We don’t know why God plants trees in the Garden of Eden that Adam and Eve cannot eat. When I visualize the story in my head, I put these trees in the very center of Eden. No matter where they are, they know these trees are there. One of the trees is a tree of immortality. Whoever eats its fruits will become divine. The other tree is the tree we hear about today. It’s a tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
To me, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is a merism. A merism is a figure of speech where polar opposites are used to denote a totality (The Jewish Study Bible, Oxford 2004, page 16). Merisms show up many times in the bible. In the very first verse, God creates the heaven and the earth (i.e. everything). In the second creation story, the first human being is created and then split into male and female. The first human contained the totality of what’s possible in humankind. Merisms show up in other places too. When we find polar opposites in Scripture, we need to look for what’s totally represented. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents what everything that can be known. This knowledge contains what we usually call knowledge: science, math, poetry, and language. But knowledge also contains experiences. To be knowledgeable, we need experiences. We need to know how to survive through a broken heat. We need to know what happens when we break someone else’s. We will struggle, feel joy, and sometimes need to take each day just one-at-a-time to survive. Knowledge is more than just learning; knowledge is living.
The totality of knowledge is what God has. And this is what Adam and Eve desire. They see the tree and the possibility for joys. They see the tree and the possibility to be like God. As Lutheran Christians, when we talk about Sin, we mean more than just immoral acts. For us, Sin is our desire to be like God. We want knowledge; we want power; we want control. We want to be God. And this is why Adam and Eve are exiled from the garden. But they aren’t sent out alone. God will replace the loincloths they made for themselves with something better. Even when we try to take God’s place, God never stops being generous to us.
Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 1st Sunday in Lent, 3/5/2017.