Understanding the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

In week two of our journey through Brian McLaren’s ‘We Make the Road by Walking’, the theme is Being Human and focusses primarily on Genesis 2:4–25. It’s worth a read to make sure it’s fresh in your mind. Brian’s notes on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil were particularly interesting. Answering the question of what it’s significance is, Brian has this to say:

There are many answers, no doubt. But consider this possibility: the second tree could represent the desire to play God and judge parts of God’s creation – all of which God considers good – as evil. Do you see the danger? God’s judging is always wise, fair, trie, merciful and restorative. But our judging is frequently ignorant, biased, retaliatory and devaluing. So when we judge, we inevitably mis-judge

If we humans start playing God and judging good and evil, how long will it take before we say this person or tribe is evil and deserves to die, or become our slaves? How long will it take before we judge that this species of animal is good and deserves to survive, but this one is worthless and can be driven to extinction? How long until we judge that this land is good an deserves to be preserved, but that river is without value and can be plundered, polluted or poisoned?

If we eat from the second tree, we will soon become violent, hateful and destructive. We will turn our blessing to name and know into a license to kill, to exploit and destroy both the Earth and other people. God sees everything as good, but we will accuse more and more things of being evil. In so doing, we will create in ourselves the very evil we claim to detect in others. In other words, the more the judge and accuse, the less we will reflect God…and the less we will fulfil our potential as image-bearers of God.

So the second creation story present us with our challenge as human beings. We constantly make a crucial choice: Do we eat from the Tree of Aliveness – so that we continue to see and value the goodness of creation and so reflect the image of the living God? Or do we eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – constantly misjudging and playing God and as a result mistreating our fellow creatures?

How does this perspective on the passage fit with what you’ve thought about the two trees in the Garden of Eden before?

As with this whole series, the goal is not necessarily to agree with either Brian or each other. But in thinking more deeply about what passages may mean, hopefully we can both more fully appreciate Scripture and also see how that affects how we choose to live in relationship to others.

Sam Radford

55 Leopold St, Sheffield, S1 2GY, United Kingdom

I tell stories and share ideas. I’m a pragmatic idealist fascinated by technology, science, faith, politics, relationships, and what it means to be human.