We have touched upon the concept of goodness and value as inherent in the very creation of the universe, and particularly in man who is created according to the image and likeness of God. Man has a dignity unlike other creatures and the elements of creation. Note in particular God’s charge to man:
And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Increase and multiply, and fill the earth and master it; and rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and all cattle and all things on earth and all the creeping things that creep upon the earth." And God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant bearing seed for the sowing of seed which is on the earth, and every tree that has in itself a fruit seed fit for sowing; to you it will be for food. And to all beasts of the earth, and to all birds of the air, and to every creeping thing that crawls on the earth, which has in itself the breath of life, also every green plant for food." And it was so. (Gen 1.28-30)While the other created beings (animals, birds, fish, etc.) all participate in the benefits of creation, the dignity of being created according to the image and likeness of God grants the possibility of that communion with God to which we have already referred. Indeed, in the Paradise God speaks to man. He reveals Himself in a manner that is intimate and comprehensible. The image of God in man fosters a creative impulse in him that God approves and encourages. God encourages man to be fruitful and multiply; not just in the sexual sense, but also in a spiritual sense of creativity and ingenuity, of insight and intellectual growth. \
In Genesis, to name a thing is to have power over it in that naming defines it in relation to the one naming it. Here, almost as presenting gifts, God brings all the ‘living creatures’ and lets Adam name them, thus defining them. (Gen 1.19) By God allowing Adam to name the animals he reveals the gift of man’s participation in the creativity of God. This is the gift that enables man to “fill the earth and master it”. (Gen 1.28)
The injunction to master the earth is not one of destructive dominance since “to everything which has in itself the breath of life” God has also given “every green plant for food”. (Gen 1.30) Thus, the dominion which man will possess over creation man is nurturing, appreciative and caring. Man is placed in the garden to work it and guard it. (Gen 2.15) The likeness of God allows him to both perceive and participate in the goodness of God in creation.
Through his embodiment, man recognizes the beauty of creation. Creation does not exist as an empty chaotic surrounding; it is filled with spiritual beauty and meaning because man recognizes in it the Will of God. Therefore, his universe is filled with value. This is seen in the fact that the trees of the garden produced fruits that were “pleasant to the sight and good for food”. (Gen 2.9) Man does not just benefit nutritionally from these foods; he experiences their goodness and perceives them as pleasant. This ability to appreciate them is qualitatively unlike the basic receiving of the material benefits of them experienced by other created beings.
d. Evil, Life and Death
We come to the question: Why the prohibition against eating of the Tree of Perceiving the Knowledge of Good and Evil?
According to Genesis everything is created by God. (Gen 1.1) And since God is Good by nature, when he created God “saw everything that he had made… [and] it was very good.” (Gen 1.31) Reflecting on this, the author of the Wisdom of Solomon observes of God: “You love all things that exist, and have loathing for none of the things which you have made, for you would not have made anything if you had hated it. How would anything have remained if you had not willed it?” (Wis 11.24-25a) We can conclude then, that there is an inherent goodness in creation itself.
We then must ask: If everything was created by God and thus by definition is good, what exactly is evil?
From what we have learnt thus far, we can state the following:
The origin of evil, then, is found in the misuse of free will. It is exercising the will contrary to and in opposition to God. For we must remember that it is not the “Tree of Good and Evil” but the “Tree of Perceiving the Knowledge of Good and Evil” from which man is forbidden to eat. By eating of this tree, man will experience the knowledge of good and evil personally (or 'interiorly'), it will not be an abstract knowledge.
1. Evil is not created by God. (cf Gen 1.31)
2. If it is not created by God, it cannot form part of the original inherent dignity and value of man, who is created according to in the image and likeness of God. (Gen 1.1, Wis 11.24f)
3. If this is so, evil must be an absence of good. For evil to occur there must be some condition or action that completely opposes God and the goodness of God’s creation. In fact, when we say that evil occurs we are actually saying that an action is chosen, representing a choice denying God. So we loosely might say that in choosing evil one chooses nothing over a something.
Of this tree, God says, “you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die the death.” (Gen 2.17)
Here we have the first reference to death in the Scriptures. The context is revealing.
We have confirmed that evil occurs only as a free will choice opposed to and contrary to God. We have also reflected that God created the universe and all things within it, thereby imbuing them with inherent goodness. We have affirmed that God is the source of life itself, and life itself is good. Therefore, if a choice contrary to God cannot result in good, and if God is the source of life – the breath of life, if you will – then exercising the will contrary to God can only be a choice that is contrary to life itself. God does not create evil, it is the result of a choice away from God. St Paul reflects this understanding when says, “Sin came into the world through one man and through sin death.” (Rom 5.12) Sin is evil in action; it is the act of a free will choice opposed to God. The consequences of such a choice (evil) can only be death since to deny God is to deny Life itself.
Therefore, we see that the Tree of Perceiving the Knowledge of Good and Evil is the tree that, in choosing to eat of it, man would be choosing to act contrary to God. He would be exercising his will away from the source of life. He would be choosing to separate himself from God, to break communion with God, to refuse that likeness of God within himself, which is good and life-giving. Thus, in so choosing, he would experience the inevitable result of that separation, i.e., death. Again, the Book of Wisdom confirms this: “God did not make death, and he does not take pleasure in the destruction of the living”. (Wis 1.13)
This is an insight that will be significant for one asking "For what reason did the Christ come?"
Next Installment: Temptation, Sin and the Fall of Man