The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is not the tree of evil, nor is it the tree of good and evil, nor is it the tree of knowledge, nor is it merely the fact of the knowledge of good and evil and that whole breakdown—it is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The knowledge of good and evil was not about information the couple was otherwise not privy to. God’s world was very good. The only thing we know that was not good was the lone man, before the woman was created, and besides that evil is by definition merely a privation of the good. God did not create evil. The only conceivable evil is thus the possibility of a lone way, and the freedom which makes love possible—the man’s love for God and the man’s love for his wife—is the same which makes the lone way possible. Love is free to love and therefore free not to. Freedom can turn away to the lone way and God’s good world can turn evil. But the lone way wither?
“For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food…” (Gen. 3:5). The great irony is, of course, that the serpent should tempt the couple to be something they already are: like God. Indeed, God declared that he made them “in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). The image of God and the image of themselves were already visible in the eyes of the other. Everyone one shared subjective space, although they were all truly ‘others’. Empathy was a matter of fact, like DNA or like joy or like autumn. “Us” did not really mean “them” under their breath. “Bear one another’s burdens” and “rejoice with those who rejoice” were not only not ignored in Church, they were the reason Church didn’t yet need to exist.
But the temptation to become like God by means of the knowledge of good and evil is the temptation to inhabit God’s subjective space by sitting on God’s throne. God gave the couple dominion over the whole earth, unlimited salads, every tree minus one, to say: “Though you’ve been give dominion over all creation, you have not been given dominion over your Creator.” It was simply a command that kept the couple sane and sober. No one who has ever attempted to become God suffered because God wouldn’t them. They suffered from exhaustion. God did the best he could. David said “He made us a little lower than God” (Ps. 8). But unfortunately we we continually fall into the deception that being made a little lower means we can reach a little higher. And we do that every time we think we can determine what is good and what is evil, eating from the tree that same old God-damned fruit..
Good and evil are judgments, the good itself being the absolute by which evil is measured via negativa. Thus, when the rich young ruler addresses Jesus as “Good Teacher,” Jesus retorts, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (Mk. 10:17-18). It’s not that Jesus isn’t good—Jesus is God. The problem was that this man saw himself fit to judge whether Jesus is good or not, as though he were himself the standard by which such judgments could be made. Every man in Adam, Adam in every man.
The problem with the knowledge of good evil is not that it exposes us to evil that we are then disposed to pursue. It is that it presumes to determine judgments of good and evil by excluding God from the equation. It is calling universal peace anything other than Babel, as though universal peace is possible apart from God and as though all towers built by human cooperation within an economy of peace do not, at bottom, stand on a foundation of violence. As though all towers of trade were not made to fall.
To attain the knowledge of good and evil is to “place” God, the Infinite Subject of Absolute goodness, exterior to oneself and oneself exterior to God. (It is to create a distance that only God himself can create; only the Infinite Subject can create subjects by delineating finitude around a name; and only He can do so and withdraw himself in order to create true freedom and the possibility of encounter, the true structure of personhood, and hence the true Trinitarian structure of humankind.) And hence now they can “hear God walking,” which is itself a pretty good reason to hide (Gen. 3:8). But hiding was now a way of life—it was the first thing they did with their new knowledge, using fig leaves to try to separate. The naked and not ashamed couple were now just naked like the rest of us, pointing out how strange everyone else looks naked but only because we’re growing old and insecure about our own bodies—there’s nothing much to brag about on a body that’s growing old.
They had attempted to become like God by replacing God, which required objectifying God, in whose space (subjectivity) human life as human life subsists. Subjectivity is the realm of consciousness. “I think” may be “I am” but it is always standing in Someone Else’s shoes. Maybe that’s why Moses took off his shoes the day his Consciousness starting talking back. Consciousness wouldn’t be such a burden if we could get rid of its Conscience. But the couple confused the formula. “I think, therefore I AM” is precisely the logic of the fall, the idea that Being is predicated on my being. The net effect is that the intersubjective immediacy of the image-bearing one flesh couple, whatever that was like, has now been divided. It was the great divorce. The capacity for empathy is strained, if not destroyed, and they had liberated the will from its proper aim toward love. They lived now in perfect freedom to exercise power according to their own judgments. It was the negation of love, the beginning of long road along the lone way.
And thus, the same potency that can fruitfully multiply and fill the earth began to rapidly divide and kill the earth. It began with fig leaves, Men would become the most vicious beasts of the field with this kind of freedom. And such is the world east of Eden. That thin line has torn an infinite chasm. The great divide that runs from the center of creation runs straight through the heart of every man. Every man is split at his nucleus, a sort of Adam bomb waiting to explode. Freedom has become our greatest resource for slavery. Sex has become the decisive parody of love. Indeed, when sin got ahold of the mutual freedom of our primal parents it quickly turned their egalitarian rule into a tyrannical patriarchy: “Your desire will be husband, and he will rule over you” (Gen. 3:16). The very good image-bearing couple created to rule as one has now become two. It is survival of the fittest, and the crown of creation will now have to await her liberation by the only true Man, the one who writes the truth in the sand, the one who will bear the burden of all “Us” all, the one who will take up a tree and call it the evil that it is, the one who will weep in our tears so we can rejoice in his joy. For he will pour out his Subject, his Spirit, on all flesh—all flesh—because he has interred into the the subjective sphere of humankind in a quite Personal, quite amazing, way, called grace.