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Lessons from the Garden of Eden10
The Knowledge of Good & Evil: “It’s All In The Name”
What does the name of the tree, Knowledge of Good & Evil, have to tell us about Life in the Garden?
To answer this, we need to look once again at the context – what we already know about Garden Life. We know that all of the inhabitants of the Garden had the Knowledge of Good & Evil so presumably, they had all eaten of it – accept for Adam and Eve. Therefore, we know it was possible to live in the Garden and have the knowledge of Good and Evil. This means, having this knowledge is not a condition of exclusion/expulsion from the Garden.
We also know that Adam and Eve had awareness of the tree. They knew where it was and what it was called and that they were not to eat of it. So this tells us they had, at best, awareness of Good & Evil. They knew there was a tree named “Knowledge of Good & Evil.” They had heard of the concepts. And perhaps, in their state of innocence, that’s as far as it went with them. They were aware of the existence of Good & Evil, but had no interest in knowing anything more about it – especially since they had been told by the Creator not to bother with the tree. “Don’t eat from this one – or you will die.”
So, because of it’s existence and admonition, Adam and Eve had prior awareness of Good & Evil – that they existed and that there was some concept entitled Good & Evil. But that was all. No curiosity to know more. For them, the awareness was sufficient.
Before we go any further, let’s take a look at Good & Evil and how they are presented in the Garden Story. Notice there are not two trees, one called, “Good” the other, “Evil.” There is one tree. And this tree is the Knowledge of Good & Evil. The tree is not a symbol of Good & Evil. It is not the origin of Good & Evil. It is the storehouse, the conduit, to the knowledge concerning these concepts. But, none the less, it is important that in one tree, there is the knowledge of them both. This would indicate that the two concepts are tied together. It seems further appropriate to surmise, since a tree is used to symbolize the knowledge, such knowledge of Good & Evil must indicate an interweaving of the two. As the limbs of different branches intermingle to the point that it is sometimes difficult to delineate if they are limbs of the same or different branches, so, too, it must be for Good & Evil. They are intermingled concepts gaining definition from each other. The tree analogy would also indicate they have common roots. Two sides, one coin. One tree, two branches with intermingling limbs.
The question to consider now then is, what is meant by knowledge? Obviously, it does not mean awareness, since Adam and Eve were aware of the existence of the concepts. Knowledge must refer to a deeper understanding – a working knowledge, knowing the ins and outs. To have knowledge of something, as understood in common vernacular, is to have a full understanding of it so that you have the ability to work with the information with confidence and ability. If you have knowledge of how a car’s engine works, you understand how it runs, you can trouble shoot it and you can fix it – or recommend what to fix. To have knowledge is to have full understanding of the concept. You are able to work with it, manipulate it.
We are told that everyone in the Garden had this knowledge, save Adam and Eve. This means everyone had a working, thorough understanding of Good & Evil and yet, with such knowledge, they were still able to happily continue residing in the Garden. This would seem to indicate, though there was knowledge of Good & Evil, there was no desire to act upon it in a manner that would cause exclusion/expulsion from the Garden.
Let’s come back to that thought and focus now on what is meant by Good & Evil. We know they have a tight inter-relationship. They define each other. They have a symbiotic relationship – common roots.
We also know they are part of Garden life which means they are a part of Creation and what do we know about Creation? God said, “It was good.”
This endorsement from God is not only a billboard announcement as to the nature of Creation, it is also a very important clue to the exact meaning of the concepts of Good & Evil.
Of the two terms, the only one that is used in the Garden Story outside of its reference to the Tree, is Good. The Good of Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil and the Good of “And God said it was Good,” are translated as the same term. This is key to grasp. This is key to understanding what “good” really means.
Repeatedly in the Creation narrative, good is used to describe what has been created. And then, when man and woman are created, this event is seen as “very good.” So, good refers to Creation. It is the descriptor of Creation. In a very real sense, it can be said “good” validates Creation. Creation is good, it is as it was intended to be. It’s as though God says – I planned it, I built it and it all came together as intended. Good, therefore, can be said to mean – as intended. Creation is exactly as I wanted it to be, as I intended it to be and that makes it GOOD.
Good means, “As intended.”
With this being the case and with the interrelationship we know that exists between it and Evil, it can be understood that Evil exists in contrast to Good and since good means as intended, then Evil must mean, as not intended.
Remember, Good & Evil are of the same tree with the same roots. That tells us they must both be rooted in Creation and we can only fully understand them in light of their common root, their shared heritage. With that root being Creation, Good must mean “as intended” and Evil must mean the opposite or “as not intended.”
This meaning of Evil implies, therefore, that Creation can be manipulated. It can be used as intended or it can be used as not intended.
This would indicate, then, that Good & Evil are matters of intention.
Understanding Good & Evil in this manner makes it possible for the “other” Garden dwellers to have the Knowledge of Good & Evil and remain living happily in the Garden -- because they chose not to act on their knowledge in a manner that meant working with Creation “as not intended.”
They were fully aware of the contrast between the two and what it meant. And they chose to live and act “as intended.”
And what does that mean exactly? That they all chose to view creation as Good. Their perception was that everything in the Garden, in Creation – themselves included – was as intended. It was all Good.
Fast forward to the “Fall.” Satan tempts Eve -- “Yeah, God said if you eat you will die, but you won’t. Look at us. We’re all good. Go for it and you’ll be just like us!”
The seed He planted with Eve was that she, as created, was not quite up to par with the others. We all have the knowledge of Good & Evil and you don’t.
Boom! He gets her to doubt her inherent Goodness. He makes her feel second rate, inadequate.
It is important to note here not what happened next, but what didn’t happen. Eve could have turned to the Serpent/Satan and said -- “You know, S, you’re right. The others have the knowledge and I don’t. But you know what? That’s ok. I’m good the way I am. God made me this way and that’s ok.
She could have said that, but she didn’t. She ate of the tree. And then so did Adam.
It is also important to point out, once they had the knowledge of Good & Evil -- had gained a full working understanding of the two concepts -- they, again, had a choice. They could have said, “Whoa! What heavy-duty concepts! These are really profound. I get it. We get it. But you know, we’re still good. We’re still Creatures of God. We’re going with we’re okay as we are!”
The Serpent’s plan would have been foiled.
But they didn’t respond that way. They looked at each other, saw they were naked, became ashamed.
What a powerful word. They – who were created by God and announced as “very good” -- took it upon themselves to completely reevaluate that assessment. In fact, they decided to take the exact opposite view of themselves, that they were shameful. And what did they do then? They covered themselves. They put on clothing. They added to God’s creation to make it more acceptable. They felt they were inadequate in their created state and therefore had to add to what God created. As intended was no longer good enough. They chose to accept, as their perception of reality, that creation had to be improved – that it had to be made “as not intended” in order to be acceptable to their new perception.
Adam and Eve made a choice. As intended or as not intended? They went with “as not intended.” For them, they weren’t good enough as they were. They were inadequate and needed to be better.
And what was God’s response? He made them proper clothes and then told them they had to leave. What is truly amazing about this, is this move was not one of anger. It was one of protection. Why did He usher Adam and Eve out of the Garden? So that, given the choice they had made, they would not be further tempted to eat of the tree of eternal life. God ushered them out of the Garden so the choice they made was limited, contained.
The good news in this? Our common bond of inadequacy – our common choice to not accept ourselves as created – is limited to this temporal existence. There are limits. We made a choice, but fortunately, it is one we don’t have to live with forever….