The Original Sin: Knowledge of Good and Evil

I’m returning to the long-on-hold Genesis series because of an extremely good sermon at The Meeting House this past week. I’ve embedded it below and then have a bunch of my own follow-up thoughts afterward.

The Sin

The fascinating thing about Genesis 3 which most don’t realize is that the original sin is said to be eating of The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. It is interesting that Evil is in and of itself not the problem. The problem is Knowledge of Good and Evil. In other words, the problem is when we start playing God by deciding for ourselves what is right and wrong. We step into the position of God and judge ourselves and others. God had made us in his image including caring for creation, creating others in our own image, and more but the one responsibility that was never supposed to be ours was judgement. There was truth to the serpent’s claim: we became like God in having this decision-making ability, except that unlike God we aren’t wholly holy love and so we settle for judgement while he offers grace.

The Separation

Separation by Abstract Divine Justice Requirements?

Much Western theology, influenced more by Plato than by Scripture, frames what happens next in this way: God, being a perfect holy being, cannot handle our sin, and thus is forced into a separation from us. Eventually he comes up with the solution of sending Jesus to bridge the gap. There are lots of other problems with this theory (how did Jesus come and become sin for us if he’s part of the afraid-of-sin God? how did God communicate with all kinds of other broken people throughout the Old Testament? etc). For now I’m simply going to stick to the fact that it doesn’t line up with the text. By this theology, the text should then explain how God saw them commit the sin from a comfortable distance, promptly kicked them out of the garden from a comfortable distance, and never spoke to them again. But the text doesn’t line up with the Platonic assumptions.

Separation by Shame

What actually separated God from Adam and Eve, according to the text, is shame. Before eating of this tree, Adam and Eve were naked and walked in the Garden with God. As soon as they had eaten of it, they were ashamed, clothed themselves, and hid. God didn’t banish them from his presence; Adam and Eve banished themselves from his presence. They essentially said, “oh no! we’ve got all these things wrong about us! God can’t possibly love us! We better hide!” Adam and Eve hid themselves and God actively went looking for them even though they had sinned. He wasn’t afraid of their sin like the Platonic god. He wasn’t bound by some abstract definition of justice which dictated that he must be distinct from them. The story even repeats only a generation later with Cain, who exiles himself from God’s presence after committing murder. To say it one more time: it isn’t God who causes separation because our sin.

Separation by Pride

Of course, shame is not the only way that we play God with our knowledge of good and evil. There’s also the flip-side, the side which is more often discussed in Western theology: pride. I suspect next week’s sermon will get into this at least a little bit as the topic is how we compensate for our brokenness through religion. A large part of religion, unfortunately, has been to point out how our group is better than everybody else because of a certain theology, or a certain ritual, or a certain ethical standard. The root is the exact same – thinking that we are God and deciding we have the right to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil – but this time instead of judging ourselves to be miserable sinners in the hands of an angry God, we deem ourselves perfectly fine unlike those other people. This separates us from God just as much as shame because we are still refusing to enter into a relationship with God that does fundamentally require admitting your weaknesses. Imagine a marriage like this where one person insists that they don’t ever need anything from the other person but just thinks that they have a right to stay married because they are so perfect. That marriage is not going to be a good one.

The Solution

The solution of course is Jesus. As with Bruxy in the sermon above, I’m not going to get into a detailed theology of how Jesus empowers us to surrender our addiction to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. But it is right there in the earliest Jesus prophecy of the Old Testament when God tells Eve that one of her descendants will crush the serpent’s head even though to do it he must suffer. Whatever the details of how Jesus does that, we know that we can and should stop being judgemental of ourselves and others. God, who actually is perfect, still chases after us in our sin, demonstrating that grace always beats judgement if we let it. Don’t allow yourself to settle for judgement like Adam and Eve did.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.