Bridgewater, Massachusetts, September 30, 2001

Genesis 3 The Fall of Humankind

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God say, 'You shall not eat from any tree in the garden'?"

The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'"

But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?"

He said, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself."

He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?"

The man said, "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate."

Then the Lord God said to the woman, "What is this that you have done?"

The woman said, "The serpent tricked me, and I ate."

The Lord God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel."

To the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you."

And to the man he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.

Then the Lord God said, "See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever. . . ." Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.


Mark 7:14-23 What makes a person unclean?

Jesus called the crowd and said to them, "Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile."

When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. He said to them, "Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer, purging all the foods?"

And he said, "It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."


Divine Providence #83.2 The source of all evil

Human beings are born into the love of self and the love of the world, and from these as wellsprings, into evils of every kind. We are led by the pleasures of these loves, and these pleasures prevent us from knowing that we are involved in evil things; for we feel as good every pleasure that comes from love. So unless we are reborn, we know nothing but that loving ourselves and the material world above all things is goodness itself; and that ruling over all, and possessing the wealth of all other people, is the highest good. Yet this is the source of all evil.

The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'" (Genesis 3:2, 3)

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul makes a statement that is often misquoted--and even when properly quoted is slightly off from the original Greek. In the King James Version it reads, "The love of money is the root of all evil" (1 Timothy 6:10). That seems pretty cut and dried. All evil comes from the love of money. (And all this time we thought it was from Adam and Eve disobeying God by eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil!)

However, in this case the translators of the King James Version were a bit over-zealous. It should have been translated, "The love of money is a root of all evil"--and later translations have made this correction. In other words, the love of money is one source of evil, but there may be other sources of evil as well. This gives us more room to move.

Still, "the root of all evil" is a memorable phrase. And if money does not have an exclusive claim to being that root, what roots can we trace evil back to?

This is not merely a theoretical question. Evil is not theoretical, but real. We recently had that demonstrated to us in a very painful way in the form of the destruction of the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon, and the loss of thousands of lives in those attacks. For the families and friends of the victims, the evil of those deaths is very, very real. Even though some of us are now, two and a half weeks later, getting to the point where we can sometimes think about something else, for those who lost someone in the attack, it will take far longer. Evil is evil not merely because it violates some moral theory or religious law, but because it hurts. And the more pain and destruction it involves, the more evil it is.

So what is the root of all evil? First of all, it is important to know that God is not the source of evil. When God had finished the six days of creation, it says that "God saw all that he had made, and indeed, it was very good" (Genesis 1:31). Whatever the appearances may be, everything that God feels, says, and does, is good. And just as evil is evil because it hurts and destroys, so good is good because it helps and builds up. This means that nothing God says or does is damaging and destructive; it is all constructive, and it all leads to healing and happiness.

It is only when we are involved in evil and destructive things that the love and goodness which is God appears to our faulty vision as evil and destructive. And the Bible--which is always trying to reach us where we are--sometimes speaks in terms of those human appearances. This is why God is sometimes described as wrathful and destructive in the Bible. But in the deeper meaning, it is never so.

In the Bible story, evil does not appear until after human beings are created. The first time something is pronounced "not good" is in Chapter 2, after God has placed the human being that he has created in the garden of Eden. And it is fascinating to notice that this pronouncement of something being "not good" comes after God has placed the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the garden, and immediately after God commands the man not to eat from it. We read:

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and to keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden. But of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die."

Then the Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone. . . ." (Genesis 2:15-18).

Now I can already hear an objection to the statement that God does not do anything evil: "Didn't God create the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and put it in the garden? Aha! Got you there!"

It is true that God created the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and placed it in the garden with Adam and Eve. But that, in itself, is not evil. On a practical level, there is no law saying that everything we see is meant to be eaten--even though babies of a certain age seem to think that is a law! If God wanted to plant an ornamental tree in the garden, he certainly could do that. And if it was intended to be looked at and not eaten, then telling us not to eat it is simply doing us a favor, so that we don't have to learn the hard way.

But there is a deeper reason God planted the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the garden. Though it isn't exactly a root of evil, it is the reason why it is even possible for evil to exist. And paradoxically, the possibility of evil existing is actually a good thing.

Why? To put it simply, without the possibility of evil, we would have only one choice: good. Obviously, having only one choice means that there is really no choice at all. And where there is no choice, there is no freedom. In placing the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the garden, God was saying to humanity: "You are free. You do not have to love and obey me if you don't want to. I will allow you to choose not to." And the existence of that choice is good. Because it means that if we do choose to love and follow God, then our love is real, and we are following God because we want to. Without that freedom of choice, there can be no real relationship with God, nor can there be any real love.

This is why God's placing the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the garden is not evil, but good. It gave us the freedom that makes us human. And with that freedom, God gave us the rationality to be able to consider the alternatives and make a choice--preferably for good. This freedom together with rationality is at the core of our humanity. Everything we do that is truly human is an exercise of our freedom and rationality.

So although God did not create evil, God did create human beings with the inherent possibility of turning to evil. And that is exactly what we did.

The second important thing to understand is that evil is a purely human affair. Humans, and only humans, are capable of making spiritual, moral, and ethical choices. Therefore humans, and only humans, can create evil. This human-generated evil does get expressed in the world of nature both through our direct influence on our physical environment and through the combined spiritual influence of our evil, which molds and shapes the world of nature from within. But the world of nature itself, with all its intricate physical and biological patterns, is neither good nor evil. It simply is.

Only humans can be said to be involved in evil. Because only humans have the higher, spiritual levels of consciousness where freedom and rationality reside, with their inherent possibility of choosing not to do what is "natural," or good for us. Lower animals simply respond to various influences and experiences according to their instincts and training. We can choose to go outside of both, and do things that we were never created to do.

And it is precisely when we do things we were never created or intended to do that we begin to bring evil into our lives and into our world. The first act of evil recorded in the Bible happened when Eve disobeyed a direct commandment of God and ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Yes, I know God gave that commandment to Adam before Eve was created. But aren't husbands and wives supposed to talk to each other? Besides, Eve's conversation with the serpent shows that she knew very well that she was not supposed to eat from that tree.

She did it anyway. So did Adam. That was a choice for both of them. God gave them freedom to make choices, and they used that freedom to choose to do what was evil and harmful instead of what was good. And though they didn't literally die "on the day that they ate of it," they did experience an immediate psychological and spiritual death. It says, "Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked." Adam and Eve had not known shame before. Now they did. And they sewed fig leaves together to make loincloths for themselves. There had been no shame in their nakedness before, but now there was.

We have all had the same experience. We have all come to points in our lives at which we knew what was the right thing to do, and what was the wrong thing, and chose to do the wrong thing. And we have all felt the immediate sense of wrong and shame that came over us--even as we continued on the downward course that we had chosen.

One of my more painful memories from childhood was a time at camp when I faced the choice of whether to go along with some of the other boys who were picking on a particular kid, or do what I knew was right by taking the risk of sticking up for him. I chose to pick on him along with the others.

Something died in me right then. There was a loss of innocence and simple friendship, and a surrender to cruelty. Even though I later half-apologized to him, the damage was done. His time at camp that year was spoiled. And I had lost some of my self-respect and inner peace. I say "half-apologized" for a reason, since my "apology" was as much as excuse as an apology--a few fig leaves that I quickly sewed together to cover my shame.

Each of us could tell similar stories, if we reflected a bit, of times when we have knowingly made the wrong choice, and suffered an inner death as a result. Each of us has disobeyed God and eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in our own way.

What drives us to do that? Yes, our freedom enables us to choose, and thus create, evil. But what is the root of evil?

The Lord Jesus helps to clarify this in pointing out where evil comes from. Evil doesn't come from what goes into us from the people and the world around us. No, evil comes from inside of us. It comes from our "heart"--meaning our motivation, our desires, our will. It is when we start loving the wrong things for the wrong reasons that we twist into evil the original goodness that God created.

The teachings of our church are very clear on just what gets out of order to twist goodness into evil. Jesus tells us that the most important commandments in all the Law and the Prophets are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:29-31). And these very loves--love for the Lord and love for our neighbor--are the ones our teachings also say we must put first if we are to be good and not evil.

In general, the other two things that we can love are the material world and ourselves. If we keep these secondary, then all is well. But when we put them first, this is exactly where evil enters into the picture. As we read earlier from Swedenborg:

Human beings are born into the love of self and the love of the world, and from these as wellsprings, into evils of every kind. We are led by the pleasures of these loves, and these pleasures prevent us from knowing that we are involved in evil things; for we feel as good every pleasure that comes from love. So unless we are reborn, we know nothing but that loving ourselves and the material world above all things is goodness itself; and that ruling over all, and possessing the wealth of all other people, is the highest good. Yet this is the source of all evil. (Divine Providence #83.2)

When I picked on that kid, I was not loving my neighbor (that kid); I was loving myself and my own position with the other kids. And since I put myself first, I participated in doing evil. Whenever we put ourselves before God, and our own possessions and pleasure before love and compassion for our neighbor, we bring evil into our world, and into our own souls.

We face this choice every day. Every day we see the Tree of Life in front of us, and also the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The choice is ours. And every day the Lord asks us to choose life by devoting ourselves to loving God and loving one another. Amen.

Music: The Prism (Colors of Love)
1999 Bruce DeBoer

Photo Courtesy of Corel Gallery
Royalty Free for Non-Profit Use

Custom Dings by Set City