“You Will Be As Gods, Knowing Good and Evil”

For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.— Gen. 3:15, KJV

Once there was a farmer who worked his poor farm together with his son and their horse. When the horse ran off one day, neighbors said, “How unfortunate for you!” The farmer replied, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”

When the horse returned, followed by a herd of wild horses, the neighbors exclaimed, “What good luck for you!” The farmer replied, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”

While trying to tame one of wild horses, the farmer’s son fell and broke his leg, so he couldn’t help with the farm chores. “How unfortunate for you,” the neighbors cried. “Maybe yes, maybe no,” said the farmer.

Shortly thereafter, a neighboring army threatened the farmer’s village. All the young men in the village were drafted to fight the invaders. But the farmer’s son was excluded because of his broken leg. People said to the farmer, “What good luck for you, that your son broke his leg!” “Maybe yes, maybe no,” said the farmer.
— Ancient Chinese Parable

In the Garden of Eden, the serpent explains to Eve that the benefit of eating the forbidden fruit is that she will “become as gods, knowing good and evil.” Let’s parse this.

I wonder if “you shall become as gods” means we will have a god-like perspective, in a position to really assess what is good and evil ultimately. In the story of the Chinese farmer, the neighbors think they know what is ‘good’ and ‘evil’ for the farmer. But they don’t have the whole story. They can’t know what is going to happen next.

We badly want to believe we are capable of a god-like perspective, capable of knowing with certainty which of our choices will have Good or Evil outcomes. But we don’t. We only see ‘reality’ through the tiny peephole of our all too limited senses and minds.

But we have to make choices anyway. For that we have ‘moral laws’ to tell us which choices will have better outcomes 99% of the time. “Thou shalt not murder” is simple and sound guidance 99% of the time. But Bonhoeffer — a German theologian who found himself in Nazi Germany and had the opportunity to participate in a plot to assassinate Hitler — agonized over that moral choice and ultimately decided that the ‘sin of commission’ of murdering one man (Hitler) was less than the ‘sin of omission’ — standing by and permitting Hitler to murder countless more Jews and others. (The plot failed, and Bonhoeffer was hanged.)

To be sure his was an exceptional situation, but not THAT exceptional. Sooner or later all of us face choices not between Good and Evil, but between Evil and Worse Evil — and the hideous difficulty of trying to discern which to choose.

I read somewhere that Hitler’s mother wanted to abort Adolph, and a friend talked her out of it. I haven’t been able to confirm the story, but the principle is correct: by being ‘pro-life’ for one child, the friend unwittingly condemned millions to death. Even if not historically true, it still illustrates our moral dilemma. We all face the hideous impossibility of foreseeing the consequences of our choices and having to make choices anyway.

To me the core of serpent’s false promise is that it is possible for us to have a god-like perspective in which Good and Evil will be clear. A god-like perspective from which we can foresee the ultimate outcomes. That’s the lie.

Instead of the hubris that we are capable of a god-like grasp of Good and Evil, the reality is that we are profoundly finite human beings, profoundly finite in our ability to perceive and understand. But we still must make choices every day, great and small. And so instead of making those choices — which we must — from a stance of arrogance and hubris, kidding ourselves that ‘we are gods, capable of a godlike knowledge of ultimate good and evil’, instead let us make the choices we must from the stance of humility, acknowledging that we are but dust.

So what is the infallible sign that WE TOO have succumbed to the serpent’s temptation? Hubris. Hubris that we can know everything we need to know to make infallible choices. Hubris that we are unquestionably capable of the necessary insight and foresight. The hubris that if you don’t see things MY way, well of course I have the god-like perspective and since you don’t agree with me you must be mentally and/or morally deficient.

Choices we must choose. Every minute of every day. But when we make those choices, let’s reject the serpent’s lie with humility, acknowledging to all  (especially ourselves) that “I may be wrong”. That I don’t, and never will have a god-like perspective. That I am ever incapable of foreseeing what will turn out for Good or Ill.