Monday, March 19, 2007

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

During a Karl Barth discussion at Starbucks on Friday morning we were talking about the reality of evil in the created realm, and I got thinking about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. Someone was summarizing Barth's point which said that for God to create people who could appreciate His glory and His goodness then those people would have to have at least an awareness of non-goodness and non-glory. To know God as God we would have to have some concept of not-God.

The question then raised was: So does that mean we'd have to sin? That seems wrong.

That is where the tree of knowledge of good and evil comes in. I often ask myself why God put it there. After all, it really ended up ruining things. And that's when a thought hit hit me. Perhaps the tree, even before it was eaten from, by its very presence and its forbiddenness, already provided knowledge of good and evil (in an innocent yet very real way).

After all, they had knowledge of good all around them: Created life as creatures in right relationship with their Creator. They had knowledge of evil right in front of them. You could disobey if you wanted to. You could have created life as creatures in wrong relationship with Your Creator. There was God or not-God; life or not-life; good or not-good. To use Barth's words, there was Yes or No; Light or Shadow.

And so there is the tree. Just be being there it gives humankind the freedom they need to have to actually love God and experience good. Just by being there it also gives them responsibility. Trust and obey God or not. Perhaps when they bit the fruit, they already 'knew' good and evil, but now they 'knew' it in an intimate way. Interesting that a couple chapters later Adam knew Eve, and the idiom means they had sex with each other.

Fast forward many millennia. In Revelation 22 we have one tree in heaven: the Tree of Life. There is no tree of knowledge of good and evil. The Tree of Life is everywhere, all around the River. Its leaves carry healing for the nations. In our discussion at Starbucks it was asked whether there would be anything in heaven to remind us of that concept of not-good and not-life.

I found the suggestion that was made to be incredibly interesting: Perhaps that is why the resurrected Jesus still had his wounds.


Tony Tanti said...

Sounds like this was an interesting conversation. Good and evil do seem to have always been in the garden, demonstrated by your tree point here and as well by the presence of the serpent.

This is the kind of thing that makes me think people are wrong when they say heaven will be exactly like the garden, cause I don't think there will be evil in heaven. Though as you said, there may be reminders of its reality (the wounds).

matthew a. wilkinson said...

That's interesting about them knowing good and evil in the same way they 'knew' each other after the garden. I'd never thought of that. Pretty interesting.

It has always confused me why God would have made eating a fruit of knowledge of good and evil, or of life a sin. Even reading the story as some kind of metaphor, I don't understand the point. Scripture never really (to the best of my memory) addresses why God would have chosen to put those trees in the garden. Why not the Tree of Murder and the Tree of Lies, or something like that? Not a Tree of Knowledge, and a Tree of Life.

I dunno. I've never understood that.

Coutts said...

yes I've wondered about this stuff myself and my best thought is that the point isn't the fruit or the knowledge but just the fact that it was disobedience. It could have been anything I suppose: the forbidden footbridge, forbidden word, forbidden dinosaur, forbidden armrest ... the point was that they had a choice to obey or not obey, trust or not trust. I've even started to think maybe God would have slowly increased their knowledge (i.e. awareness) of good and evil over time, and that the point was that they not strike out in autonomy and grasp it of their own accord. Whatever the case I'm fairly certain the point was the obedience, not the nature of the fruit or the tree or whatever. I suppose I could be wrong but it makes some sense to me.

I do wonder if we might still be living in the garden today if God had decided to go with "the forbidden skunk cabbage", but who am I to argue with the Almighty?! (seriously though, for some reason it seems God really wanted it to be a free (and unmanipulated) choice. I can't get away from the idea that God relentlessly desires our freedom, even as he zealously looks for our love)

Cherub said...

God created the tree of knowledge of good and evil to serve as a very abstract symbol regarding our relationship with Him, since we all fall short in our relationship with Him.

When Adam and Eve ate the fruit of knowledge explicitly against God's will, they decided for themselves that they knew what behaviour was good or evil for them.

The question of why God created the tree and put it within Adam and Eve's reach such that they could disobey Him is because He is Holy.

This may seem confusing but it's actually quite simple. God knew all that was going to happen with the humans before He breathed life into Adam. He could have decided not to do it at all instead. Or if God were malign in any way He could have made them suffer in ways we generally associate with the notion of hell immediately after they disobeyed Him. However He did not do things that way, hence why the angels sing praise to God's Holy name.

So does this very story hold the key to our salvations as revealed by the son of God. Adam and Eve confessed their sin when questioned by God, so should we all.

Genesis 3:24