Yeah, yeah, yeah…I know. I’m boring you with all my blogs lately. Too “deep.” Too “thinky.” Too “much hot air, like a leaky balloon.” I get it. But it’s how I’m wired, man. This morning, I can’t stop thinking about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
In fact, everything that I’m ready or studying lately seems to be converging on the themes of God’s sovereignty, morality, and the struggle of man with good and evil. It’s so prevalent for me, I couldn’t even enjoy watching The Three Amigos last night without considering the transformation of the Amigos into heroes once they understood the existence of real evil in Santo Poco and their ability – their moral duty – to stand against it.
When you think like that about The Three Amigos, you know you’re in trouble.
Back to the tree of knowledge of good and evil: like yesterday’s post, this one is going to be outside of the box, and I’m not sure I can dig all the way down in just a few thousand words (give or take). But it’s just taking up so much space in my brain, I feel like I need to get it out there and let it run around for a bit. If it gets Tasered by people smarter than me, so be it (it might turn out to be fun, like yesterday’s post).
I’ve grown up believing that the tree of knowledge of good and evil imparted moral wisdom to Adam and Eve. That, until they ate of the tree, they didn’t know that such a thing as “good” or “bad” existed. I’ve never questioned it, and have, in fact, preached it as sound on numerous occasions. I don’t dispute that such an interpretation is wrong at all. I’m merely posing something to think about that enhanced my understanding of this doctrine.
The Hebrew words “good” and “evil” used in Genesis 2:9 and 2:17 are the words טוב (towb) and רע (ra`). Here’s where it gets interesting: towb/good is primarily translated as pleasant, agreeable – it’s an adjective. Ra/evil is primarily translated as an adjective too – it means bad, disagreeable, malignant. The two words describe the knowledge gained by eating of the tree – the ability to know that things can either be agreeable/good or disagreeable/bad.
So far, so orthodox. That’s good, right?
But here’s the thing: Adam and Eve both already had moral knowledge before eating of the tree. They didn’t have to eat from the tree in order to learn that some things are bad and some are good; God had already given them that information in Genesis 2:15-17, when He commanded them not to eat of the tree.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
God gave a command and explained the penalty for transgressing that command. He issued a moral standard by which Adam (and Eve) should live. In hearing that command, Adam (and Eve) knew that there was such a thing as right and wrong. Morality was defined for them from the lips of God, and they understood its implications.
So the tree didn’t impart that to them. God did. Morality comes from God.
Then the serpent came along and questioned the paradigm. He suggested that God had kept them from moral knowledge by prohibiting them from eating of the tree. It’s subtle, but it’s significant: the serpent shifted the locus of morality from God to the tree. Instead of trusting God to tell you/show you what’s right and wrong, Eve, you should eat the fruit of the tree and let it open your eyes on those matters. And by eating of the tree, what it possesses becomes yours too.
Boom. In just a few words, the human condition was tainted. Instead of trusting God to reveal His goodness to us, we now opt to define it for ourselves. The problem is that the innate perfection and holiness required to determine good and evil is found only in God; without Him to guide us, we can no more choose right from wrong than a colorblind person can pick out their favorite shades on a color wheel. By seeking to possess something God had already given us in Himself, we destroyed ourselves and that knowledge.
And if you’ll give me a second to chase a really weird rabbit trail: If the tree was the container of moral knowledge, that takes away from God’s character, does it not? God is diminished because the tree and its fruit holds the essence of the moral law. But we reject that idea on it’s face – God Himself is the moral lawgiver, and morality finds its foundation within Him. So why did the tree have to exist at all? What was it’s point?
To bring God glory. To show us that we could never possess the ability to determine morality for ourselves. To teach us that we would ever have to be in relationship with God in order to know what truly is right and wrong, real and illusion, good and evil.
After typing this all out, it seems fairly basic. Obvious, even. And that just means that I’m chasing windmills here, exploring a trail someone else has blazed. But there’s so much about morality and goodness and evil that I’m just beginning to understand, it seemed significant that our knowledge of right and wrong was given to us long before Adam and Eve ate from that tree. It was a gift freely given by God – not a treasure withheld because we couldn’t handle it. That changes things for me in a way that I simply cannot articulate at this time. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to spell it out.
So what say you? I welcome your thoughts in the comments below.