Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why the tree of knowledge?

Genesis 2:16-17

I was privileged to grow up with an amazing sports complex right outside my back door. Fifteen steps from the back door of my house were two -- not one, but two -- football fields. A custom-constructed baseball complex was a hundred yards to the south. A softball diamond stood just to the east. Now, to the uninitiated visitor, this sports complex looked like a yard with some trees and a wrap-around cow pasture with a few rocks scattered here and there. But my brothers and I had carefully surveyed the entire complex, setting down boundaries, yard markers, end zones, bases, and a few extras not usually known in professional sports. (When was the last time the Minnesota Twins outfielders had to deal with a thistle patch? When did you last see a shortstop calculate his dive not only to catch the ball, but also to avoid landing in a fresh cowpie? I've wondered for years why coaches don't implement these training tools, at least in camp, for additional challenge to their athletes and for the greater benefit of their sport.) When we first started playing football in the front yard, we carefully measured the dimensions of the yard and calculated that, just as we were roughly 35% the size of professional football players, so our field was roughly 35% the size of a professional field. It was all carefully proportional. In the pasture to the south, we precisely marched off the limits and boundaries of our baseball diamond in a similar way.

Have you ever tried to play baseball or football without boundaries, without rules? How about pinochle or poker? The game rapidly becomes chaos if the rules no longer apply.

People often reject the Bible because they think it is a book of rules, a compendium of "thou-shalt-not" designed to frustrate our fun. First of all this betrays their lack of knowledge about the content of the Bible; second, it betrays a warped understanding of God; third, it probably says a great deal about what these people experienced from their parents and others in authority when they were growing up. It says nothing at all about the Bible.

God, as we have already seen, is about giving life to his creation. He creates separation so that light may be known from darkness, land from water, heaven from earth, male from female. He makes knowledge possible through these separations. Humans are invited into this creation to experience its richness and fullness as a way of experiencing the love of the creator God. God creates amazing diversity of life -- plants, fish, birds, animals in amazing splendor, and then invites humans to know all these things, and even to name them (we'll see that coming up soon). Do you see? If science is the pursuit of knowledge about creation, God created this pursuit and blessed it.

One kind of knowledge is off limits -- not placed by God in an arbitrary way ("Oh, I think I'll put the fence here") but in a logical, sensible, inescapable way. If we know God as the creator of the universe, as the origin and source of all life, as the lover of creation who has designed its intricacies and longs for its fulfillment, then we cannot know what is good for creation (including ourselves) apart from knowing God. If we want to know good, we must know God. If we try to know good apart from knowing God, we are treating ourselves as the origin and the source, and we will be deceived. The boundary around the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is not arbitrary; it is part of the fabric of the nature of God and of the universe. God does not put this tree in the garden as a source of temptation; rather, his respect for and delight in the dignity of humans requires this possibility. If we do not have the option of seeking knowledge in ourselves, we are automatons without any possibility of growth or fulfillment. But God knows -- and we would do well to find out -- that our deepest knowledge, our fullest joy, our most abundant life comes as we know God, and in knowing God we delight to know his creation (including ourselves). So all the sciences -- geology, biology, psychology, mathematics, medicine, both applied and pure sciences are at their best when they seek to discover the truth about God's good creation. Even Einstein said, "I want to know the thoughts of God." Charles Darwin, who early in his life received training in what was then called "Natural Theology", in the conclusion of his On the Origin of Species, implies (though he does not directly argue) that his theory of evolution provides the mechanism by which God's original creation has grown in diversity and grandeur.

We don't have to travel far to find examples of humans deciding for ourselves what is "good" and jumping wholeheartedly into it -- only to discover some time later that what we believed was salvation turned out to be dangerous and destructive. Asbestos, DDT, and Crisco have all been hailed as the next great development to enhance human life. Each one proved destructive and costly and we continue to pay the price. These are relatively trivial examples; if we look to the way we destroy ourselves in relationships by doing what we think is right, we'll see in a hurry that we desperately need to submit to a loving God who knows us better than we know ourselves.


  1. This makes sense. God put the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden (or in our minds) as a sign (or true indication) that we really do have a free will. This also explains was Satan spent (spends) so much time convincing them (us/me) to take another bite out of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil.

    It is therefore better to define good in terms of being in God's nature than by any worldly sense of the word. Surely they might overlap at times but we (mankind) can never know all the consequences of what we (mankind) presumes is good despite our best intentions.

    It becomes a matter of faith in God and in God's nature to ensure our free will stays on the path of true good and away from evil.