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Knowledge of Good and Evil

Christian, tell me why was it so bad for Adam and Eve to eat a piece of fruit? It hardly seems to warrant getting kicked out and sentenced to death!

Because…The issue wasn’t the fruit. It was the disobedience, rebelling against God’s boundaries.

The Scripture History

The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

Genesis 2:16-17

The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.

Genesis 3:4-6

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.
They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

Genesis 3:7-8

Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us 1, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.

Genesis 3:22-24

My Paraphrase

God gave His people literally the entire world to use, enjoy and manage. He made one single exception, one point at which they would have to decide between what they wanted and what He said was best for them. They already knew Him well, talked with Him every day, knew that He was God and that He loved them. They should have trusted and loved Him back enough to obey on this one small point.

They failed.

Given the thought that they could “be like God” and the possibility that they had misunderstood (or worse, that He had lied) when He said that disobedience would mean death, they chose their own wishes over His authority. 2

The Failed Test

The forbidden fruit was a test: Would Adam and Eve defer to God’s authority when it conflicted with their own desires? It could as easily have been the “Rock of the Knowledge of Good and Evil”: “Use any rock in the garden for any purpose you want; just don’t touch that one”. Given the same kind of deception by Satan, giving rise to the same temptation to disobey God, I’m pretty sure that they would have touched it 3.

Their disobedience drove a wedge into the relationship between them (and all of their descendants, including us) and God. They had proven that their trust in Him would not stand up to temptation. As their children, we (as least I) continue to demonstrate a preference for stubborn independence over trusting reliance on a loving Father.

The Knowledge

Adam and Eve now knew both Good and Evil from first-hand experience. What had they learned? Was it worth it?

A parent can say “Don’t touch the hot stove”. The child disobeys because it’s pretty and red and shiny, and that is more important to them at the moment than obeying Mommy and Daddy. And, so, the child learns “That hurts!”.

Did they really have to have first-hand experience to know that? They certainly have gained new knowledge. But wouldn’t trust and obedience have served them better?

We can sometimes learn more by contrast than by instruction or reasoning. Have you ever been on one of those cave tours where you get deep underground and then they turn out all of the lights? What better way to appreciate “light” than to experience complete darkness! Adam and Eve had known nothing but “Good”. When they heard “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil”, did they even understand what the word “Evil” meant? Then they experienced it: The lights went out, and they learned that Evil hurts.

Did they really have to have first-hand experience to know that? They certainly did gain new knowledge. But wouldn’t trust and obedience have served them better?

The Consequences

All three entities involved in the sin were adversely affected.

  • The serpent was to crawl on its belly, and eventually he (Satan) would be crushed by the woman’s descendant (Genesis 3:14-15).
  • The woman was to suffer pain in childbirth, and an uneasy relationship with her husband (Genesis 3:16).
  • The man was to struggle for his livelihood, and return to the dust from which he came (Genesis 3:17-19).

I find it interesting that the primary reason Adam and Eve were barred from the garden afterward was to keep them away from the Tree of Life. Without it, their physical death would eventually follow the spiritual death, separation from God, that had just happened.

Why did God do that? Was it jealousy, as Satan had suggested? Did God not want anyone else equal to Him? Ummm…No, that’s not it. Even if they physically lived forever, humans would forever still be the creatures and God would forever still be their Creator. They would never be anything resembling competition to Him.

However, the rest of their life, no matter how long or short, would be spent living with the consequences of their sin. There would always be the memory of what they had lost, and the mechanics of life would be difficult instead of joyous. Would an eternity of that be a blessing, or a curse? Release through death was a sign of God’s mercy rather than His vengeance.

Also, that lifetime would be spent growing ever more distant from God. The resulting evil would have nothing to stop it. Our world is sick enough as it is. What would it be like if there were no limit to the impact of each individual’s sin?

As I was researching for this article, wondering about this topic, I found another explanation that rings true to me. God already had a plan to fix the problem and restore the relationship. However, it required Jesus’ physical death (and then resurrection) to pay the full price for sin and provide a route for reconciliation (Romans 5:19). If human physical death were not a reality, then redemption would not be possible. The world would be stuck in sin with no way for Jesus to rescue us. That is a terrifying thought!

The Hope

If the story had ended there…well…I can’t imagine anything bad enough to decide how to end that sentence. But it did not end there. The “seed”, or offspring, of the woman from Genesis 3:15 has come as promised; Jesus has crushed Satan; eternal life with God, starting now but continuing after physical death, is waiting for anyone who accepts His offer. God eagerly wants to restore us to a time of all “Good” and no “Evil” (Revelation 22:1-5). I’m looking forward to it!

Footnotes and Scripture References

  1. a reference to the Trinity
  2. To be fair, the Bible makes it clear that Eve was deceived. Remember, no one had ever lied to her before, so she had none of the automatic skepticism that we have developed. Still, if something contradicted God’s instructions, she should have gone to Him for clarification rather than disobeying. Adam had even less excuse, since he was the one who heard the instructions directly before passing them on to Eve.
  3. I can just see the conversation: “Did God really say not to touch that rock? What’s so special about it?” “Yes, we can use all the other rocks, but we’ll die if we use that one.” “No, you won’t die. You’ll just know more, the way God does. Besides, isn’t it pretty? It would make a fine cornerstone for the new gate into the azalea garden, wouldn’t it?”

Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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