Knowing good and evil

Arom = naked, transparent

At the end of Genesis 2, we are told that the man and woman were naked and felt no shame.
The root of the Hebrew word used here is “arom”, meaning naked, open to full view.
This is how God created them – to have such perfect unity and love for each other that there was no reason to hide anything from one another or from God. They were totally exposed to God – nothing was hidden and there was no reason to feel ashamed.
They were transparent to God’s view.

The only thing God saw in them was His clear image, as the governors over creation and a loving community at peace with one another. The only thing they saw in each other was the clear image of God, their loving creator, who formed them to live in communion with Him and with each other. This is the peace, the wholeness, the shalom, that God created; where we can be fully human, fully loved and fully united with one another, with God and with His creation – perfect harmony that echoes the praise of its creator.
This is how life and human relationships were meant to be. It’s God’s intention for His creation. And it’s how the creation stories conclude at the end of Genesis 2.

Arum = crafty, wise

But then we have an intruder. The serpent.
Now we don’t know much about the serpent, really. We don’t know where he came from, or even why he said what he did. The story describes him as being “more crafty (Heb root = arum) than any of the wild animals”, so the implication is that he is simply one of the wild animals in the garden.
This word “arum” is not used often in the Bible, it appears several times only in Job and Proverbs. In Job it is also translated as “crafty” and in Proverbs it is translated as “prudent”. So it’s an interesting word that doesn’t really have any negative overtones – if anything, it seems to be an admirable quality.
There is little reference to the serpent in the Bible after Genesis 3, either.
He has a cameo appearance in Isaiah 65, and then it’s only in Revelation 12 that we hear about his final fate.

But the serpent is not really the focus of the story. The focus is on his cunning, his arum, and our response to his cunning.

Now the snake comes to the woman and asks: “Did God really say “You must not eat from any tree in the garden”?”
We see that he has exaggerated God’s command to make it become totally unreasonable, so that the woman has to say, in a sense “No, that’s not right”
The woman says: “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.”

Now let’s just look for a minute at what she knows about the situation. According to the story in Genesis 2, God hadn’t spoken directly to her.
God had spoken to Adam while she was still a rib in his side. The command was given to Adam, but he in turn had passed it on to his wife. (Now at this stage, she is called “the woman” – ishah – she does not get a separate identity as Eve until after they receive God’s curse. That is why the Bible attributes the sin to Adam – because there was no difference between them at that stage. What Adam does, the woman does, and what the woman does, Adam does.)
So there may be a little ambiguity in the woman’s mind.

She told the serpent that they weren’t even allowed to touch the tree, but that’s not what God said.
It seems obvious that she had never really thought much about what she was or wasn’t allowed to do in relation to that tree. She just avoided it, because she knew she wasn’t supposed to have anything to do with it.
But now if the first statement about the tree wasn’t right, then maybe the second statement isn’t right either. Doubt begins to creep in.

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
So now comes the crunch. Does she believe the snake and try the fruit, or does she pass up the opportunity? Deal or no deal? Now she is challenged with the tree and its fruit. And so she looks at it again, in a different way to how she has looked at it before.

Now back in Genesis 2, we are told that when God planted this garden He “made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground–trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” And so this is the first thing that the woman notices. Like all the other trees, this tree also is pleasing to the eye and good for food. So why not try some?

The next thing that the woman sees is that it is desirable for gaining wisdom. Now the snake has told her that when she eats of the fruit, her eyes will be opened and she will be like God, knowing good and evil. But what she sees is more than just knowing good and evil. She sees that the fruit is good for gaining wisdom.
Now the Hebrew word used for “wisdom” is also often translated as “success” or “prosperity”. So she’s been hooked on the prosperity gospel. Eat this fruit and you’ll have wisdom, prosperity and the good life that God Himself enjoys. The key to being like God, the woman believes, is being able to know both good and evil.
Now that raises another question. What did she know before she knew good and evil? Did she only know good? In a sense, yes, she only knew good. But it was not good as defined by being the opposite of evil. It was good only as the normal state of affairs when you’re being provided for by a gracious and loving God. White is still white without black, but if you only know white, then you don’t perceive it as being lighter than black. It’s just – what there is. It takes on an entirely different dimension when black is introduced into the scene. There are suddenly a whole host of other ways to define white, using black as a comparison.

So what is happening is the woman who has only known the full and gracious provision of God, is now taking on the responsibility of working out what is good or evil for her.
Previously God has decided this.
God pronounced His creation good, and He decided it was not good for Adam to be alone. God made the decisions, and Adam and his wife enjoyed the benefits of God’s provision for them. There was total trust in God to make decisions which were the best decisions for them.
After all, He was their creator and their friend. He walked and talked with them and encouraged them as they managed the garden he had provided for them.

Erom = naked, exposed, vulnerable

But now all this has changed. The woman has decided that she wants to be able to choose for herself what’s good for her. And the result is that, after Adam has also eaten, the first thing they know is their shame – and they realise they are naked.

They have moved from arom – the nakedness of being transparent to God, in full and intimate relationship with their maker, through the arum, the craftiness, of the serpent – to erom, the nakedness of knowing their weakness and vulnerability to God and to each other.

Whereas before they were one with God, and with each other, now with this new wisdom, they see that they are different from God and different from each other.
And they have allowed the creature who they were to rule over, the snake, to deceive them and to rule over them instead.
So now, being naked, being fully known by God no longer brings comfort and security, but it brings guilt and shame, because they have set themselves up as rivals to God – judges who also know good and evil.
But as judges, Adam and his wife can only fail.

To be able to judge like God means that you need to be able to know everything like God does. But as created beings they can never judge correctly between good and evil. And so they continue to make only bad choices, and their children likewise after them. In fact from that moment onwards, we find a constant refrain in the bible that people are making the wrong choices.
In Genesis 6 we read: The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.”
The whole history of Israel is a sad litany of people making bad choices. Even Paul in Romans adds into the chorus “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. … For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.”

So this desire to be able to know good and evil produces a systemic evil that pervades all of humanity after this point. Once humans opted for free will, the outcome was only ever a decision to do evil, as Paul tells us. Now why is this? Why does this knowledge of good and evil have such devastating effects?
Well put simply, we are unable to judge properly between good and evil because our minds are finite. We can never know all of the details and circumstances of a matter to know what is good or evil. Such knowledge only belongs to God. He is the only one who can deal with that sort of information correctly. When we take that responsibility upon ourselves, we usurp God’s position.
We make ourselves like God, but we also make a very bad job of being like God.

When God sent Adam and his wife out of the Garden, He said “the man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” In God’s eyes, Adam had become a rival, but one who could never succeed, and so he barred the way to the tree of life, so that Adam would not remain in that state forever.

But then God set about repairing the damage done by this act of rebellion. From that time onwards, God set about working in people’s hearts and lives to turn them away from independence and towards reliance upon Him for everything. God was intent on moving people back from the nakedness of shame to the nakedness of transparency, being fully loved and known by God and relying on Him for everything in life.
God’s people, wherever they were, or at whatever stage of history they were at, had to learn to stop trying to judge between good and evil for themselves, and rely on God alone to make those judgements, accepting that judgement humbly into their lives, whatever that meant.
And often this meant hardship, pain and suffering for God’s people – but God called these things good because He had bigger purposes in mind.

A great example of this is in Joseph’s life. Joseph had been thrown into a pit, sold as a slave, falsely accused, thrown into prison and forgotten by someone who he had helped, all of which things you might say are evil, yet God called them good, because He was able to put Joseph in a position of power to help his people.
But we still have the natural inclination to judge between good and evil, we still want to be able to decide for ourselves what’s good for us and what’s good for other people. And we see this in four main ways:

  1. We judge ourselves as good or evil according to our standards. Now when we do this, we fall into one of two traps. The first is that we set our standards so low that we judge ourselves as being good enough for God, when the reality is just the opposite. We say things like – “I’m not a bad person, I abide by the law and look out for people in need. Why shouldn’t God accept me?” The other trap is to set the standard so high that we become discouraged and despair of ever finding acceptance by God. When we do this, we effectively exclude ourselves from God’s presence and see his grace and kindness as being for other people, and not for us.
  2. We judge our neighbours as good or evil according to our standards. This follows on from the previous. Not only do we judge ourselves according to our own standards, but we judge others by a standard that may be similar or different to the one we use on ourselves. And so there are some people who we treat favourably because they match the sort of things that we think are good, and others who we reject because they can’t live up to our expectations. This sort of thing happens frequently in society, in our workplaces, our schools, our churches, our families and in our marriages. How often do great chasms appear between individuals and groups because one individual or group did not meet the standards of the other? Human judgement has been proven over the years to be faulty, partial and cruel, especially where persecution and oppression are inflicted on the person or people being singled out. People and families have been destroyed by this, war and genocide have been justified on this basis. This is always the outcome when we eat the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. We simply were not meant to have that knowledge, let alone inflict it on others.
  3. We judge our circumstances as good or evil according to our standards. Now this is a bit more subtle, and it becomes obvious when we find ourselves at either end of our comfort zone, either very relaxed and comfortable, or in a situation of great need and discomfort. Again, we have two possibilities. Firstly, we may judge our success and comfort as a result of our own effort, and live our lives rewarding ourselves for our efforts. Now in this situation, we have no need for God. We have achieved, and so we are rewarded. The other possibility is that we end up on the other end of the stick. Life has not gone well for us, or we have made some stupid mistakes which are now costing us dearly. So we judge ourselves as either failures or victims, and the rest of the world is to blame for our situation. This causes depression, despair, divisions and it alienates us even further from people around us. In this situation we need God to destroy the people responsible for our failure, and when he doesn’t we sulk into depression and or hatred.
  4. We judge God as good or evil according to our standards. This last aspect is the most subtle and hardest to appreciate. We find this happening when life doesn’t go the way we think it should. God, I prayed for you to heal my child and you didn’t. God, why did my friend have to be on the road when that drunk drove round the corner? God, why did I get fired for only telling the truth? God, I asked you to bless our marriage, but now she’s walked away from me. These questions normally have to do with suffering and unjust situations. These are the sort of questions that Job was asking. In Job’s eyes, there was no reason for his suffering, and the only conclusion he could come to was that God was evil. At one stage during his ordeal he says: JOB 16:9 “God assails me and tears me in his anger and gnashes his teeth at me; … God has turned me over to evil men and thrown me into the clutches of the wicked. All was well with me, but he shattered me; he seized me by the neck and crushed me. He has made me his target; … yet my hands have been free of violence and my prayer is pure.” Thankfully at the end of this story, Job appreciates that he is not capable of ever understanding God’s ways, but simply accepts that God loves him and will restore him in good time.

We can never have the understanding of the universe that God has, so we need to give up our desire to judge good and evil, and humbly accept the decisions that God makes for us. What He decrees as good will be good for us, and sometimes the details of how that works are just too huge, too immense, for us to understand. When Adam and his wife took the fruit, they took on the role of God, knowing good and evil. But that knowledge was only ever faulty at best, and in trying to take on that knowledge, they set themselves up in the place of God. God is no longer required when we are the final judge of all matters in the universe. The only problem we have is that God won’t go away and we all have to deal with Him some day.

Now we have spent a while looking at the first Adam’s temptation and sin, so maybe we should close by looking at the second Adam’s response to temptation by the evil one.

Paul describes Jesus as being the second Adam, the new Son of God who was also tempted but did not fail like the first Adam. When we read Matthew’s account, we find Jesus being baptised by John, and then taken into the wilderness to be tempted. The very last words Jesus has heard at his baptism are those of His Father “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” Now Satan uses these words from God as the basis for his temptation. “If you are the Son of God”. Like in the garden, Satan begins by questioning what God has said. “If you are the Son of God, … turn these stones into bread.” But Jesus refuses to make a judgement on what is good or evil for him.
He simply replies that man does live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from God. In other words, he is not making a decision on whether it would be good for him to create some food to eat, but rather trusting His father alone to provide whatever it is that he really needs.
So then Satan tries a different tack, but based on the same method. He takes him to the highest point of the temple and says “If you are the son of God, cast yourself down” because it says in the Psalms that God won’t let anything harm you, but will send His angels to guard you.” So Satan adds two elements of agreement before the crunch decision. “If you are the son of God” – yes, Jesus is. Since you live by every word from God’s mouth, then it must be true “that He will send his angels to guard you” – yes, that’s what is written. So then, throw yourself down.

But once again Jesus refuses to enter into judgement. He replies with “you shall not put your God to the test.” Jesus’ dependence upon the Father is complete. He doesn’t need to question what is good or evil for himself. Finally, Satan tries another angle. “If you really are God’s chosen one, then you are destined to rule over all of the world. So if you bow down and worship me now, your destiny can be complete right now. I will give you power over everything you see.” But again, Jesus turns back to his complete reliance upon His father. “You must worship the Lord and serve Him only”. Unlike the woman in the garden, there is no hint that Jesus entertains any of the possibility suggested by Satan. His dependence upon His Father is total and complete. There is no hint that Jesus tries to decide what might be good or evil for Himself, but has left that decision totally in the hands of His Father. We see this utter dependence upon God constantly throughout Jesus’ life, culminating in that prayer in Gethsemane “”My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” There is no doubt that the cruel death by crucifixion would be considered evil by anyone, but Jesus does not make that judgement. He leaves the decision in the hands of His father to decide what is good or evil for Him.

And God’s judgement was vindicated when Jesus rose from the dead and finally defeated sin and began the process of reversing the effects of sin; remaking the world so that once again, humanity could walk before God without shame.
The desire to be able to judge between good and evil is at the heart of so much trouble and strife in our lives and in the world.
It seems the most natural thing in the world for us to do, yet it has such terrible consequences.
To live by faith, trusting only in God, can be an incredibly difficult task. And yet it’s what God’s Spirit, living within us, is teaching us to do more and more each day.

We can’t love God fully, if we are trying to tell Him what he should or shouldn’t do. We can’t endure suffering and pain if we think that God is punishing us for sin or being unfair towards us. We can’t accept our friends and neighbours as equals if we keep a scorecard against them. We can’t appreciate the gift of grace and forgiveness in our own life if we keep our own personal scorecard on how well we’re doing in God’s sight.
Only if we give up our life can find it. Only if we abandon our self-righteousness, can we accept God’s gift of righteousness in Jesus. God wants us to return to him so that our relationship with Him can be restored. Jesus has paid the price of our rebellion and destroyed the power of sin that had threatened to ruin the whole world. God wants us to trust Him, to give up our rebellion, to let Him be God and to accept His rule over us as He intended in the beginning. So that we can find peace and wholeness once again; so that we can love and be loved unconditionally once again; so that we can be truly human once again.

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