Lessons from the Garden of Eden
The Knowledge of Good & Evil
The following is a series of essays examining the truths provided in the Biblical Garden of Eden story regarding Good&Evil, Right&Wrong, Sin and the Meaning of Life. These topics are intertwined so you will experience some overlap/repetition of ideas throughout the series...
Getting to Moral Ground Zero
Good and Evil. Right and wrong. Two concepts that are much more than pillars of morality. They are the lenses through which we view the world, the prism through which we evaluate all interactions.
So what’s the relationship between these two pairs? Are they different sides of the same coin, or varying shades of gray? Or are they distinct concepts? Does it really matter what they are?
The distinction between Good & Evil and Right & Wrong seems diminished or even non-existent at times. Ever heard this coming from a parent? “Don’t do that! You’re bad for doing that!” Not exactly an accusation of evilness, but the connation isn’t missed on a child – or our inner child: “I’ve done something wrong and that makes me a bad person.” And from there, it’s a very short jump to, “If I’m bad, that means some part of me is evil.”
This blurring is compounded by the constant interchanging of the terms. “That’s the right thing to do.” “That’s the good thing to do.” Though it doesn’t seem to be such a problem when interchanging the positive concepts of Right and Good, interchanging the negative ones tends to reinforce the association of wrong being bad. “That’s wrong/that’s bad/that’s Evil!”
Few people feel anxiety if they think they are going to be praised for doing good or being right. Not so the opposite. Anticipation of being called on wrongdoing brings with it the dark scepter of the possibility of “being bad.” There is an immense amount of self image baggage connected with wrong & bad.
As adults, we’re able to put such admonishments in perspective by making a very important distinction: “Doing something wrong doesn’t make me a bad person.” Sometimes we get to this understanding on our own. Other times with help … often therapy. But the ultimate truth within this realization is of utmost importance. There is a clear difference between these concepts. They are not the same. They are distinct and we all need to ensure the distinction remains clearly defined and delineated. Right & Wrong speaks to action. Good & Evil speaks to character. An Evil person can do things right – pay taxes, open doors for women, make charitable donations to worthy causes. Conversely, a Good person can do wrong things – run stoplights, miss a few credit card payments, drink too much.
Let’s slide the “Right-&-Wrong-as-action” discussion off to the side for now and focus on the Good & Evil/Character issue.
Good is equated with Godliness and God. Evil is equated with Satan/the Devil. Good people go to Heaven to be with God. Evil people go to Hell to be with Satan. But does this really grant us insight into what each of these qualities truly represents?
To answer this, let’s go to the starting point – the genesis of these concepts – which just happens to be the Genesis story of the Garden of Eden. This is the key place from which to examine these fundamental qualities of character for this story is the Moral Ground Zero for three of the world’s most powerful religions. Judaism and Christianity share the same story, word for word. Islam acribes to a differently worded though parallel chain of events that include Adam, Eve, the serpent and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil, so in essence, we’re dealing with the same starting point.
A Chat in the Garden
The focus of our “new look” into the Garden of Eden story and the natures of Good & Evil is the serpent. It is universally accepted that he is a representation of Satan/Lucifer/The Devil. When the serpent in the Garden is mentioned, everyone knows the character actually being talked about is “the Devil – the Prince of Darkness, the embodiment of Evil.”
So what is it about what he did in the Garden that equates him with the negative?
A look at his conversation with Eve reveals that he craftily misled, deceived and perverted the truth. He twisted Eve’s perception of reality for his own benefit. And with this single conversation, the course of humanity was drastically changed -- We were expelled from the Garden into “The World.”
In a conversation with God, Eve was told not to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil or she would die.
When the serpent subsequently struck up a conversation with Eve, he was quick to point out to her that what God had told her was simply not true. She would not die. Instead, she would simply have the Knowledge of Good and Evil – just like God himself – and the others in the Garden. And then he added the crowning touch to his twisted temptation: “And don’t you want to be like Him?”
With one little sentence, the serpent introduced Eve to a concept she had only heard of in name but had no understanding as to what it meant: Inadequacy. But what an introduction she received! “You want to be like the others, don’t you? But the others have the knowledge this Tree offers and you don’t. Doesn’t that make you feel like you want to be like them, but you can’t be because you don’t have the secret knowledge?”
And rather than say, “You know, S, God made me the way I am and that’s perfect enough for me” and walking away, Eve took the bait. She bit the hook. She sunk her teeth into the apple. She said, “Yes, I’m not like everyone else and I want to be like everyone else.” She succumbed to the belief that she was not enough in and of herself. She accepted the idea that she needed to be more, and the apple was the way to being more. This means she also accepted the belief that God had erred in making her incomplete. She now believed she needed to be like the others. She needed to be like God, and so it was up to her to add to her knowledge base.
A lot more can be said about this situation, but that discussion will have to wait. Right now, the focus is on the serpent because our goal is to discover the true nature of the Devil and therefore, Evil itself.
We’ve already established that the serpent – Satan – is a deceiver and one who perverts the truth. The question to ask is: Why is he like this? Why did he go after Eve the way he did? What was he to gain from this attack on this otherwise innocent creature of God?
Let’s take a giant step backward and take a “big picture” look at this event, this foundational interaction. In the global sense, what the serpent did was change the game. God had set a course of action into play. He established parameters. There were things to do that were acceptable and then there were things to do that weren’t acceptable. “You may eat of those trees over there, but not of that one in the center. Leave that one alone.”
“Eat here. Don’t eat there.” Such a distinction in the Garden world of Adam and Eve, created a framework of right and wrong before there was the knowledge of Good and Evil. This is an extremely important sequence of events to understand. Upon placing Adam in the Garden, God gave him some very distinct parameters of action. He was to cultivate and tend to it. And he was to freely eat from any tree in the garden save one: The Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil.
In this, we have the introduction of right and wrong. It was right for Adam to eat of all but one of the Garden trees. It was wrong for him to eat the fruit of one particular tree.
It’s significant to point out this tree wasn’t nameless. It was the tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil. So, with this, Adam knew there was something called, “Good & Evil”, but he didn’t know what it meant. He just knew not to mess with it – that the right thing to do would be to listen to God and leave the tree alone. Messing with the tree would be the wrong thing to do because God said not to eat of it.
So there it is – authority to be obeyed and the understanding of Right & Wrong. These concepts were clearly understood by Adam and Eve outside the context of Good & Evil. Though the Garden inhabitants knew about Right & Wrong and Good & Evil, Adam and Eve – didn’t. And for a while that was okay.
But the serpent had a scheme to change all that. He wanted to change the game – he determined that the situation regarding Adam and Eve’s ignorance needed to change. So he employed the most powerful weapon he had. He sowed the seed of inadequacy within Eve. That was his secret weapon. “God has it. Others have it. You don’t. Don’t you want to be like them?” He made her feel incomplete. He tempted her with the idea of being more than God created her to be – to have something beyond that which God had created in her.
As if to reinforce this idea of inadequacy what was the first thing Adam and Eve did after sharing the forbidden fruit? They covered themselves up. They physically added to themselves. They immediately acted upon their inadequacy by addressing it, acting to rectify it by adding coverings to their bodies.
What does this tell us about the Knowledge of Good & Evil? That at its core, Good & Evil is all about self-worth, the sense of adequacy and inadequacy. You are either happy and at peace with how you were created – how you are, or you are unhappy and feel you need external sources to quench the inadequacy.
The concept of Good & Evil has everything to do with the sense of being-ness or simply being. You are, or you need to be more in order to be.