Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Insight Into the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

While sitting down at a Tokyo cafe, I was reflecting on theology and philosophy. I've never written on spiritual texts, but I thought I should on this one.

I grew up in Sunday school. I must have heard the story of the fall of Adam and Eve from multiple narratives: Christian, Jewish, literary, and philosophical. I must have heard a number of pastors explicating the story, but today, because of what I've gone through, I think I have an insight into the story. (Now, if you think this is preaching, I don't want to offend your values - don't read further. I have a lot of atheist readers, but even if you are atheist, there are practical applications of my criticism of it.)

According to Genesis Chapter 2, God commanded Adam and Eve to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It was the only tree they were not supposed to eat from, but every other fruit from another tree was edible. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was planted in the center of the garden, and the Scriptures give us one subtle but profound insight: so was the Tree of Life.

One day, Eve, being alone, talked with a serpent, who said that she should eat from the fruit because God had not actually told him it was forbidden. He convinced her that if she ate from it, she would not actually die and that in fact her eyes would be open and she would be like God. She saw that fruit was beautiful and looked delicious; so she bit and ate. Then, she gave some to her husband. He bit and ate.

Then, they realized they were naked and felt ashamed. They covered their nakedness. God caught the two. Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the serpent.

God punished them accordingly. Women would have pain from childbirth. Men would have to work against a hostile earth to survive. The serpent would be a despised animal and have to slither on the ground for the rest of their lives, living forever in animosity with humans. All of them were condemned to die and return back to dust and dirt.

God banished them from the garden. He ordered an angel to block humans from the access to the Tree of Life. That's the fall of man in a nutshell, with many missing details. (If you want the entire account, read Genesis 2-3).

It was over breakfast that I realized that although the path to the Tree of Life is now gone and that we've been expelled physically from the Garden, the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil still exist in our spiritual lives. The world we live in and the people that are in it, is the Garden of Eden. And in that world or garden, we're given full permission to do good and have pleasure. (After all the word Eden means delight or pleasure in Hebrew). But at the center of the garden, once again, is still the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

And where is that center? It's the heart of course. And guess what, the heart tempts us with the same three temptations Eve was tempted with: 1) Don't you want to be God in your life? 2) Did God really say that? Let's test him, instead of trust him. 3) Aren't there better things out there to be God in your life? No wonder the serpent showed her how beautiful and pleasing the fruit was. Instead of spiritual peace, won't money, power, and lust fill those needs instead.

So - what's the point you ask? The paradise lost story replays in our lives the same way. At the moment, one chooses to fall into one of the temptations, it is pleasurable in that moment, until one is caught. Then, the guilt and shame results, and our relationships whither and die - just like death was introduced into the garden. At some point, the temptation or addiction grows out of control, hijacks that person's life, and ousts that person out of the lives of others - just like Adam and Eve get banished from the garden.

This example is most often seen in a drug addict, who starts off by telling himself that he's not hurting anyone but himself. Like Eve, he's bit into the fruit and ate. At some point, after burning all his relationships, his life becomes unmanageable. He gets banished from the social world he once lived in, with a long hard and almost impossible path to travel to get it back. Remember, it all begins, once again at the center of that person's life - the heart.

The analysis reminds me of what my older sister at church told me once, 11 years ago. I told her a story of how I failed as a youth because I took a shortcut I shouldn't have taken. And she said to me, "Paul, you know, that temptation to do wrong is always there in our lives. It always presents itself as the easiest and best choice." 11 years later, I can say what she said is true - in my work, in my relationships, and in my journey to run the race of life.

So - is there any hope in this story? Of course. The most amazing insight I had, was that I saw what true love is supposed to be. Even though the Tree of Knowledge lives in our heart, our rejection of it (and the suffering resulting from doing so), to do the right thing for those we care about, is what love really is. Without overcoming the temptations in ourselves, denying us ourselves, for the sake of the welfare of God and others is the proof of love.

Perhaps, the reason that the path to the Tree of Life is now blocked is that absent divine intervention, our own will cannot make it there any longer. It may be that paradise lost was man's ultimate admission that one's will power is not enough to escape the thrills and euphoria offered by forbidden fruits.

(And if God is a distasteful concept to you, replace it with the notion of a universal and moral consciousness. Anyways, that's it for theological treatises. I'm going to return back to travel writing.)

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