Tree of Knowledge/Good and Evil/Bad

My brain is currently on overload, so I’m going to put a bunch of thoughts down (I ran out of hands, so if I say “on the other hand”, just add somebody else’s hands in), to try and figure out where I want to go with things.  The impetus for this is twofold.  This week’s assignment is to write 500 words on “Why does God allow evil in the world?”  The second part is that my first paper will be on the nature of evil.  Those two topics will be intertwined here.

First, we have Augustine’s concept of evil being not evil, but a corruption of good.  (See previous post.)  My initial thought was to disagree with this concept (it’s an argumentative paper).  And then that same day that I decided on a paper topic, in chapel, I heard John 11:1-16.  The important part here was “If any one walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if any one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”  This was important for two reasons:  despite my preference for the logic of duality (light/dark, good/bad, beautiful/ugly), these are societal judgments.  Jesus came here without a balance.  And in John 8:12, He said, “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

So, now let’s go to light and darkness.  According to physics, darkness cannot exist without light; it is the absence of light.  Light, however, can exist without darkness.  So here’s the first of my fallacies on duality debunked.  Light is a wave, and its brightness is determined by the speed, amplitude, length and frequency of the wave – just like all matter in existence.  Everything is energy.  And while light has a wave, darkness does not.  Therefore, darkness only exists as an absence of light.  Light is an absolute.

The point of all this was that I now had biblical evidence that Augustine’s concept had merit.  Not everything exists as a duality.  Some things can only exist if there is some element of energy to make them so.  Everything God created was pronounced “good” by God in Genesis.  Nothing was pronounced bad.  Therefore, evil can only exist as an absence (or corruption, per Augustine) of good, but cannot exist by itself, as it was not created.

Now we get to the conundrum (why else would I be writing if I could actually figure something out?).  God created and put into the Garden the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (or Good and Bad as Hebrew translates out).  Now, there is supposition that “good and evil” is a phrase that would have fit into society similar to A to Z or soup to nuts – meaning “everything”.  There’s linguistic evidence to support this concept from Egypt at about the same time.  However, rather than creating a tree of the knowledge of good and lack of good, God created the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Part of the reason I’m shying away from “evil” as a term is not because I don’t believe it exists, but rather that so many want to put the concept of a natural “bad” in with the concept of “evil”.  To my way of thinking, evil has to have an intent.  Bad is more in alignment with things happen that have negative consequences, but there wasn’t an evil “intent” involved – think cancer, floods, earthquakes, etc.  Our professor includes these under the concept of “evil”.

So, back to the Tree.  There is an absolutely fascinating article by Tamar Frankiel, the whole thing of which is worth reading, just for mind candy.  The interesting part for this discussion is:

What was the attraction of knowing something other than perfection? Eve saw that the fruit was good-to-eat and beautiful, but so were the other trees’ fruits. The additional element was that this tree suggested the quality of intelligence. Samson Rafael Hirsch observes, in his commentary on Genesis 3, that the animal with “cunning” (as in “kenning,” knowledge) came to point this out, because most animal-knowledge is instinctive, completely programmed into each individual of the species. The snake was trying to convince her that by following her animal programming–good to eat, nice to look at–she would also gain knowledge.

But humans can achieve a higher level of knowledge which does not depend on their animal nature. Eve intuitively was seeking this greater level–intuitively, because seeking a higher level is part of human programming. Intuitively also, humans seek that greater and deeper knowledge through moving into all realms of experience, from deep-sea diving to exploration of outer space. She knew that G‑d had given a command, but what she did not understand–and could not have understood until she followed the command–is the purpose of observing such an external command. Neither she nor Adam knew that discipline of the natural human urges–in this case, to inquire into all realms of experience–would eventually lead to the higher knowledge she sought.

Thus the Midrash tells us that if only Adam and Eve had waited until the Sabbath, they would have been permitted to eat of the Trees of Knowledge and Life, and the purpose of creation would have been complete. This is an astounding concept: lf humans could follow G‑d’s commands on an external basis, for no apparent reason, they would develop a special capacity that would enable them to fulfill their potential for higher knowledge. That capacity was the ability to achieve penimiut (inwardness). With this, all experience would be integrated; without it, knowledge would remain external and fragmentary. With it, they could indeed become like-G‑d. Without it, they would remain knowledge-seeking humans.

The result of this article talks about human knowledge with the three “voices” we have been given for guidance.  First is that of instinct, connecting us to the animal level of our souls.  Second is that of the external voice of God’s commands – i.e., the Bible.  It “guides us in most practical, everyday issues. Second, when we practice listening to this voice by studying and following Torah, we attune ourselves to a higher vibration.”  Third would be the voice of critical thinking:  we are asked to:

“develop a third, more complex and ultimately more mature voice, a voice acquired through learning and imbued with humility. G‑d wants us to develop this voice. The Divine call that Eve felt was to “become like G‑d,” and we are later told, “Be holy as I am holy” [1 Peter 1:16] and “Walk in My ways.” [1 Kings 3:14, etc.]  We are not to become merely mechanical followers of G‑d’s will. We have to learn and learn more deeply, and always be willing to question the state we have achieved.”

All told, this would give a different concept of the Tree of Knowledge.  Not that it gave knowledge of those things that were good and bad, so much as it gave the ability to critically examine everything and know all there was to know about it, and the consequences of it, both short and long term.  We could know the proper decisions and paths to take because it would be clear.

So the question is, can I use this interpretation of the Tree in the Garden as justification for going with Augustine’s concept that Evil does not actually exist except as a corruption of Good?  Or, do I take the Tree as literally the knowledge of Good and Evil and go back to the original premise of duality?

The other thing that occurs to me is that there are absolutes (light), and there are relative judgments (up/down, in/out, difficult/easy), and then there are societal judgments (beauty/ugliness, harmonious/discordant).  Is “good” an absolute?  Or is it a societal judgment?  I think that “bad” has to fall into the societal judgment concept, because we often judge a “natural evil” as being bad for us as humans.

But I think I’ve at least boiled the concept of good down to those two options – absolute or societal judgment (including God in this discussion as “society”, since He’s the one who first pronounced His creation good.).

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Creation of the World

As requested by my dear sister, I’m posting my final draft of this week’s assignment here for her critique.  You’ll see, it’s absolutely nothing like I started out with. 🙂

I was asked a question by a seeker this week, “Why aren’t dinosaurs mentioned in the Bible?”. My response was that most of the dinosaurs ceased to exist 65 million years prior to humanity’s entrance in the world, and had no bearing on human history. Why would they be in the Bible, a historicity made for humans?

It is a Christian concept that all that we know of God has been revealed through His Word, or as John puts it: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (6:1) So what we know of evolution begins with God speaking light into existence, through the Word, the first electromagnetic wave (the substance of which determines through wave length and speed, amplitude, and frequency what form something will take) that vibrates in such a way that light exists from that source, and not from an external source. “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'” (John 8:12)

We also know, however, that the earth, while without form and void, existed, and the spirit of God moved over the face of the waters. (Gen 1:2) Here is where faith enters – do you believe the uncreated God created the heavens and the earth ex nihilo, and then Christ (as the Word) created order and life from chaos (Aquinas’ Five Ways; Kalam Argument) (McGrath, 182-185), or do you believe the uncreated universe always existed and accidentally fell together to create order and life from chaos? Either position is one of faith, and is a matter of how one chooses to believe.

Aquinas and Calvin discuss the concept of general revelation, where God reveals Himself through His creation, such that at least some truths about God can be learned by the empirical study of nature, physics, cosmology, etc., but Calvin still values special revelation, the spoken Word through Christ, above natural. What none discuss is that communication is not only spoken, but pictorial, experiential, and observed. Science merely creates methods by which we can understand that non-verbal communication of the Word through creation; it is an unending process of discovery of that which the Word of God created.

As Augustine of Hippo argues, “God brought everything into existence in a single moment of creation. Yet the created order is not static, in that God has endowed it with the capacity to develop.” (McGrath, 218) Evolution is merely the potentiality of God’s creation, and we, as the part of God’s creation created in His image, were given the brains to see if we can understand part of His created world. Each time we find a new design, “discover” a connection we didn’t know about, locate a history before humanity, or acquire another piece of the blueprint of creation, humanity touts its supremacy – while forgetting that God planned it all and reveals it to us in His own time.

The Unpronounceable Name

So recently, I’ve been reading a book by Keith Johnson called His Hallowed Name Revealed Again.  Part of what started this is when attending Christian churches, they insist on attempting to pronounce the Tetragrammaton (the unpronounceable name of God) as either Yahweh or Jehovah.  The first is actually a nonsense word that doesn’t mean anything – the second is actually another name for God, but not with the same root letters of the Tetragrammaton (all Hebrew words have a root of 3 letters).  The Tetragrammaton was never supposed to be pronounced (according to the oral tradition of the Torah, or the Kaballah) because it never included vowels.  That, of course, comes from the rabbinical tradition.

Keith Johnson, on the other hand, learned from a friend of his named Nehemia Gordon, who is a Karaite Jew.  I’d never even heard of that before reading this book, and find their tradition to be slightly odd.  They say that they only go by the written word, basically discounting the oral teachings, but they use writings from a time period when the oral tradition (which included the vowels in the Hebrew writings) was written down – so their sect is only from about 200 B.C., rather than the thousands of years more of the rabbinical sects.  Still that’s over 2000 years of history, so they can’t be completely discounted – would be rather hypocritical, wouldn’t it? <g>

From what I’m understanding (having only read 4 chapters of the book thus far, which is quite interesting, and I’m learning a lot, as well as practicing my Hebrew), the way the Tetragrammaton is pronounced is that they simply say the letters.  O-kay.

Having learned from the rabbinical traditions (orthodox Chabad and slightly odd reform), saying the letters of the Tetragrammaton is fine, but being aware that anything you write it on becomes a piece of holy writing so that you understand just how important the Name is, is part of learning the proper respect, fear and love of the Name of God.  Generally, when a Jew comes across the Tetragrammaton in the writings, they substitute one of the other names of God – most often Hashem (the Name) or Adonai (the Lord – which is how you see it translated in Christian Bibles).

Interestingly, Chapter 4 got to me because of the number of times the Tetragrammaton was written.  (To be fair to reading the book, I am focusing on actually saying the letters in my head when I come across them, rather than going with my normal habit of substituting.)  So I’m attempting to evaluate, is this a learned response from my previous classes?  Or is this a bit more of a visceral response that says, you’re not to invoke that sort of power without really good reason.  I guess it’s kind of like calling “wolf” – if you do it often enough, people stop paying attention.  I don’t want God to not pay attention, but at the same time, I can understand that there are times you would want to invoke the Tetragrammaton to actually indicate importance.

Then of course, comes the question of, is it hubris to think that I have any clue whatsoever what God believes to be important?  That can go one of two ways – is whatever I consider important enough to bring to God important to God?  Or is anything one human needs or wants important in the grand scheme of things?  Are any of us worthy of actually invoking God’s name?

I wish I could post the reply that I got from one of the old Rabbis I used to learn from (Joel Bakst – City of Luz) when I wrote to him about it, but his reply was actually part of a book he’s working on.  It does go into rather a lot of detail on the cosmology of Kaballah, but one portion of it cause the entire thing to make sense to me.  “The rearrangement of the letters Y-H-V-H as H-V-Y-H in order to pronounce it as Havayah also spells out a real word in Hebrew. The literal dictionary definition of havayah means “existence”!”

This, to me, is explained quite clearly when God told what His name was in Exodus 3:14:  “I AM that I AM.”

Still working on the questions. 🙂