Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Knowledge of Evil

When we talk about the tree that Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat from, we call it, as the Scriptures call it, the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The serpent says that when they eat from this tree, their eyes will be opened and they will see all that God sees, know all that God knows...essentially, they shall become more like God than ever they had imagined.

And when we consider this, we think that what this means is that when Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the tree, they will come to know all of the evil things in the world and all of the good things in the world and develop the kind of discernment that God has to see them for what they are. We think that a world, an evil world, previously hidden from them, previously existing right alongside them without their knowledge of it, will suddenly be revealed and they will see the fullness of creation, in all its glory and mess together.

But this idea creates a couple of major problems. First, it implies that evil exists outright in God's "very good" creation, which is incompatible with what we know of God. Second, it doesn't really answer its own question.

What we have to see here is this: if eating from the tree gives men all of the knowledge of good and evil, gives him the eyes to see as God sees and to discern what is good from what is evil, then we should expect that men would become better by this knowledge, not worse. They should be blessed by it, not cursed.

No man who knows the difference between good and evil chooses evil. (Well, very, very few.)

So when Adam's eyes are opened and he sees good and evil, if it is as we so often conceive it to be, then he ought to stare right back into the face of the serpent and laugh at him. He ought to hear the whispers of shame and refute them with the truth of God's "very good." He ought to turn back toward God, who is good - who must now be known as thoroughly good - not hide from His presence in the bushes.

But that's not what we see Adam do in response to the serpent's shame. Rather, we see him embrace it wholeheartedly. We see him destroyed by it. We see him burdened by it.

What has happened is not that Adam has come to know, by eating the fruit, all of the knowledge of good and evil; what has happened is that he has experienced, by eating the fruit, evil itself.

For the past couple of days, we have been referring to this as Adam coming to know his creatureliness, to find himself a beast in the same way that all of the other animals are beasts, to lose his understanding of what it means that he has been created uniquely among them in the image of God. And this is evil. For it has stolen away Adam's closeness with God and shown him just how far removed he is from God's glory.

Evil, as it is and as it has always been, is nothing more than our distance from righteousness, and in one act of disobedience, in one moment of mistrust, in one bite of fruit, Adam has discovered how far he has fallen, how far removed he can be.

He discovers the knowledge of evil merely by experiencing it, by doing what is evil and only then recognizing its result. And so we should not think that good and evil are objective categories, but rather, we should understand that they are but lived experiences. We cannot know good and evil from without, but only from within; they exist only in our living them - near to the heart of God or very far from it.

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