It is this fear, this understanding of just how small is the space between good and evil, that makes man's reconciliation to God so difficult.
Were it just the knowledge of good and evil, we could say that the generation of Cain and Abel, the generation of Seth, were not necessarily destined to follow in their parents' footsteps. That Adam and Eve ate the fruit and became aware could have been a painful learning experience that they then passed on to their children. After all, knowledge is not inherited; it is passed down. Children are not born with the knowledge of their parents; they are raised to have it.
Adam and Eve, realizing their mistake, understanding how this knowledge changed not only their relationship with God but indeed, their entire existence, could easily have looked at their children with remorse in their eyes and begged them, Do not eat the fruit. It's not worth it. They could have raised their children in relationship with God. Could have kept them naked before their Creator. Could have refused to pass on their shame. They could have, from everything they had done wrong, raised their children to do right. They could have started creation over again, giving their children the same choice - to listen and obey or to desire and eat - albeit with a little bit of wisdom about the real consequences of that decision. It could have been left for every generation to decide, based on the integrity or the insecurity of their parents' generation.
In theory. But that theory does not account for fear.
It's not as simple as "If I knew then what I know now." It's complicated by "What I know now, I cannot forget." What Adam and Eve have come to know, they cannot un-know and they see the danger of good and evil every time they look at their children.
If you're a parent, you understand this. You understand looking at a child wobbling on a bicycle and knowing that one breath in either direction spells failure or doom. This child is equally likely at this point to conquer or crash. You understand looking at a child approaching a group of other children that in the blink of an eye, this child will either be accepted or rejected. You understand just how dangerous this world is for your children, how one hair in either direction makes the difference between success and failure. Between good and evil.
And whether you know it or not, your children do. They know that you see something that maybe they don't see, even if they're not willing to entertain the idea. The child thinks he's going to conquer. He trusts he will be accepted. He knows he will succeed. Children are born believing in goodness, an echo of the original creation. It is our fear, our "knowing better," that teaches them the world is not always this way.
Children sense our fear. More than anything else, I think, it is what we cannot hide from them. Once Adam and Eve knew how close to evil the good in this world really lies, they could not un-know it. They could not look at their children and un-see it. They could not ignore the thorns in the rosebushes any more even when their children could only see the roses. It is this kind of constant anxiety that draws our children into our fears and creates in them their own insecurities.
Adam and Eve may have told Cain and Abel never to eat of that fruit. They might have shared the story of life before and after, of intimacy with God and insecurity in the bushes. Of safety and shame. They might have told them what it would mean to their very understanding of the world if they were ever to choose to know the world and to forsake God. But when Cain and Abel start to pick up on the fear that now defines Adam and Eve, they start to wonder what it is that mom and dad know that they don't. They start to wonder what they're missing, what they're not seeing. And they start to think, if only I knew....
If only I knew what they know, I wouldn't make the same mistakes. If only I knew what they know, I would make a better choice. If only I knew what they know, I would see good and evil and it wouldn't be so hard. Of course good is better. Of course good is good. Then they eat of the tree and their eyes are opened and suddenly they see...
It's not so simple.
You can always choose what to teach your children, how you want to share your knowledge. You can tell them what you know. You can share your stories. You can try to guide them from your understandings. But fear is pervasive. We know it without knowing it, and our children pick it up without being taught. Knowledge passes down in slices, in finite pieces of information divided and given according to the appetite; but fear dribbles down like apple juice. It spills over into a sticky situation.
It is for this reason that it was good that a man not know everything. Knowing everything, he knows too much and in his own garden, grows fear. For knowing, he cannot help himself.