There is one final component in the consequences of sin we need to understand before we can fully understand sin and it’s impact in our lives. While separation is the main theme in Genesis 3, there is another component we don’t often look at —what is it Adam and Eve gained when they gained “the knowledge of good and evil?”
It’s easy enough to shrug the question off with an easy answer, such as: “Adam and Eve experienced evil, where before they had only known about evil in an intellectual way.” There’s a simple reason this explanation won’t work.
Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. -Genesis 3:22
Think this through:
- Adam and Eve knew good and evil through experience —by actually doing evil.
- Adam and Eve knew evil just as God did.
- God, therefore, must know evil in the sense of actually doing evil.
Do you see the problem? Clearly the simple explanation won’t work here! So what does this “knowledge of good and evil” really mean? Our problem is we are trapped in a false dichotomy —we think of the word “know” as having two possible meanings. The first is to know something intellectually, and the second is to know something through experience. But there is another meaning of the word “know,” one we use every day, and yet we pass over without thinking about it.
Much of modern engineering is, in fact, based on this third meaning of “know” —only we use the word technique. People who are technical are called knowledge workers because they know how to manipulate ideas and objects to reach a specific outcome. It’s this third sense of know we want here, the sense of knowing how to manipulate things to reach a specific goal.
But what does this have to do with knowing good and evil?
When you turn a piece of wood, or mill a piece of steel, you are conforming the wood or steel to a standard you have set. In fact, any time you manipulate an object, you are bringing that object into conformance with a standard you’ve set.
The word “know” is used in the same sense here. In the Garden, God sets the standards. He chose the order of creation, the creatures that would be created, the creation of Eve, the tress that would be eaten and those that would not. God, as the creator, set the standards.
What Eve did when she ate the apple is this: she set her own standards. In this way, Eve now made herself into a little god. She has decided which of her desires should be fulfilled, and which should not. She “knows” good and evil in the sense that she is now deciding what is good, and what is evil.
And here we find the ultimate separation from God —for there can only be one real standard setter in the universe (whether we like that or not). Our standards can accord with God’s, or they can not. If our standards don’t accord with God’s standards, then we are, in essence, creating our own little idea of good and evil, and attempting to create a little world that matches those standards.
This is the key to understanding the final consequence of sin, that of separation from the Tree of Life. We’ll examine this separation in another line of posts which consider God’s reaction to man’s sin.