The price of knowing good and evil

In Genesis 2:17 God tells Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Then in Genesis 3:5 the serpent deceived Eve into desiring the fruit of that tree, so she ate from it. Verse 7 states that the eyes of Adam and Eve were immediately opened to know that they were naked. Presumably this realisation of their nakedness is a result of knowing good and evil, so it was an instant impartation of the knowledge.

However, in thinking about this recently I started to wonder if perhaps the sin and evil which resulted from this event are the expected effect: Adam and Eve were already experiencing ‘good’ even if they were unaware of any other state of being. To understand the knowledge of good and evil they would also have to experience evil.

One of the fundamental questions people have regarding belief in God is, “How can a good God allow evil?” The explanation must surely be that evil was demanded by the first humans reaching out to take the knowledge of good and evil. We cannot have such knowledge without knowing both what good is and what evil is.

I assume that theologians have discussed this at great length and explained it far better than my stumbling thoughts, but this is a new idea to me.

The Serpent was cunning

Reading in Genesis chapter 3 yesterday I noticed a couple of things about Satan’s temptation of Eve.

Firstly, it is stated that the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. This implies that the manner in which the temptation occurred was no chance encounter but was most likely well considered and chosen to have maximal impact.

Secondly, the serpent chose to target the person furthest removed from the event he was trying to cast doubt upon. It is Adam who was directly told by God not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Presumably Eve knew of the prohibition because Adam told her (there is no indication in the text that God directly told her Himself).

To me these observations suggest that we Christians in the 21st century are likely to be targeted with similar doubts of the style, “Did God really say…?” We are far removed from eyewitness accounts of Jesus or the Apostles so are prime targets for this type of suggestion.

Examples that come to mind are:
“Is a God of love truly opposed to homosexual men loving each other?”
“Would a loving God actually condemn anyone to hell?”

I also suspect that each of us can think of even more personally relevant doubts which commonly come to mind regarding temptations we find especially powerful. In these situations it may help to remember how cunning that serpent is and that his aim is to separate us from God, not to maximise our pleasure.

Good intentions

Do you consistently do what is right and not do what you shouldn’t? I struggle with this, failing most in the daily things such as patience and kindness to my kids when I’m tired and want to do something else, or laziness and eating junk food when I’m stressed or bored. Why do my good intentions fly out the window when they are most needed?

I find that the words of Mark 14:38 come to mind when I fail to live as I ought, “The heart is willing but the flesh is weak.” However, even this is giving myself too much credit – my heart and flesh are weak!

He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD, the God of Israel.”
(Joshua 24:23 ESV)

I am finding Joshua 24:23 to be good advice. If I want to bend my life to obey God then I need to both incline my heart towards God, and get rid of things in my daily life which turn me away from God. We cannot separate the internal and external actions, what I do affects what I feel and love, and vice versa. Of course, watching and praying help immensely too – though often the temptation to give up on this is what has gotten me into a mess in the first place!

It is a struggle to train ourselves for godliness, but the final outcome is worth more than the riches of the entire world (1 Timothy 4:7-8).

(This is an edited repost from my old blog)

Sin is a horrid, hateful sight

One of John Newton’s Olney hymns:

Sin, when viewed by scripture light,
Is a horrid, hateful sight;
But when seen in Satan’s glass,
Then it wears a pleasing face.

When the gospel trumpet sounds,
When I think how grace abounds,
When I feel sweet peace within,
Then I’d rather die than sin.

When the cross I view by faith,
Sin is madness, poison, death;
Tempt me not, ‘tis all in vain,
Sure I ne’er can yield again.

Satan, for awhile debarred,
When he finds me off my guard,
Puts his glass before my eyes,
Quickly other thoughts arise.

What before excited fears,
Rather pleasing now appears;
If a sin, it seems so small,
Or, perhaps, no sin at all.

Often thus, through sin’s deceit,
Grief, and shame, and loss I meet,
Like a fish, my soul mistook,
Saw the bait, but not the hook.

O my Lord, what shall I say?
How can I presume to pray?
Not a word have I to plead,
Sins, like mine, are black indeed!

Made, by past experience, wise,
Let me learn thy word to prize;
Taught by what I’ve felt before,
Let me Satan’s glass abhor.

By John Newton

Clothing sin in the beautiful garments of righteousness

“It seems to be a fact of life that human beings cannot continue to do wrong without eventually reaching out for some thin rationalization, to clothe an obvious wrong in the beautiful garments of righteousness.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary on 19 April 1961.

Looking back 50 years and across the Pacific ocean it is easy to see slavery in the USA as obviously wrong and the rationalization as very thin indeed. The question we need to face is what are we currently rationalizing and dressing up in pseudo-righteousness that will be seen by others (in other times or places) as obviously wrong?


2 Comments on “Clothing sin in the beautiful garments of righteousness”
(comments rescued from an archive)

Richard Nyhof:

January 31, 2010 at 12:16 am

I think this is one of the great questions to ponder. What is it that people will look back on in 100 years and ask “How could they not see that?” My suspicion is that currently it may be to do with global resource inequities. Although I am heartened by the fact that my children (and their generation) seem to be more aware than my generation were at their age.

Mike McArthur:

January 31, 2010 at 11:22 pm

“Global resource inequalities”… it took me a second read to realise what that means to my simple brain! That is certainly the one that comes to my mind also, that we are in fact filthy rich and have no comprehension of what poverty is and how normal it is.

From a Christian perspective I am currently trying to understand what it means for us to have only minimal opposition when many Christians risk their lives in even converting to faith in Christ. In both these issues, what is a right response – a response that is based on faith in Jesus rather than faith in our own ability to make the world a better place?

The worst thing in the world is…

“We have learned that suffering is not the worst thing in the world – disobedience to God is the worst” A Vietnamese pastor, imprisoned for his faith (from the Voice of the Martyrs Facebook page).

This should not be shocking to me, but it is.

I think the reason is with the word ‘disobedience’ – my idea of the word disobedience is approximately the same as ‘naughty’, a little bit over the line but not too bad. Without really stopping to consider the implications, I consider ‘disobedience’ to be a mild thing, not like idolatry or murder or blasphemy. Which, when you do stop to think about it, is really dumb.

Disobedience is not treated so lightly by the apostle Paul in Romans 5:19, Adam’s sin was disobedience to the express command of God. So too my own disobedience to anything I know is commanded by God is sin. Of course there are false ideas about what might be commanded by God – the odd feeling I get when contemplating speaking about Christ to someone is not God, it is fear. What Jesus does command is not to fear men (Matthew 10:28) and that if I deny Him, he will deny me before the Father (Matthew 10:32-33).

My theology of suffering is purely theoretical, with an underlying assumption that the worst thing in suffering would be to lose my faith in Christ. This quote has me wondering how sound my faith is if I consider disobedience to be a small thing?

I will let Jesus have the last word: whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. John 3:36.