Knowing Good and Evil

This was the premise Satan offered Adam and Eve in terms of why they should eat the forbidden fruit.  They would be like God, knowing good and evil.

Lent begins this Wednesday and Genesis 3 is the assigned Old Testament reading for the first Sunday in Lent.  It makes good sense, to go back to the beginning in terms of how we got here – in ashes and dust and death.

But I was pondering Satan’s assertion.  How does God know good and evil?  God is good and perfect.  There is nothing evil in him – so how does He know evil?

Satan’s statement was, predictably, a certain level of truth wrapped and distorted with lies as well.  In and of himself, God could not, it would seem to me, know evil.  He could know of it in terms of obedience or disobedience to him, harmony or disharmony with all that is good and perfect and right.  But how would God himself know evil, when He is only and always completely within himself – the three persons of the Trinity – good and holy and perfect?

God did and does know evil.  But when Satan spoke to Eve, God knew evil in particular and (to the best of our knowledge through God’s revelation) only one way – in the rebellion led by Satan.  In Satan’s willful disobedience, and in the third of the heavenly host who were misled by him into rebellion, God indeed did know evil.

And that knowledge would be shared by Adam and Eve.  They too would understand – far more intimately and personally than God himself – evil.  But they would gain a type of knowledge shared only by Satan and his followers, a knowledge of participating in evil. That type of knowledge God cannot have as  it would be contradictory to his very essence.

What Satan promises then is not so much that Adam and Eve will be like God, knowing good and evil, but rather that they would be more like him, Satan, having tasted good and lost it forever because of their willful disobedience, their willful participation in evil.




8 Responses to “Knowing Good and Evil”

  1. Doug Vossler Says:

    This is an interesting topic and once again shows that we can only understand what God has revealed to us about His nature – which He has clearly said in Scripture is perfect and holy. My question is since evil is sin (and sin is evil), how do we deal with 2 Corinthians 5:21 (“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”)? Thoughts?

    • mrpaulnelson Says:

      Yes, beyond what God reveals to us (either through special or general revelation) we can’t speak with certainty or authority on anything. I hear Paul acknowledging in that verse that Christ bore our sins. He suffered and died for our sins as though they were his own, in every detail a true and full sacrificial lamb. Jesus is the final and ultimate sin offering (Leviticus 4), offering himself as sacrifice in place of us. In doing so, we are cleansed from our sin and receive the righteousness Christ actually possessed. I’m not sure if I would make sin and evil reciprocal definitions for one another – let me ponder that one a bit more!

  2. Lois Says:

    Not sure where, but CS Lewis says that evil is not itself in the same way that good is itself. Evil is only spoiled good, the same way that darkness is the absence of light. God “knows” evil to the extent that evil is the absence of God and good. (Screwtape complains about the “unfairness” of not having any original material to work with, but only good things to corrupt.)

    • mrpaulnelson Says:

      Yes, evil does not exist independently of God. We don’t preach a dualistic understanding of the universe where equal opposites battle it out for control. Only God can create, and even Satan is a creation of God’s, though he wasn’t created as The Deceiver but chose that role rather than obedience to his created nature. Luther notes that “even the devil is God’s devil”, a comforting thought in times when the devil seems to be getting the best of us!

  3. Doug Vossler Says:

    The various Bible commentaries are divided on this verse. Some say the meaning of sin in the verse is “sin offering”. Others say Jesus truly became sin. Your understanding (which I think is the first) makes a lot of sense and is consistent from the perspective of God always being pure and holy and not having evil in Him. The second, the commentaries say, is one of those paradoxes about the nature of God we cannot understand.

    • mrpaulnelson Says:

      I like both explanations, actually. With the caveat that we aren’t provided enough detail to know which (if either) is more accurate. Jesus certainly functions as a divine sin offering, and so must meet the requirements as such not just on the physical level (unblemished, spotless, etc.) but also at the moral level – He must be without sin of his own, which is why Sunday’s Gospel reading on Jesus’ temptation (Matthew 4) is so important. But I also think that in a way we can’t express or understand adequately, Jesus truly does take our sins into and onto himself, that they might be nailed to the cross with him and buried in the tomb with him. How that works I have no idea, but at least at surface level, both explanations make sense, but probably break down at some level of theological scrutiny.

      • Lois Says:

        So, could you say that Jesus, while never having committed any sin, was found guilty of our sin? And, in some way, justly found guilty even though he never sinned?

      • mrpaulnelson Says:

        Yes. In other words, I don’t think it was just a masquerade, and our sins weren’t really placed on Jesus. They remain external to him, both concerning his deity and his humanity. He is not in any way atoning for his own sin, but rather taking on our sin as though it were his own, so that the penalty of the Law falls rightly on him because of us, since it wouldn’t fall on him of his own sin, original or otherwise. But, I’m more than open to correction by more theologically astute minds lurking out there amongst my readers!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s