Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil by Gustav Dore.
I recently found my mind wandering back to the first chapters in Genesis. As I mentioned in a earlier post, not too long ago I finished reading the Lost World of Genesis One by John Walton so maybe that is why I keep going back to this story. It is such a dense and rich narrative and I think it’s easy to overlook or oversimplify what is really going on there. What got me thinking this week was the choice God gave Adam and Eve between the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In my various Sunday school classes and/or Bible studies, I do not really recall much discussion around the choice of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil over the Tree of Life. Discussions mainly circled around disobedience, not trusting God and the idea of original sin. Obviously, there’s more to Adam and Eve’s choice than just disobedience. The trees would not have been given significant names if this was simply a story about disobedience and sin.
The real issue is not that Adam and Eve disobeyed God (although they certainly did), the real issue is revealed in their choice of food. They chose to ingest the Knowledge of Good and Evil instead of ingesting Life. Through the prodding of the serpent, Adam and Eve chose Knowledge of Good and Evil so that they might be like God. Because God had told Adam and Eve to not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, God removed them from the Garden and prevented them from ever eating again from the Tree of Life.
“The human being has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” Now, so he doesn’t stretch out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat and live forever, the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to farm the fertile land from which he was taken.
Genesis 3:22-23 (CEB)
With their new found knowledge, Adam and Eve almost immediately begin determining what is good and what is evil. They then go through all sorts of actions and weak mental aerobics to attempt to make things appear good again.
Adam and Eve decide that being naked is not good, so they cover up to appear good again.
When God asks Adam what happened, he decides that it was really Eve who disobeyed and not him. Adam essentially calls Eve “not good.”
When God asks Eve about what Adam says, Eve points to the serpent saying it was all his fault. Eve shifts the “not good-ness” to the serpent.
After they are expelled we get the story of Cain and Abel. Cain gets jealous of Abel’s offerings to God and decides that he will kill Abel so that his offerings might be received as good.
And the story spirals out of control from there as people go about deciding what is good and what is evil. Generally, seeing themselves as always good and other people are evil or have done evil to them. The sad point of the story is that God spends the whole first chapter of Genesis creating and calling the elements of creation good. Then, rather than take that to heart, humans choose to decide for themselves what is good and what is evil. Even up to the present day we spend a lot of our time attempting to make the same distinction. When we choose to figure out for ourselves what is good and what is evil, often life get’s thrown by the wayside. All of the major conflicts throughout the world have, at a very basic level, been conflicts over what one side considers good and what another considers evil.
It should not be that surprising that death enters into the world once we have the knowledge and power to determine what is good and what is evil.
Jesus then, as the second Adam comes along and attempts to right the ship. Jesus demonstrates what it means to truly understand the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In his temptation story Jesus does what Adam and Eve did not. Even after his ascription as the “Son of God” by God, Jesus’ temptation is to essentially act “like God” for his own benefit. Turning rocks into bread, having angels save him or having all the armies in the world are all temptations for Jesus to be “like God” as Adam and Eve were. Jesus resists by quoting the Law and demonstrating that life is more than being “like God” and knowing what is good and what is evil.
Attempting to be “like God” only leads to death. Knowing God and loving what God has called good leads to life.
Jesus not only shows us the right way to live in the world but truly leads us back to the Tree of Life which the book of Revelation says is also is for “the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2). Those nations that have been bitterly divided since we decided to choose for ourselves what was good and what was evil.
I pray we choose life.