Knowing Good and Evil

We know the difference. And we know the difference our decisions make.

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
told by Deborah

God put the man in the garden of Eden to cultivate it and maintain it.

And God said, “You can eat as much as you want of everything that grows in this garden — except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; you mustn’t eat from that, because the day that do, you will die.”

Now the serpent was the slyest of all of the wild creatures that God had made. He asked the woman, “Did God say, ‘You mustn’t eat from any tree in the garden’?”

“We can eat the fruit of any of the trees in the garden,” she replied, “but God said, ‘You must not eat the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden — don’t even touch it — or you will die.’”

“Oh, piffle!” the serpent said, “You won’t die! It’s just that God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened — and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman realized that the fruit of the tree was edible as well as lovely to look at — and who wouldn’t want to be wise? — she picked some and ate it, and gave some to her husband who was there with her, and he ate it, too.

Then they had understanding; and they covered their bodies, concealing themselves from one another.

Photo of a flower

Reflection by Deborah Beach Giordano
February 18, 2018

Again We Weep — and Point Our Fingers

flag at half-mastThis past week I was on vacation, enjoying a sabbatical from news and networks. But on Thursday as we drove into a nearby town we saw flags at half-mast everywhere, and we learned of another national tragedy. And the too-familiar pattern repeats: another heavily-armed young gunman, another community devastated, and another round of finger-pointing.

No one wants to be responsible for an action that is almost impossible to imagine in its horror: the cold, calculating planning and execution of a vicious, evil deed. No, this cannot have anything to do with us. It must be the fault of someone else: and the litany of “the guilty others” begins.

The identity of who is to blame varies, depending on who is pointing the finger. One thing you can be sure of: it isn’t the one who is doing the pointing. After all, it is too terrible for any of us to even imagine.

Ultimate Responsibility

One target for a great deal of blame and resentment is God. We’ve all witnessed it — and engaged in it ourselves, perhaps. If God is everywhere, always, what the #ell happened on Valentine’s Day? That is the Big Question we all struggle with, making peace (or continuing the battle) each to our own ability and with God’s grace. In my own Walk, I understand it as contingent on the gift of free will.

As the story of Genesis tells us, humanity has claimed the knowledge and power to know and do both good and evil. Our choices have god-like results: to maim, kill, and destroy — or to bless, comfort, and build up.

What we do cannot be undone; the responsibility is ours. That is the Original Obligation: our actions have consequences — sometimes terrifying, irreparable consequences to ourselves and to others. To wish otherwise would be to want to be simply divinely-manipulated marionettes, with God pulling the strings. No, we are here, in this world, in all its majesty, splendor, challenges and opportunities.

Tall Poppies?

As people of faith, we naturally turn first to prayer in times of trouble — and are often scorned and belittled for doing so: “Prayer is useless. Do something.” “Your God didn’t prevent it, so what’s he gonna do now?

tall poppyI think this is a variation of the “tall poppy” syndrome: those who raise their heads and speak become targets for the angry and the grieving. The desire for an undoing of the damage that has been done runs deep, and its impossibility cuts to the heart. The implication that “mere words” can bring relief is considered an insult to the intelligence, an outrage against reason — and all of the suppressed resentment and rage and sorrow is turned against those who dare to suggest A Path of Peace.

It is not our task to explain or justify why prayer is our first recourse in times of trouble. It is enough — it is all that is necessary — to recognize that such reactions flow out of a lack of understanding and an agonizing hurt. What matters is that we cling tenaciously to our Work of prayer always — and especially when horror and chaos and fear are at their utmost.

Prayer helps us respond rather than react, reminding us that, whatever may come, God’s redeeming love is the last word. Prayer helps us to focus on restoration, not revenge; it leads us upon the path of compassion, for His Name’s sake, and delivers us from despair. Upheld on the wings of prayer, we will act with wisdom, grace and energy.

And yet, despite our prayers and our pleas, and our best intentions, these tragedies persist. Why?

Changing the System

People of good will insist that we yearn, deeply and truly, to prevent another tragedy such as the one in Florida. Yet we argue, debate, and disagree over methods of keeping our loved ones and ourselves safe, never coming to an agreement, always insisting on our own way, never seeking a compromise. And, in the end, nothing is done. And so the story repeats, again and again.

We point our fingers, we find fault and blame. We establish a scapegoat, an “other,” absolutely unlike ourselves, convinced that those who do evil are utterly different from us. We’re not responsible, these things have nothing to do with us….

But I wonder.

All human beings are “as gods, knowing (and doing) good and evil,” and, altogether all too often, we dabble in that which is evil. But just a bit. Only a little, not a lot. We just dip our toes into the poisoned spring, we don’t dive all the way in. We’re not all that bad.

Love mankindWe aren’t major sinners, we don’t murder or rob or steal. We love God and we love our neighbors as ourselves — except for the neighbors who always park in the spot in front of our house. We only hate a few people. We have compassion for sojourners, the poor, the ill, and those in prison, but despise those who disagree with us. After all, they’re in the wrong, so it’s ok. Right?

Jesus told his disciples, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not murder,’ and anyone who murders will be brought to judgment.’ But I am telling you that whoever is angry with his brother or sister will be brought to judgment. Whoever calls his brother or sister ‘worthless’ or ‘stupid,’ is answerable to the court. Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ is bound for destruction.”
    ~ Matthew 5:21-22

How much harm do we do when we carry hatred and contempt in our hearts? Who among us can honestly say that we have not “been angry with our brother or sister,” have not called anyone “stupid” or “foolish” or worse?

Spiritually such an attitude creates a trail of destruction a mile wide wherever we go. Now multiply that by all of the angry, hateful encounters that occur throughout our nation, day after day. What happened in Florida was mild, by comparison.

Consequences

The ancient prophets repeatedly warned the people of Israel that their actions had consequences; not only their individual actions, but what we might call their “cultural values,” as well. When great evils arose, where once they had known joy there was an abundance of sorrow; when violence and cruelty grew commonplace, as “brother rose up against brother,” the impoverished and the ill crowded the streets, as the nation was besieged by foreign enemies and beset by political unrest at home ….. it seemed as if God had disappeared.

The problems, the prophets insisted, were not due to God abandoning the people, but came about because the people had abandoned God. They were no longer concerned with doing what was right — only in looking out for themselves. But all was not lost:

If you remove oppression from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted, then the Light will dawn brightly in the midst of this present darkness, and your saddest day will be like a celebration.
    ~ Isaiah 58:9-10

arguingAll is not lost. But things will not get better on their own.

Without the protective shield of love and compassion, evil spreads; hatred and violence seep into the national consciousness. Getting and grasping and pushing others aside are seen as virtues. The gentle warmth of kindness is supplanted by the heat of anger, the delight in building up is displaced by the thrill of tearing down. “If it bleeds, it leads:” what’s important — who is important — is the one who does the most harm.

When destroying our enemies is presented as a solution to our problems, can we be surprised when fragile or disordered minds take us at our word?

Slouching Toward Calvary

Perhaps we can glean a lesson, a divine Warning, from the most recent tragedy. Could there be a more powerful condemnation of our national attitude? There, in all its vivid horror, was a physical manifestation of the hatred and division, alienation and violence, viciousness and destruction that passes for conversation in our daily lives.

It was not the first, and it will not be the last such tragedy unless and until we change our ways. And I think it is particularly significant that it occurred on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. This is the season of special mindfulness for Christians; during this time we are called to look at our lives in the light of our Lord Jesus’ life and teachings.

How will you honor Him throughout the days ahead?

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Reflect on this Scripture:

If you remove oppression from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted, then the Light will dawn brightly in the midst of this present darkness, and your saddest day will be like a celebration.
    ~ Isaiah 58:9-10