Last week our discussion took us through Genesis 2:8 wherein the Lord God placed the clay-person in the Garden in Eden. For this week, we will continue our discussion of the Garden and may enter into a discussion of the differentiation of male and female. Please read Genesis 2:4-24.
The Garden is known for its trees. No other plants are mentioned. The trees are pleasant to the sight and good for food. From the beginning, we are told that we eat with our eyes first. Unlike most other foods, the consumption of fruit does not require the death of any other living thing. Meats and roots require that another life dies for our benefit. When we eat other living things for our sustenance, there is a violence and estrangement that enters into our relationship with the rest of creation. Here, in the Garden and in the first person’s food source, this violence and estrangement are absent. (As an aside, maybe the only religion that still seeks to uphold this Edenic relationship with food are the Jains.) It is our return to this state of perfect harmony our food sources that animates Isaiah’s understanding of the world-to-come where the lion and the lamb lie down together. Isa. 11:6-9, 65:25
In addition to the regular fruit trees, there are also two other trees in the Garden: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. These trees will drive the rest of the story.
Tree of Life:
The Tree of Life presupposes that the clay-person who was formed and animated by the Lord God is not immortal. He, as are we, is created of perishable material and thus is naturally destined to perish. Gen. 3:19. On the other hand, however, from the beginning, he and we have within our grasp the gift of immortality. God does not prohibit eating from this tree, but it is this Tree that causes God to close off the Garden to Adam and his descendants after the Fall. Gen: 3:22-24.
In the Tree of Life, we should also see Christ. Proverbs says that wisdom “is the tree of life to those who lay hold of her,” and that it is through this same wisdom that earth was founded the heavens established. Prov. 3:18-19. The New Testament will see Wisdom as described in Proverbs as Christ himself. John 1:1-4, Col. 1:16. A good meditation on the Garden is to think through the different ways in which Christ is the Tree of Life in the Genesis story.
Tree of Knowledge:
The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil may be the most enigmatic part of the story. This tree is also planted in the middle of the Garden, and yet the Lord God tells his created person, not to eat of its fruit. The punishment of which is death! Why would God not want his creation to have the knowledge of good and evil?
At first glance, we always see knowledge as a good thing and something to be desired. However, knowledge by itself is not always desirable. First, knowledge is participation. When we know something, it becomes part of us and changes us. We simply cannot unsee or unknow certain things once they are known. Simply having knowledge of the acts of a given person or of an event can leave the knower broken and burdened. As the Preacher says: “The more you know, the more you hurt; the more you understand, the more you suffer.” Eccl. 1:18.
Specific to the clay-person in the Genesis story, the knowledge he receives is that he will die. He exists in perfect harmony with God and with his surroundings. The fruit of the tree will give him the knowledge that he is made from the ground and will return to the ground. And whatever goodness and meaning that he has in his life, will die with him. From the ancient observations of Ecclesiastes to modern philosophers like Camus, we know on the one hand that wisdom and meaning exist, but we also know that we are all going to die and be forgotten, and nothing we have done will have any permanence. Knowledge creates the existential crisis.
Knowledge can also lead to evil results. Most of you know that the Nobel Prize was set-up by Alfred Nobel – the Swedish scientist who invented dynamite. His invention would facilitate mining, transportation, construction, and all sorts of other areas. An erroneous obituary, however, said that “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.” In the same way, humanity knows how to split an atom, and as a result, we continue to live on the precipice of annihilation. Knowledge without wisdom, understanding, and experience is not good.
Think about how knowledge, particularly obtained at the wrong time in human development or for the wrong reasons can be evil. One of the reasons why God would prohibit eating from this tree is that his creation was just not ready for this knowledge yet. Knowledge can only be imparted when the person is ready – by maturity, skill, or even spiritual development. As Yoda says to Luke: “Only a fully trained Jedi Knight with the Force as his ally will conquer Vader and his Emperor. If you end your training now, if you choose the quick and easy path, as Vader did, you will become an agent of evil.”
Think through your own life, where you yourself are not ready to partake of certain knowledge. When does God’s injunction about eating of this fruit apply to you? What are the result of knowing things you are not ready to or simply should not know?
Knowledge and God:
Knowledge can also lead us away from God. Paul writes that “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.” 1 Cor. 8:1-2. Knowledge breeds conceit, arrogance, and selfishness. With God, most of us are still two-year-olds who believe that we can do it by ourselves. With knowledge, we come to believe that we do not need God.
One of the great works of English mystic tradition is the anonymous 14th-century book The Cloud of the Unknowing. The general theme of the book is that the only way to truly know God is to abandon all knowledge of God and consideration of God’s activities and attributes. According to the writer: when asked “How am I do think of God” the proper response is “I do not know.” (Ch.6 ) Or as St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-395) writes: “every concept formed by our understanding which attempts to attain and to hem in the divine nature serves only to make an idol of God . . . . concepts (knowledge) creates idol, only wonder grasps anything.” Knowing about God is not the same as knowing God. The fruit of the tree allows us to know about God, but interferes with our knowing God.
Knowledge also deadens our understanding of reality. Going back to Plato and Aristotle, there is a tension in between whether reality can be reduced to simply our physical existence (nominalism) or whether there is a reality beyond the physical (Realism). Ultimate meaning and an ultimate reality encompassing an undivided spiritual, moral, and physical reality is simply beyond human knowledge. But knowledge gives us the hubris to say that our knowledge is the final arbiter of any meaning and reality and because the ultimate meaning and ultimate reality is not reducible to human knowledge, then it either does not objectively exist.
Children, before obtaining human knowledge, do not have a problem is seeing Reality. In his book Orthodoxy, C.K. Chesterton points out that the most real true stories he’s ever read are fairy tales. He writes that children know that dragons exist, fairy tales tell them that dragons can be defeated. (This is why his literary descendants of Lewis and Tolkein wrote their theology in fairy tales.) Children have this wonderful understanding of reality where everything is animated and the spiritual and transcendent is ever-present. This is why Jesus says that we must become like a child in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Matt. 18:2-4.
We cannot un-eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The remainder of Scripture will wrestle with how to undo this consumption and will look forward to the one who can lead us back into the Garden.
Dinner is at 6:30. The menu is Shepherd’s Pie. Discussion about 7:15. Compline around 8:30.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.Proverbs 1:7