The Problem with Knowledge of Good and Evil

Isn’t the knowledge of good and evil a good thing?
Well, yes and no…

One of the theologians I’m reading, William Hulme, suggests that it has its definite drawbacks. Once we have the knowledge of good and evil, it puts us in a place where we have to evaluate whether something we do or have done is good or bad. We constantly have to examine the value of our thoughts, words, and deeds, but this has a few drawbacks. First, it means we’re constantly looking at ourselves, a sort of pride junior perhaps. At the very least, if we’re constantly looking at ourselves, we can’t look to others, which means our capacity for love is blunted. Then, of course, if we’re the ones who are trying to determine whether something is right or wrong, we’re usurping the sovereignty of God. We’re putting ourselves in charge. And let’s face it, we’re pretty likely to slide to one extreme or another. Either we don’t call something evil that should have been and end up failing to be who God draws us to be, or we call things far too sinful and either become Pharisaical or turn on ourselves and become swamped in feelings of guilt and shame.

Hurrah! We know good and evil! … wait a sec, there are consequences that we have to deal with now? Well, crud…

But Jesus provides us with an alternative, one offered initially to Israel and expanded to new dimensions in Christ’s incarnation and the sending of the Spirit. We can turn from the knowledge of good and evil to the security of relationship. Instead of focusing on our sins, we are invited to form a relationship with God Himself. We enter into friendship with Him, where we can be drawn into something good instead of trying to escape from something bad.

Of course, in our relationship with God, we are entering the new covenant, and covenant does imply an obligation. We are called to consider our sins and strive to be holy, but even as we do so, we are always within that relationship, one where we are beloved sons and daughters and friends with God.

There’s a sort of self-forgetfulness that can come out of this. We don’t have to obsess about what we do (or did) because we only really have to focus on one thing – our relationship with God. We look to Him and to His will.

Guilt? You’re still loved and in relationship. Shame? You’re still loved and in relationship. Feel pressured to do the right thing? Relax; His love will always be there. Knowing good and evil has its place, but that place is in the light of God’s love for you.


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