WHY WAS EATING OF THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE BAD?
We all know about Adam and Eve. They were the first humans. Their home was in the ideal conditions in the Garden of Eden. That is, it was until they listened to Satan. He came disguised as a serpent and tempted them into eating the apple. With that bite of the apple, sin came into the world and the ideal conditions were destroyed.
Oh, and another thing, at first Adam and Eve were naked; we can’t forget that part of the story. At least they were naked until they sinned. Then they became ashamed of their nakedness and they wrapped some leaves over themselves in certain sensitive areas.
I may have left out a few details in that story, maybe even have gotten a thing or two wrong, but the story has been told and retold so many times that these small differences are common. It is unfortunate in many ways, because these simplifications have diminished the significance of what actually happened in those early days at the dawn of time.
Also, these simplifications have caused many people to regard the story as pure myth, or perhaps in an allegorical sense and nothing more. But the story is more than myth. I will agree that there is much about the story that is allegorical, but I have no reason to doubt that the events given to us in the Bible are indeed literal, accurate and historical.
The Dangers of Oversimplification
It is a dangerous thing for us to further simplify the story, because what has been written in the Bible has already been simplified a great deal. Imagine how it would be if God were to try to explain the creation events and the first days in the Garden of Eden in detail. There would be volumes upon volumes of books, even if the account was put in simple, layman’s terms. And if God were to record all of the technical aspects of these days, I’m afraid that all of the forests in the world could not produce enough paper to print the material, nor would there even be enough memory in all of the computer hard drives to store the files.
As it is, we have three short chapters in the book of Genesis. That’s all. And from these few words, we must try to ascertain what it is that we can gain from the creation events and the lives of our first ancestors.
The Tree of Life
Central to this is the presence of two individual and specific trees that were growing in the garden. These were the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. These were literal trees that actually existed, but they were also trees that had connected with them great symbolic and allegorical meanings.
The Tree of Life, of course, represents to us eternal life, for this is what it provided for Adam and Eve. As Adam and Eve ate from the fruit of that tree in the first days of creation, the tree provided not only nourishment, but in a manner that we cannot explain, it also gave life itself. This is and has always been the desire of God for all of us – that we should have life. That is why he gave permission for Adam and Eve to eat of that tree.
The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil
The presence of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is a little more complicated. That tree also grew in the garden, but of that tree, Adam and Eve were not permitted to eat. Why was this? Does not God want us to have knowledge? This is an intriguing question and one which Satan, who for reasons that I do not completely understand appeared in the form of a serpent, put to Eve when he first tempted her.
He said to her, “God knows that in the day that you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like him, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5)
This was not what God had said to Adam and Eve. He told them that on the day they eat it, they would die (Genesis 2:17).
As we have come to learn in the story, Adam and Eve did eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge (it was not really an apple, but with little doubt a fruit that we have never experienced), and seemingly true to what Satan had told them, they did not immediately drop dead, at least not in the sense that we generally think of dying. But something did happen to them on that day. They did die. They may have lived on in their bodies, but something more important about them did die. They dropped dead in their spirits. Their lives of intimacy with God died on that day.
Questions Concerning Knowledge
But why? Why was it that acquiring knowledge of what is good and what is evil should cause us to die? Was it God’s intention to keep us in ignorance? If so, why would he even provide the possibility of us obtaining this knowledge by putting this tree in the garden. Why not just put in the Tree of Life and not even plant the Tree of Knowledge? Why not let us just live happily on in our ignorance?
You can see some of the allegorical meanings of this story here, for these are not questions that affected only Adam and Eve, but they are questions that affect every one of us. The lives of Adam and Eve become important to us because they represent questions that we also have about our own lives. It is even deeper than that, because as the progenitors of the human race, our connection to the first humans is even closer. In many regards, we can say that Adam and Eve live in each one of us. It does no good for us to cast blame on Adam and Eve for their failure, because we all have failed. You failed and I failed. If you do not believe that, then you are not being realistic about your own assessment of your own life. Like to Adam and Eve, God has also given promises to us, but we do not believe.
So the questions for us are these. What is it that God intends for us in regards of knowledge? Also there is this: Is it true that he intended us to remain ignorant of the knowledge of good and evil? We rather might prefer to us the word innocent. Innocence is an easier word for us to take than ignorance.
The other question is this. Now that the damage has been done, how is this to be rectified? If God’s intention for us was to remain innocent, it seems that this can never be regained, since innocence once lost is lost forever. The same can be said of ignorance, for once knowledge is achieved, we can never be content to live in ignorance.
A Life of Ignorant Bliss?
First I will deal with the primary question. Was it God’s intention to keep us in ignorance?
This question, as deep as it may seem, is really quite easily answered. It is answered in the words of Jesus himself. When he was on this earth, Jesus told his disciples, “No longer do I call you slaves, because a slave has no knowledge of what his master is doing. But I call you my friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father, I have made known to you” (John 15:15 my own rendering)
From this single statement that came from the lips of Jesus, we learn that even from the beginning, it apparently had never been God’s intention that we should remain in ignorance. Even since the beginning, God intended and still does intend to make all things known to us.
But then why the delay? Why did not God give us this knowledge from the very beginning? The answer to these questions can be summed up in a statement given to us by the Apostle Paul. Paul likens our relationship to God as a son to his father.
Paul says to the Christians in one of his letters, “You are no longer a slave, but a son. And if a son then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:7 NAS). Paul says the much the same thing in the very next book of the New Testament when he writes, “[God] predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:5 ESV).
In this same book of Ephesians, Paul goes on to elaborate on God’s intentions for his people, telling us that God has even made known to us the mystery of what his will is (vs. 9).
God’s People as a Family
In fact Paul speaks often of the promises of God and of all the things that God intends for his people. It is very apparent from Paul’s writings that God has always looked upon his people not as entirely separate from him, but as family. We learn from Scripture that we are to receive an inheritance, which God seals by placing his Holy Spirit within us.
Like an earthly father who has a great inheritance in mind for his children, God has always had his own inheritance planned for his children as well. Also like an earthly father however, God only gives us that inheritance once we have reached an age of maturity when we will be able to handle it wisely. It is only when we have received his knowledge in the manner that he intended when we will finally also receive our full inheritance as children of God.
Now that the Damage has Occurred, What are We to Do?
But now we come to the second question that I posed, which is a bit more difficult to answer. Once the untimely knowledge has been gained, and with it the problems that have arisen because of the situation, what is to be done?
The sin of Adam and Eve was not so much that they had gained knowledge, but that they acquired it before they knew the correct way to handle the knowledge received. That is why they suddenly became ashamed of their nakedness. Here again, we must look at this in a way that is more than the simple bodily nakedness of the story, but also in an allegorical sense. For the first time, Adam and Eve felt exposed. The physical nakedness was only symptomatic of the deeper issue. For the very first time since they breathed the breath of life on their first morning, they felt estranged from God. For the very first time there was part of them that they did not want God to see.
It was because of this that they sewed fig leaves together to cover their nakedness. Again we must remember, the physical nakedness that they felt was only symptomatic of a further and a deeper nakedness. Before they had sinned, every aspect of Adam and Eve was open before God. There was nothing about them, neither inwardly nor outwardly, that they felt that they had to hide from God. Now however, when they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, they did not go out to greet him and to have conversation with him as they apparently had done on previous occasions, but they instead hid themselves. They were ashamed.
God asked Adam and Eve to give an account of what had happened. In Adam’s explanation, he did what he could to run away from his own guilt. He blamed Eve and even settling the blame on God himself, since he said that God was the one who had made everything in the first place. Eve of course blamed the serpent, saying that the serpent had beguiled her.
But true solutions are never found in assigning blame. We can never bring rectification to anything simply by casting blame on someone else. Even in Adam and Eve’s own actions, though they tried to justify themselves by saying it was not their fault, it is obvious that even they themselves knew that this was not the answer. If it had been, they would have no longer felt guilt. However, the fact that they tried to cover their nakedness and then hid from God when he came walking demonstrates that they both continued to have an inner sense of guilt. In the end, Adam and Eve could do nothing to make the wrong that they had done, right. That had to be left up to God.
As the story continues in the third chapter of Genesis, God tells Adam and Eve and even Satan of the consequences that they would have to live with because of the sin, consequences that we also live with to this very day. It is interesting to me is that even God did not immediately rectify the situation. The only immediate action that God took was to replace the fashion of the day, from that of the mode of fig leaves, to clothing made of skin. This skin had presumably been taken from one of the animals of the garden. If this was so, and I believe it was so, the life of the animal obviously had to be taken for this purpose. The life of the animal had to be sacrificed because of the sin of Adam and Eve. In the Scriptural account, this is the first death of either man or beast in those early days of history.
But the core problem had not been solved. God told Adam and Eve of the curse they would have to endure, and then he drove them from the garden and placed angelic guards on every side of the garden, each one with a flaming sword, to prevent the first man and the first woman to have further access to the Tree of Life. They would not again eat of that tree.
What Does God have in Mind?
These actions taken by God after the sin of Adam and Eve may seem like they are simply punishments, but that is not the purpose at all. The purpose for which God did these things was actually the beginnings of resolution. Although the immediate problem of sin was not instantly resolved, in the actions that God took, he began to lay the foundation for the final and perfect solution.
Again, many of the specifics of this story have symbolic and allegorical meanings. Just as the sudden shame that Adam and Eve felt because of their nakedness has meanings far beyond the immediate physical nakedness, so do the actions taken by God to rectify the situation. The action that is perhaps the most apparent to us is the sacrifice of the animal whose skin was to be used in making garments for Adam and Eve. Put in the most simple of terms, with this sacrifice, God took the life of a living being who had not been at fault, in this case the life of an animal. This life was given as a covering for the sin of Adam and Eve.
By making this sacrifice, God began a lesson that he was to bring to men and women throughout history to show what must be done to re-establish the broken relationship between man and God. Throughout Scripture, God teaches us, step by step, what is needed to be done. Like a father teaching his child, God wants to teach each one of us. He does not unload everything on us all at once, but with the death of this animal in the Garden of Eden that was given for the sin of Adam and Eve, God begins the process of instruction.
The Failed Solution of Adam and Eve and Our Own
Adam and Eve had come up with their own solution. Their solution involved blaming someone else and then covering themselves and hiding from God’s presence. Amazingly, we as men and women have not progressed at all in our own solutions from the estrangement that we feel with our Creator. We try to put the blame on someone or something else, we use our own feeble methods to cover up the fact that there is anything wrong, and then we try to hide from God, while all the time pretending that nothing is wrong.
This Sunday is the first Sunday of the month of Easter. Despite there being several thousands of years separating what happened in those first days in the Garden of Eden with the life and death of Jesus Christ in the first century A.D, it is really the same story. There is a connection that we have with Adam and Eve. Their story is the same story that is happening today. In many ways the story is all been written, and in other ways, it is yet to be completed.
Each of us have it in our power to complete this story in our own way for our own lives. In addition to the questions that I have already asked, here is another: In what way will you complete this story in your life? As we speak of this story over the course of this month, ask yourself what ending you wish to have for the story of your life.