Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 – The Poison of Knowledge of Good & Evil

Adam and Eve by Peter Paul Rubens

Image via Wikipedia

[Reflections on the Old Testament Lectionary Reading for Mar 13, 2011]

God created paradise on earth. God planted a tree in paradise. This tree’s fruit contained the knowledge of Good & Evil. God warned us that this tree’s fruit was poisonous.

This sounds quite strange to us today. How could learning right from wrong be a bad thing? Later in the story, scripture tells us the answer. In fact it is the serpent who plants the idea that serves as a warning. The serpent says, “when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5, NRSV).

Our problem isn’t the degree to which we understand good from bad; our problem is that we try to play God with our ideas of what’s good and evil. We judge others. We convict others. We punish others. And maybe the worst part of it all is that we blaspheme God by attributing our judgment to God.

This problem is part of our nature. We must constantly fight against the temptation to believe that we have sufficient knowledge or that it is up to us to pass judgments on other people.  We see things that “seem” bad to us all the time.  We want to pass judgment.  Who could be more guilty  than someone like me who writes a blog about things that “seem” bad to me (like judging others!)?  We must find some sort of way to stand up for what’s right without ascending to the godly task of deciding who is evil and who is good.

The stakes are higher for those of us who have more power in the world. Those with economic, political, and military power have the unfortunate curse that our judgments have more powerful consequences. When we judge a person or persons to be evil or in the wrong, we have the worldly might behind us to make them suffer.

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  • Jim Wheeler  On March 4, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    Sorry, I just can’t resist responding to this, especially since you have tolerated my critical comments in the past. If you at any time prefer not to get this kind of critique, please tell me and I will desist.

    Your post makes no sense to me in any practical terms. How can a human being live in the real world and not be forced to make judgements about good and evil? As you admit, you do so yourself in your blog. You have only to open a newspaper to find numerous stories which invite judgement. In fact, I submit that living in the real world demands that we make judgements about good and evil. How about jury duty? Do you feel that violates the above passage? Are judges in violation because of their jobs? If you saw somebody being mugged would you come to their aid? Should members of Congress decline to make laws that curtail human behavior? Do you want to eliminate policemen because their jobs demand that they make judgements about good and evil every day?

    You see, there is no way of avoiding some kind of judgement because the very act of living demands that we do it. And, I have to ask this: If God created man in His own image and gave him free will, could He not foresee that free will and the need to make judgements were necessarily linked?

    This tale from Genesis appears in similar form in most if not all other religions and is in my opinion a natural result of man’s questing mind trying to distinguish proper from improper behavior. It is as natural as the need to ask the corollary question, “Why are we here?”



    • jwhester  On March 10, 2011 at 4:08 pm

      Jim, sorry for taking so long to reply. Look, I appreciate hearing different perspectives. I believe one of our problems in America is that we insulate ourselves from challenging viewpoints by surrounding ourselves with people who look, talk, and think just like us.

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