Beyond the Knowledge of Good and Evil

“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 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.’” Genesis

I know people, but I’ve never met ‘humanity.’ I can be delighted or disappointed with a person, but ‘the public’ is a ghost and a bloodless avatar. The accumulation of years and life experience should eventually lead to us to life’s humbling terms – we are creatures and we are mortal. Acceptance of our creaturely limitations is the first step to confronting our own hubris, and if we are lucky, the next step is the bloody mess of making hamburger out of our “sacred cows.” 

God willing, before I die, I will learn how to serve my neighbor, my friends, and my loved ones. But in the meantime, I say, “damn the incriminations of all those stronger, more ‘caring and conscientious’ individuals, for whom my personal hope is viewed as too pedestrian, too bourgeois for their ambitious standards.” By the way, who vetted these priests in the first place? Contrary to popular opinion, I contend that honest recognition of our finite limitations is neither a sign of weakness nor defeat, but is, in fact, a sane and healthy realization of our lives as finite creatures, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” 

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil

The serpent’s spell, “you shall be like God”, will not be broken until we return to our creaturely origins and Origin. For we are creatures and we are stewards. And stewards understand the difference between their sphere of concern (infinite) and their sphere of influence (finite). Our failure or inability to make this distinction is evidence that we are being governed by the “knowledge of good and evil.” Those living and thinking through this broken paradigm of “good and evil” are completely enslaved to it. Such people have become judges, and must now spend their entire life judging everything.

Our refusal or inability to escape the tyranny of the program called, “knowledge of good and evil”, lies at the primordial root of human tragedy and suffering. It is this “knowledge” which has corrupted our ability to clearly perceive and rightly relate to ourselves, to God, creation, and our fellow man. As we look through the lens of “good and evil” the earth does not appear whole or connected, but fragmented, divided into millions upon millions of competing interests and clashing factions. Our own minds have been so thoroughly infected with this “knowledge” that life appears to us in the form of a split-screen reality: “good/evil”, “left/right”, “us/them”, “adversary/ally”, etc.

Under the binary program of “good and evil”, the personal and the particular dimensions of life are made to constantly compete with a rushing army of images, propositions, moral dilemma, and theoretical abstracts, which all have their origins in the logic and grammar of “good and evil.” How can we possibly practice presence and hospitality when we are given over to a form of “knowledge” that presumes to interpret the world for us by dividing it into “good and evil” (i.e., red/bluet, gay/straight, black/white, theists/atheists, etc.). Furthermore, the “knowledge of good and evil” program is responsible for forging a unique set of values, namely, the blind pursuit of power, winning formulas, and self-righteousness. At this point, nothing short of the intervening grace of God can deliver us from our toxic and enslaving relationship to the “knowledge of good and evil.”

Life beyond the “knowledge of good and evil” requires a new operating system and a new paradigm for interpreting and experiencing life – enter faith and faithfulness (Gal.2:21). But unlike the metrics of finance, politics (power), or science and industry, faith and faithfulness are regulated by a foreign and unconventional logic. Faith, as Luther teaches, does not grasp, but rather is “an open hand”. Thus, faith remains hidden from the view of the public. In a very real sense, faith remains hidden from even ourselves. And since faith is a posture of dependency and receptivity, it appears weak and traitorous to our private ambitions for “greatness.”

Life beyond the “knowledge of good and evil” begins with the divine proclamation and the command to “think again.” “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:12). So when we say that we are learning to “walk by faith”. we simply mean that we have begun the long journey home. Heading home naturally involves turning our backs on the “far off country” which is the world that only knows the segregating and alienating program of the “knowledge of good and evil.” Faith is learning to sing with Bobby, “It’s alright ma…if I can’t please them!”

“It’s Alright Ma . . .”

Faith simply responds to the God who calls and graciously restores. Fatih is an “open hand” waiting to be filled. Faith is a sabbath rest where we have ceased from our labors. Fatih asks for justice, but is willing to accept God’s judgment, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen18:25). For, while the gift of God is free, there is a cost to be counted. The initial cost of healing begins with recognizing and getting honest about our illness. In the same way, the cost of freedom begins with a desire to be free. And as C.S. Lewis reminds us, “The cost of Jesus Christ is wanting him.”

Faith is weighty but it is not pushy or boastful, for as the psalmists, Buckley and Cohen have taught us, “love is not a victory march, but it’s cold and its a broken hallelujah.” Not surprisingly, at the defining moment in his passion, Jesus’ faith was manifested in what can only be described as a sigh of resignation, “not my will, but Thine be done.” This sigh of faith appears on the lips of those who have suffered the loss of strength, confidence, and dreams. The “broken hallelujah” and the sigh of faith are neither fatalistic nor heroic; they are simply and inexplicably, hopeful (a “fools hope”?).

In short, faith still believes that our broken song and our dying sigh will be heard. It is the undying hope that we will find consolation beyond our present suffering and weakness. Faith looks to the God who leads us beyond the “knowledge of good and evil.”

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