The Knowledge of Good and Evil

whitman padreChaplain’s Corner

Padre Andrew Whitman

Ever try to explain deep thoughts to a 4 year old? I was tasked to teach my pre-school daughter about the Bible so, as a good seminary student would, I started reading to her from Genesis chapter 1. But Genesis 1 is followed by Genesis 2, and I realized I’m going to have to explain why God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and Evil (which is quite a mouthful, so let’s call it the TotKoGaE… for short-ish).

Why would God not want his children to know the difference between good and evil? Isn’t the point of religion to tell you how to be good and not be evil? Why would God, of all beings, not want His followers to know that? Some argue that it was a test, and that if Adam and Eve had passed the test, then God would have let them have the TotKoGaEberry later on. But I have a different theory.

The reality is that Adam and Eve did know good and evil already. They knew God, and walked in the garden with Him in perfect harmony. They knew good, because good is to walk with the good God, and they knew evil was to turn away from Him. There are two clues that confirm this. The first is how Satan tempts them: if you eat the TotKoGaEberry, “you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The second is that the goal of faith is to “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”

See, the problem was not actually knowing good and evil; the problem was deciding for ourselves what is good and evil, instead of following the good God. I don’t think I need to tell you that the problems in the world are caused by conflicting view of what is right and good in a situation. It is the cause of wars, marital disputes and 4 year old spats. “That toy is mine and my right to play with.” “But I had it first, you weren’t playing with it, it’s my right!” By eating the TotKoGaEberry, Adam and Eve lost the mind of God the Creator – hence the true knowledge of good – but we can get that mind and knowledge back by putting on ‘the new self’, putting on “Christ”, the perfect human who actually restored the harmonious relationship with God that was lost in the garden that day.

The other thing that I notice from this story is that consent is the Devil’s weapon of choice. He did not force her to eat the TotKoGaEberry, nor did Eve force Adam – they ate it of their own free will. It strikes me that no one can ever force you to do anything. If I put a gun to your head and give you the choice, “kill this person, or I will kill you,” you can always choose not to kill. I did not force you to do it, I only made the right choice less desirable as an option. That is what the Devil did to Eve: he made the wrong choice more desirable to her, so that she chose by her own free will to eat the forbidden fruit, and so she deserved the consequences.

Consent and lack thereof is a terribly inadequate measure of good and evil. If it were, the Devil may be judged as good since he was able to get Eve’s willing and enthusiastic consent. But that is not what happens. Because God loves His children, he forgave Eve and Adam, and, I believe, ultimately restored to them that new self that was lost by their actions. He un-does the consequences for those who believe. And yet the Devil, for his part in it, will be thrown into the lake of fire. It cannot be good to trick someone to consent to evil for your sake; good must be to desire their good for their own sake… for God’s sake.