The Knowledge of Good and Evil
Though created innocent and holy, our first parents were not placed
beyond the possibility of wrong-doing. God might have created them
without the power to transgress His requirements, but in that case there
could have been no development of character; their service would not
have been voluntary, but forced. Therefore He gave them the power of
choice--the power to yield or to withhold obedience. And before they
could receive in fullness the blessings He desired to impart, their love
and loyalty must be tested.
In the Garden of Eden was the "tree of knowledge of good and
evil. . . . And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of
the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of
good and evil, thou shalt not eat." Genesis 2:9-17. It was the will
of God that Adam and Eve should not know evil. The knowledge of good had
been freely given them; but the knowledge of evil,--of sin and its
results, of wearing toil, of anxious care, of disappointment and grief,
of pain and death,--this was in love withheld.
While God was seeking man's good, Satan was seeking his ruin. When
Eve, disregarding the Lord's admonition concerning the forbidden tree,
ventured to approach it, she came in contact with her foe. Her interest
and curiosity having been awakened, Satan proceeded to deny God's word,
and to insinuate distrust of His wisdom and goodness. To the woman's
statement concerning the tree of knowledge, "God hath said, Ye
shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die," the
tempter made answer, "Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know
that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye
shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." Genesis 3:3-5.
Satan desired to make it appear that this knowledge of good mingled
with evil would be a blessing, and that in forbidding them to take of
the fruit of the tree, God was withholding great good. He urged that it
was because of its wonderful properties for imparting wisdom and power
that God had forbidden them to taste it, that He was thus seeking to
prevent them from reaching a nobler development and finding greater
happiness. He declared that he himself had eaten of the forbidden fruit,
and as a result had acquired the power of speech; and that if they also
would eat of it, they would attain to a more exalted sphere of existence
and enter a broader field of knowledge.
While Satan claimed to have received great good by eating of the
forbidden tree, he did not let it appear that by transgression he had
become an outcast from heaven. Here was falsehood, so concealed under a
covering of apparent truth that Eve, infatuated, flattered, beguiled,
did not discern the deception. She coveted what God had forbidden; she
distrusted His wisdom. She cast away faith, the key of knowledge.
When Eve saw "that the tree was good for food, and that it was
pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she
took of the fruit thereof, and did eat." It was grateful to the
taste, and, as she ate, she seemed to feel a vivifying power, and
imagined herself entering upon a higher state of existence. Having
herself transgressed, she became a tempter to her husband, "and he
did eat." Genesis 3:6.
"Your eyes shall be opened," the enemy had said; "ye
shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." Genesis 3:5. Their eyes
were indeed opened; but how sad the opening! The knowledge of evil, the
curse of sin, was all that the transgressors gained. There was nothing
poisonous in the fruit itself, and the sin was not merely in yielding to
appetite. It was distrust of God's goodness, disbelief of His word, and
rejection of His authority, that made our first parents transgressors,
and that brought into the world a knowledge of evil. It was this that
opened the door to every species of falsehood and error.
Man lost all because he chose to listen to the deceiver rather than
to Him who is Truth, who alone has understanding. By the mingling of
evil with good, his mind had become confused, his mental and spiritual
powers benumbed. No longer could he appreciate the good that God had so
Adam and Eve had chosen the knowledge of evil, and if they ever
regained the position they had lost they must regain it under the
unfavourable conditions they had brought upon themselves. No longer were
they to dwell in Eden, for in its perfection it could not teach them the
lessons which it was now essential for them to learn. In unutterable
sadness they bade farewell to their beautiful surroundings and went
forth to dwell upon the earth, where rested the curse of sin.
To Adam God had said: "Because thou hast hearkened unto the
voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded
thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy
sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns
also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the
herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till
thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust
thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." Genesis 3:17-19.
Although the earth was blighted with the curse, nature was still to
be man's lesson book. It could not now represent goodness only; for evil
was everywhere present, marring earth and sea and air with its defiling
touch. Where once was written only the character of God, the knowledge
of good, was now written also the character of Satan, the knowledge of
evil. From nature, which now revealed the knowledge of good and evil,
man was continually to receive warning as to the results of sin.
In drooping flower and falling leaf Adam and his companion witnessed
the first signs of decay. Vividly was brought to their minds the stern
fact that every living thing must die. Even the air, upon which their
life depended, bore the seeds of death.
Continually they were reminded also of their lost dominion. Among the
lower creatures Adam had stood as king, and so long as he remained loyal
to God, all nature acknowledged his rule; but when he transgressed, this
dominion was forfeited. The spirit of rebellion, to which he himself had
given entrance, extended throughout the animal creation. Thus not only
the life of man, but the nature of the beasts, the trees of the forest,
the grass of the field, the very air he breathed, all told the sad
lesson of the knowledge of evil.
But man was not abandoned to the results of the evil he had chosen.
In the sentence pronounced upon Satan was given an intimation of
redemption. "I will put enmity between thee and the woman,"
God said, "and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy
head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." Genesis 3:15. This sentence,
spoken in the hearing of our first parents, was to them a promise.
Before they heard of the thorn and the thistle, of the toil and sorrow
that must be their portion, or of the dust to which they must return,
they listened to words that could not fail of giving them hope. All that
had been lost by yielding to Satan could be regained through Christ.
This intimation also nature repeats to us. Though marred by sin, it
speaks not only of creation but of redemption. Though the earth bears
testimony to the curse in the evident signs of decay, it is still rich
and beautiful in the tokens of life-giving power. The trees cast off
their leaves, only to be robed with fresher verdure; the flowers die, to
spring forth in new beauty; and in every manifestation of creative power
is held out the assurance that we may be created anew in
"righteousness and holiness of truth." Ephesians 4:24, margin.
Thus the very objects and operations of nature that bring so vividly to
mind our great loss become to us the messengers of hope.
As far as evil extends, the voice of our Father is heard, bidding His
children see in its results the nature of sin, warning them to forsake
the evil, and inviting them to receive the good.
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