Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

I was up for preaching this morning and I have been mulling over Genesis 2 for about a week before this. I had wanted to preach from the three parables of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin and Lost Son but later settled on selected passages in Genesis 2 that focused on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

I chose this because I felt that God had impressed it in my mind that it would be a timely message for all of us, though at the start, I did not know what I will end up with. As I begin to work on the passage, I was still unsure why a tree and why knowledge of good and evil. As I spent time reading into the verses, digging into the commentaries and reflecting on what it all means, I have learnt so much!

My sermon was entitled “In the Beginning” and it ran more or less like this:

If you like numbers, today is a very special day. It is 10-10-10, perfection, which is just perfect because this morning, we go will back to the very beginning where it was perfect. But then, it all went wrong. Why, what and how?

But first, we must acknowledge that the book of Genesis is not a Sunday School special. It is not a storybook or a fairytale we read at our leisure. Genesis is a very, very important book to us as Christians, and we must redeem it at the pulpit.

Genesis 2:4-9 4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens. 5 When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up- for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, 6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground- 7 then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. 8 And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

We learn here that God created the heavens and the earth, gardens and trees, water and streams. Then, God created man and put him in the garden with everything he needed provided for. And there in the middle of the garden, two specific trees were identified – the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Genesis 2:15-17 15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."

God placed Adam in the garden and he began to work there. Interestingly, this is before the fall. So if you think that you can lie on a gold threaded feathered plush sofa when you get to heaven, think again. If heaven is like the Garden of Eden, we may still have to work but definitely without the stress and problems!

God gave Adam a commandment, a very, very interesting commandment. He said Adam can eat of every tree in the garden except only one. Wouldn’t this mean that Adam could have eaten from the tree of life and gained eternal life? Adam was that foolish? I don’t think so.

Imagine, you were walking in a mall and there right in the middle of the concourse you find this:

What would you do? Push! Of course not all of you will push it, but we will still get the temptation and inclination to do it, wouldn’t you? And that is what Adam and Eve ended up doing. They ate when they were instructed not to. Of course, it is not as simple as a red button. God do not give silly commands like the red button. So in that sense, we cannot say that God knowing Adam and Eve will disobey gave them the option anyway for them to disobey. I used to think that – why would God out the tree there when He knows that they will fall. Why not just not put the tree there and Adam and Eve will not eat it and we will all be safe.

No. We need to first realize what it means for God to create human being. The fundamental thing is that: God made us in His image (Gen 1:26). And that is the key to the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the fact that he made us in His image. When we are made in the image or likeness of God, we are not God but made to be like Him, an image of Him. A good modern analogy would be this: we are black and white photostat copies of the original coloured document. So in comparison to the original document, i.e. God, we are not all-able, not all-knowing and not all-present, but we are a good copy of Him, just without the power. But we definitely want the power, don’t we? Even though we are not God, we want to be like God and this is the very thing that God is telling Adam and Eve, no. Why? Because they can’t – they were but just an image of God. They are not the original.

In other words, God did not quite “put” the tree of the knowledge of good and evil there. It is there by virtue that we are made in the image of God. And we must also acknowledge that being made in the image of God also means freewill – God made us with freewill to decide – which is why God had to command Adam and Eve not to eat from that tree.

So, what is this tree of the knowledge of good and evil that is so appealing to man who is made in the image of God? God is the one who knows between good and evil (Gen 3:22). To put it simply, it is the perfect knowledge of what is good and what is bad, it is perfect wisdom. And here Adam and Eve, God’s image has to decide between 2 exclusive options: (1) to let God be the source of wisdom, which is perfect or (2) to take on the knowledge of good and evil themselves, albeit imperfect.

Adam and Eve chose the imperfect. They wanted the wisdom to know what is good and what is evil so that they can become their own destiny, they can become their own gods, they want autonomy, personal independence but sadly, it is to be imperfect. And when they ate it, as God has said it, they will surely die.

They will die, and in effect we will die – their decision is our decision as humankind. We will die because (1) the exclusive choice of autonomy has caused us to be removed from the perfect presence of God, of life and go into death and (2) since our knowledge of good and evil is imperfect, they will never be sure about what is good and what is evil. There is always this possibility in our limited being that what we hold on to might be evil though we thought it was good and vice versa, and there are many things we say are gray areas. So whatever we do, we will surely die, because we will never know for sure which is good and which is bad.

We can summarize life as follows:

Because of Christ’s work on the cross, we who believe in him now live in this era of being there but not there yet. We live a renewed and redeemed life in Christ and we are now being reconciled to God.

In our present state, it is not yet perfect because we have not gone back into the full presence of God. So God has to give us a new commandment.

John 13:34-35 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

And a question is being asked: what is the prime of all the commandments that God gave us?

Matthew 22:36-40 36 "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" 37 And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."

Isn’t it mind-boggling that the most important thing to God now that we are reconciled to Him is love? It is not obedience or purity or holiness, though these are still God’s commandments but the greatest of them all is love, where the rest of the commandments hang on.

Think about it! The treatment for having eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is not more wisdom, but love. And that is what God did for us: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. And now he commands us “to love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”



  1. Are you sure we still need to work in the "new heaven and new earth"? Can I just be a librarian in the "afterlife" -- after all these years of technological advancement, do we still need to pick up a shovel? :P LOL!

  2. Someone has also highlighted this to me before, and I will gladly be your colleague ;)