The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Part Two – Fear)

In a previous post, I related the story of the Fall in the Garden of Eden and shared what meaning I see in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In this post, I am going to discuss the fear that seems to precede the taking of the forbidden fruit, and that now dominates our world.

The serpent said to Eve, “Assuredly, you will not die. For God knows that in the day you eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, you will become like Him, knowing both good and evil.”

It seems as if, when the serpent spoke to them, fear entered the hearts of Adam and Eve, even before they ate of the fruit: fear that God, who had put them into the Garden, who had given them all the trees to eat of, including the Tree of Life, except only one, and who walked with them in the evening, was withholding from them the best He could give them. Though all they had ever seen or experienced from Him, or in their world, was goodness, they began to fear evil, and so sought the knowledge of it.

This is, I think, a very good characterization of what has plagued humanity ever since: the deep-rooted insecurity, the fear that what is greatest and most powerful, that what is dominant, is evil, nonexistence, cruelty, death, or nothing. It seems to me that much of religion (and much that is not religion) is built around this fear: sometimes it uses it to gain control, but I think its lure is often that people have this fear, and desire some sense of knowledge or dogma to give them some security within it. Thus, fear leads into fear.

Instead of seeking goodness simply for the sake of goodness, doing the good that appears in front of one, men fear and seek not only to do the good they see, but to judge what would be evil and would be good for all, and for all times. Many focus on the text that says that ‘Eve looked at the fruit and saw that it was good both to look at and to eat,’ but what might be noticed is the fact that Eve only looked at the fruit and saw it in this light – or shadow – after she had listened to the serpent and begun to fear that God was not giving her the best that He could. What if the problem is not looking at something and seeing that in one’s eyes it is good, but fearing that God does not give us His best? It was in the shadow of her fear that God was lying to her and withholding from her the best that He had that the knowledge of good and evil appealed to Eve. In the shadow of her fear, she did not realize that God had given her the Tree of Life from which to eat.

It is in that shadow, I think, that that knowledge still appeals to humanity, and it leads into more fear. Thinking ourselves in a hostile world, we cultivate war and fear, instead of life and love (take this generally; I’m not implying that we cultivate only war and fear, that we do not seek life and love at all, or even that all human beings are equally subject to this tyranny of fear – how should I know?).

If we did not fear, what would our lives truly be like? Can we even imagine it? What would it be like not to fear death – not because life is too miserable or seems deprived of light and happiness by some loss, so that it seems as if no death could be worse, not as a tortured man might embrace death, not as a suicide does not fear death, but rather because one is confident that the strongest thing is goodness, that death is no final end to life, that as beautiful and wonderful as this life, this sun, might be, it can only grow better? How much of the evil we do, and experience, is due, in one way or another, to fear?

A lot of people think that, if people were not afraid, they would do even more evil. That might be true of a few, but how many of you would actually want to hurt other people? How many of you might, if you were once not afraid of being hurt, be able to think and feel far more deeply for other people, and love them more, not less? How often might you have withdrawn from another, from knowing, from caring, from loving, from feeling, for fear – fear of being rejected, fear of being hurt in another’s pain, fear of being vulnerable?

It may be that, sometimes, for some people, there has grown a disconnection from reality such that even fear of being punished for evil is an improvement, but fear is at the root of much evil. What is fear, for most of us, but the suspicion that perhaps evil is stronger than good, that perhaps hate instead of love will have the victory? That the universe is not ultimately ruled by love? That the best is weaker than the worse? That evil can have the final say over at least some portion of the world?

It is this fear that makes man enemies with God – the fear that the greatest power is not, in fact, truest good, does not have the truest good of all creatures at heart. It is this fear that is behind the first sin and all sin. It is this fear that is behind much of the evil in creation, and the desire to have a system of knowledge of good and evil, instead of relating to God as a loving, ever-present Father, with whom there is no fear, ever at hand to show and give His children the best.


Copyright 2020 Raina Nightingale

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