09 November 2013

Eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil

[[Dear Sister, what does it mean to "eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil?" I would think it would be good for us to know good from bad and right from wrong; I would think it would make us better human beings.]]

This past month we have been reading through Paul's letter to the Romans. Of utmost concern to Paul are 1) the situation of sin in which we find ourselves ensnared and 2) dealing with the power of sin and death which actually resides within us (which is what God does in Christ).  I want to turn to what Paul has been saying to us to answer this question. Paul clearly knew the nature of sin;  his treatment of the place of law in exacerbating the state of bondage to sin in which we find ourselves so that we might eventually become open to God saving us gives us a key to understanding what the author in Genesis meant by this original myth of the garden, and especially what it means to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Two weeks ago we read the passage from Chapter five in which Paul describes the terrible quandary in which he finds himself with regard to sin: "The good I would do I do not do; that which I would not do I do!" Here Paul confesses his tremendous weakness with regard to the Law and also to holiness more generally. He knows, for instance that if someone says, "Thou shalt not covet or lie" one almost automatically begins to consider the attraction of others' goods or gifts or, for example, one begins to consider lying and how one might do that even if one has never done so before.  Similarly, if the Law says, "Thou shalt love the Lord your God with your whole heart, and mind, etc" the Law pushes us to try and do something on our own we can ONLY do with the grace of God. Paul summarizes the situation in the seventh chapter of Romans, [["But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead" (Romans 7:8)]] We know the situation with children (or ourselves) when the demand that we not get into the cookie jar (or think about food, etc) immediately makes us desire or think about what is prohibited. In other words, besides making us aware of our sinfulness and weakness, which the law certainly does, it also provokes to temptation and sin by putting the thing it prohibits (etc.) into our minds.

The author of the powerfully insightful myth of the garden in Genesis tells us that our original parents knew only God (and one another, etc) apart from eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In terms of the narrative, there was no good or bad prior to imbibing; there was only the intimacy and wholeness that stems from complete trust in and communion with God, his creation, and one another. We refer to their original state as one of innocence. Somehow Adam and Eve were tempted to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that point a divided reality becomes something we consider and choose in one way and another. Evil (or other and lesser goods than life with God himself) become things we weigh. They have been made part of our thoughts and yearnings; we are no longer merely innocent or simply know God and that which is of God. We have taken these realities inside ourselves in some way and Law in particular can provoke these to speak or call to us when they might otherwise be quiet within us.

This is a partial explanation of the meaning of  eating of "the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil". Because we are not in either the state of innocence or the state of purity or singleness of heart we will one day know in Christ, we know good and evil intimately. While you are correct that we must constantly discern the values and disvalues present in any situation and that this can be a good thing which, in Christ, make us more human, within the larger perspective  it is not what we are ultimately meant for. We are meant for a situation of complete union with God where he, and reality in him, are all we really know. When Paul refers to a time" when God will be all in all this is part of what he is referring to.