, as we considered our options.  Should we call 911? Look at him!  Did you see what he just did?  We should report this!  And so it went for the next few minutes until we finally all calmed down a bit.

Around this time, Psalm 37 came to my mind.  I brought up my Bible app, looked up the Psalm, and read the first four verses to the others in the car.  I told them I thought these lines were appropriate to this incident because we were fretting about the wrong behavior of the driver.  The others disagreed, and after some discussion that did not resolve the issue, we continued on to our party, and of course we did not call 911.

What is it about our nature that agitates us so much when we see someone getting away with something that they should not be doing?  Is it simply our sense of justice?  A concern for safety?  Or is there more to it than that?  Is there maybe just a little bit of envy there?  Isn’t there just a little bit of, “Boy, if I did that, I would probably get a ticket”?

The majority of us live our lives “by the rules,” for the most part, and we get upset when people violate the rules with seeming impunity, and worse yet, profit by it in some way.  But let’s face it, one of the reasons we live by the rules is that we are afraid we’ll get caught and punished.  When someone acts as if they don’t care about punishment, this impacts our emotions in several ways.  It scares us, but it also often inspires a bit of admiration, and yes, envy.  Why is this?

One explanation, I think, is that someone who is not concerned about consequences appears to be able to act with perfect freedom.  Let’s make something clear though, when it comes to the big sins or crimes, most of us would not in any way admire or envy this kind of freedom.

But what about the “small” stuff? What about those things where nobody gets “hurt,” especially the “little guy?”  Or, maybe even the “big guy” does get shaved a little?  “Slick” Willie Sutton comes to mind.

For those of you who may not have heard of him, Slick Willie was a bank robber operating mostly in the  1920’s and 30’s.  He allegedly stole $2,000,000 during his “career” and ended up spending about half of his life in prison.  The thing about Willie, though, is that he was a popular figure with the public and was well liked and respected by those who knew him, both in prison and out.

The reasons for his popularity are many.  He was always a gentleman, even during his robberies, and no one was ever hurt.  He always had a gun, but admitted shortly before his death, that it was never loaded because “somebody might get hurt.”  He was highly intelligent, engineering three prison escapes, including one from Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania, considered to be “escape proof.”  And of course, he was robbing mainly banks.  Particularly during the Great Depression, banks were very unpopular, because they were taking people’s homes in foreclosure.

So, in the case of Willie Sutton at least, who was admired by many, there was probably considerable envy by those who wanted to be like him but were not willing to take the risks.

The driver of the car, on the other hand, while he may have inspired some small amount of envy, did inspire quite a bit of fretting.  But whether it is fretting or envy, the problem is it takes our minds off of what is important, which is “Trust in the Lord and do good. When we are focused on the unrighteous actions of others, we are not trusting G-d, and we are not doing good.  As such, it is worse than a complete waste of precious time, it is a misuse of our time and takes us backward in our spiritual journey.  Why?

Two reasons are given: 1)  The efforts of all “those who do wrong” will ultimately come to nothing.  As the passage says, “for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.”  So, what is the point of our concern?  But more importantly, 2) when you trust in the Lord, and “Take delight” in Him, “he will give you the desires of your heart.”   So, what this means is that we are missing out on the good things that G-d has in store for us when we are not delighting in Him.

Well, as you can see from the way this post started, I am as guilty as anyone of focusing on the wrongs committed by others and not taking delight in the Lord and the good things He has done.  But, at this point, I at least can realize it is a problem.  This is progress.  As I have said, this is a journey, and the destination seems a long way off.  But, progress is progress.  I’ll take it.