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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