Recently I came across a FB post that ended with this sentence: “Life without God is like an unsharpened pencil–it has no point”. What I took the author to be saying is that mankind needs a relationship with God or life has no purpose. But, as soon as I read that line something weird happened. A drop of wisdom burst into my brain. Suddenly, I understood that the presence of God is inescapable. We are in relationship with God whether we see it or not since nothing exists apart from God. Nothing. Not good. Not evil.
As I ruminated on that thought another one wiggled its way to the front of this line of thinking–Humanity was made in His image. I realize I have not just now spoken revelation to those who call themselves Christians but I’d like to connect these two thoughts to my recent post on Our True Nature which pushes against the boundaries of the traditional fall of man doctrine. We know from Genesis 1:27 that God made man (male and female) in His image. We also can discern from the continuation of the story in Genesis 2:25 that prior to eating from the Tree of Knowledge Adam and Eve did not understand that their nakedness had the potential to cause shame. Only after they gained knowledge by eating the forbidden fruit did they experience shame as explained in Genesis 3:7. In fact, God confirms what the serpent told Eve when God decides to banish the couple from the garden in Genesis 3:22 saying, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil…”
These verses reveal a few things that most retellings of the fall of man doctrine tend to gloss over. First, God understood from the beginning the difference between good and evil but man did not. Secondly, man’s awareness/understanding of his own nature is what changed, not his actual nature. The Creator, God, created man in His own image as an autonomous being. By disobeying God humanity experienced shame (and its counterpart pain) for the first time. Yet, man had no way of knowing what the consequences of disobedience would be before he disobeyed (he did not yet have that knowledge) even though the potential to disobey was part of man’s original nature. I have always been confused by the idea that God’s response to man (in the traditional interpretation of the fall of man story) was to punish him. Punishment always seemed like an unjust response for something mankind was incapable of understanding. God is not unjust, however. What life looks like when the natural consequences of free will unfold is what I believe the creation, garden of Eden, and fall of man stories (not to mention the rest of scripture) actually reveal. Finally, (and this is where I may lose you if I haven’t already but please hear me out) God has the potential to exact tremendous, unfathomable, evil upon His creation. Key word: potential. Unlike mankind, He hasn’t. doesn’t. and won’t. (God the same yesterday, today, and forever). The God I see revealed in scripture always chooses good, always chooses grace, and always chooses relationship. Even His judgment (in the form of Jesus) is tempered by His love.
God’s omnipotence is different from our knowledge of good and evil. As a created being, man may know what good and evil are but that doesn’t make us all knowing. God understands the big picture, sees the end and the beginning without the parameters of time and space. We may be able to learn from the past and predict into the future. We may be able to use our imagination and come up with solutions that have never been tried before to problems we have not yet seen or create problems for which we have no solutions. But, no matter how creative our thinking, no matter how much we are able to glean from the past we are still finite beings and our knowledge is tempered by our physical limitations. When God sent Jesus into the world, He did so in order to give mankind a flesh and blood, man in God’s image, example to follow. Jesus was limited by the physical just like the rest of humanity. Still, the gospels testify to Christ’s life walked out choosing peace, love, inclusion, service, righteous judgement, forgiveness,… In other words, a human life. walked out. choosing the way God has chosen. When we follow Christ’s example we too walk out our lives choosing peace, love, inclusion, service, righteous judgement, forgiveness,… When we don’t follow Christ’s example our choices bring discord, hatred, blame, exclusion, selfishness, prejudice, condemnation,… The spectrum between the two represent the natural consequences of free will, of knowing good and evil. The choice is ours, consciously or not.
Now, please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I am not saying God created evil in order to beat up His creation with it. (We do a thorough enough job of that ourselves). At the end of the day, when the story is done, I don’t believe we’re going to suddenly see a Creator character shift. I don’t believe God is waiting to unleash an evil tyrant God ready to exact His revenge by tormenting the goats (along with Satan and his entourage) for the rest of eternity. He has already consistently shown that. is not. His way. I am saying evil exists because it is part of the plan. Evil (wrong doing, disobedience, sin, turning away from the love and protection of an all-knowing God) exists to give man a choice.