Ever wonder what really happened when Eve ate that fruit from the Tree of Knowledge? I didn't until recently. The story seemed straightforward enough to me, but lately Ben and I have been pondering a different element: what it means to desire God's goodness instead of our own.
The way the Bible seems to tell it, the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge was pretty much magic fruit. You eat it, you get the permanent ability to inherently know good and evil just like God does. And that matches a lot of our theology, because we tend to divide the whole world into normal humdrum everyday non-miracle stuff and Things That Only God Could Do. Even though God created everything, we see it all as non-miraculous unless something happens we don't recognize or expect.
For example, we tend to think of Jesus' perfect adherence to God's will as something no man could ever do (even filled with the Spirit as Jesus was) because a man would have to be God himself in order to actually DO God's will. So even as believers we get an out since we aren't God. And Jesus' command to "Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect" (Matt 5:48) is beautifully poetic hyperbole because even with God's Spirit animating us there is no way we could keep that command.
That's why it's easy for us to see this special Tree of Knowledge not as something illustrating who we are today but as something removed from us and not fully part of our life. No one today ever faces the challenge of whether to eat fruit from a magic tree. It's a one-time event, a single chance to get it right, one none of us children have ever had. Sure, we have chances to obey God, but our disobedience is moot because we start off guilty by association and it's not like our little disobedience here or there is going to be the catastrophic event that separates all Mankind from God. We get to look at that moment of separation regretfully but not feel any guilt or responsibility other than the inferred guilt of being Adam and Eve's descendants. If we don't look any deeper than the magic fruit, this story becomes little more than a historical event and a warning about how important it is to obey God.
But it could be something else. It could be a deeply revealing story of Human nature that affects us daily in everything we do.
It could be a story of how we ourselves rebel against God...and how to stop. It could tell us something about what real obedience is rather than simply a rote adherence to the letter of a command.
If we look past the magic fruit that can instantly confer Godlike abilities on the eater, what could the story of Adam and Eve eating from the tree teach us about ourselves and God?
The Underlying Issues of the Bible's Narrative
The Bible seems to narrate a very consistent juxtaposition: the desires and condition of Man's heart versus the desires and condition of God's. For example, just look at God's comment on all of Mankind just a short few chapters later in the story of the wickedness of Noah's generation:
The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. - Genesis 6:5-6 (ESV)
We hear about Pharoah's hard heart, the wayward hearts of the Israelite People in seeking other gods, the instruction by Moses to love God with all our hearts, the heart of God who yearns for his children...it's always about the heart. The root. The underlying reasons for why people do what they do and why God does what he does.
Since that' seems to be the bedrock of the rest of the Bible, it might be the bedrock of this very first story of Man's interaction with God.
What if the story of Adam and Eve and the eating of the fruit isn't about a magic fruit, but about the difference between Man's heart and God's? About Man's view of things contrasted to God's? As God himself puts it, the "contention" between him and Mankind?
If this is the case, we should get a picture of the heart of Adam and Eve's actions in the matter of the Fruit from the story in Genesis. We should be able to see what was in their hearts to cause them to disobey God's direct command. And we should also be able to see if the same impulse exists in our own hearts.
Our usual view of Adam and Eve before the Fruit is that they were no more able to determine right from wrong than a dog: they were capable of obedience, of following God's commands, but not of reason. The Great Rebellion that separated us from God was the disobedient action of eating the Fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, since God is holy and any transgression separates us from him. After eating the Fruit, Adam and Eve absolutely gained the ability Satan promised to exactly determine good from evil...and all their children ever since have been born with this innate ability as well. If we put our minds to it, "deep down" we can always rightly determine good from evil, but because Adam and Eve were disobedient we also bear the sin of their disobedience and can therefore never be right with God because from our conception we've already sinned by inheritance. Because they ate the Fruit, God sees us as sinful - not initially by anything we've done, but because of the sins of our forefathers. We just add to it as time goes by.
There may be some flawed ideas in this outlook, flaws that affect our ability to actually divide good from evil according to God's perspective, our ability to understand what God really says to us, and our ability to fulfill the good works God chose for us before we were born.
Idea Number One: Man Did Not Know Good From Evil Until Eating The Fruit
The idea that Man originally had no ability to distinguish good from evil gives total credence to Satan's narrative that the ability had been denied to us and we were really no better than animals unless we seized our destiny and made ourselves into God's actual image. When Satan tells Eve that God lied to her, he was saying that God not only lied about the effects of the Fruit but about the very nature God had blessed her and Adam with in the first place. And the terrible thing is...I think we still believe the lie. We credit the fruit for our consciences and the ability to separate Good and Evil, not God's creation of us.
Satan, the great Accuser and Deceiver, has always tried to make this case to us and to God: that God's Creation has terrible flaws and could be perfect if we only did x, y or z. That's what the whole book of Job is really about: the question of whether or not God's creation is really as good as he said it was in the beginning ("if you remove your blessing from Job, then you'll see what a rotten little work he is when he curses you to your face!").
Rather than fall into Satan's premise, how much would this story change if we looked at it from God's premise: that all he made was Very Good, including Mankind? It would take God at his word that he created us in his image and likeness. Adam and Eve already had the ability to divide Good from Evil. More than just Good and Evil, Adam and Eve were made like God: to desire Good. To be unable to do anything that wasn't Good. That's how God said he made us. Not flawed. Not unable to even recognize Good. Perfect. Very Good.
Adam and Eve were created with both the capacity and desire for good, exactly in the pattern of their Creator, and thereby intrinsically given the capacity and desire to hate evil.
What they didn't have was experience. And what was God doing when he walked with them in the evening and gave them a command like, "Don't eat from that tree in the middle of the garden"? If they had no capacity to know good from evil, why would they see even obedience to a command as good?
But if they already had the capacity to look for and desire Good, then God was feeding them understanding and testing it right from the very beginning by giving them a command and then teaching them it was good to obey. He was teaching them as a father teaches a baby, starting with the bedrock of obedience.
Yes, Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed. Why? Because God had not taught them it was not good to be naked. Maybe he didn't even have a problem with it at that point. If he had, you'd think he would've covered them from the beginning instead of saying everything was "very good". You don't start off teaching your tiny newborn that being naked is bad. You teach a lot of other important things first. You teach love first. You teach trust first. You teach obedience first.
Even with our supposedly inborn ability today to distinguish good from evil with nakedness being presumably evil...why does every child need to be painstakingly taught not to run around naked? They'd all do it very happily if we'd let them. Children do desire good, but they often have no clue what it really is in most circumstances. Neither did Adam and Eve.
But the obvious question is...if Adam and Eve were created to know and desire Good and given the gift of not being able to do anything that wasn't Good...how could they have then done evil by eating the Fruit?
I'll get back to that in a minute.
Idea Number Two: Adam And Eve Could Not Truly Reason Before Eating The Fruit
When Satan presented Eve with the idea that God has really lied to her about what would happen if she ate the fruit, Eve did something she shouldn't have been able to do before eating the fruit if eating it really gives us true knowledge of Good and Evil.
She weighed the snake's words and thought, "It's Good to be wise. Of course we're supposed to be wise! And the Fruit would be good to eat - just look at how beautiful it is and how good it smells. God wouldn't really kill us for eating it because he loves us and he really does want us to be wise. So it's good to eat the Fruit so we can be wise because it's Bad to not be wise."
Eve did not reason like a dog. She did not think "Ooooh yummy! Food!" (chomp chomp). She was attracted by an abstract concept, a promise to be able to better understand Good and Evil, a desire to be wise. She created her own version of good and evil before the Fruit was ever in her mouth. She rearranged the knowledge of good and evil God had begun to teach her and substituted her own.
And that begins to answer the earlier question: if Eve was really created to only do Good and never Evil, how could she then have so quickly done Evil?
By rearranging good and evil to suit herself, that's how. In Eve's eyes, she wasn't doing evil when she ate that Fruit. If she had seen it as evil, she would literally not have been able to do it. It's when we walk away from God's definitions of good and evil and create our own that we are still able to function within the boundaries God gave us - we don't do things we see as evil - and still do evil.
Which brings me to the next thought: the Great Rebellion.
Idea Number Three: The Great Rebellion Was Disobeying God And Eating The Fruit
It was rebellion to eat the fruit, but the actual rebellion, the true Great Rebellion, was the rejection of God's teaching about good and evil. It was the rejection of God's Goodness by believing the snake's lie that God isn't truly good and didn't truly make us as good as he said he did.
It's this rebellion that haunts all Mankind: we want to recreate Good and Evil to our specifications. We cannot deny our creation in God's image: we are all born intrinsically desiring good; but it's corrupted because instead of learning how God sees good, we continue our great-great-great-grandparents' rebellion by convincing ourselves of our own version of good. That's why we can do such terrible evil in God's eyes while thinking we're doing good. If you look at the great evils Mankind has done and still does, it all starts with the conviction that something evil - like sacrificing children to idols - is actually good and necessary. We must make evil good before we can do it or we would go insane. I'm not sure we can even do what we actually believe to be evil. No matter how twisted the logic, evil people have reasons why they think what they are doing is actually good.
Our great sin - the thing that separates us from God to this day - is our refusal to see things from his eyes, to love him enough to want what he wants with our whole hearts. We are wayward and go our own way and create our own version of Good rather than striving to know and understand - no matter how difficult - the author and originator and definition of Good who is God.
The Tree of Knowledge: A Test, Not A Trap
Its easy to wonder why God put a magic tree that could do so much damage in the middle of the Garden like that. I've always wondered why he did. Why put something so destructive right there in front of Adam and Eve?
If this is really a story about the hearts of Mankind, the answer is easier than I used to imagine: because God was teaching and testing the hearts of his newborn children, to see if his Creation would be Good just as he was. And oddly enough, he wasn't discouraged when we proved not to be as interested in Good as God is. Instead, he came up with a plan to teach Good to us anyway. By hook or by crook, he intended to create for himself a peculiar People of his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:11-14)
The presence of the Tree of Knowledge was a test: would Mankind follow God's instructions of Good or rebel and create his own Good instead?
Once it became clear we were going to be willful, God then put a much stricter teaching regiment in place and began the long, long patient process of revealing himself to us and teaching us what Good really is, drawing those who really wanted to love and follow him into this understanding. Consider his simple reason for choosing Abraham to be the first of the Covenant that we ourselves enter into today when we want to end our banishment and come back into God's Presence:
The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” - Genesis 18:17-19 (ESV)
When Jesus walked the Earth, he set out to teach God's ways and pull God's People away from following their own. One of his most poignant statements was that he did not come to "do away" with God's instructions - create a new Good - but to "rightly do" them - follow God's Good. (Matthew 17:20)
Our focus every day needs to be not on trying to feel around and determine what seems Good to us, but to constantly seek and ask and ponder what God himself sees as Good. Because everything else is a counterfeit.
Wife of Benjamin and mother to two wonderful little girls who are getting bigger every day. Enjoys writing down thoughts and discussions we are having within the family and sharing them with whoever is interested in reading.
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