The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:
s012o05 Lockleys Lent 1
'you shall not eat .. of the tree of knowledge of good and evil' Genesis 2.16
I had occasion to meet with someone in their home recently, not a member of this parish. Just as we began our conversation, a person in the same block of units happened to walk past the window. The person I was talking to said: "there was an evil person!" Later we returned to the subject of her neighbour. Clearly she was a troublemaker, though I suspect that she didn't actually worship evil as such.
And this caused me to reflect. I don't know that I've ever met anyone I thought was evil.
I could well imagine this neighbour was extremely lonely; laugh and the world laughs with you, be grumpy and be grumpy alone. Yet the very human need for companionship, led her out of reclusiveness. However being so insecure, she may well could only interact with others aggressively. Does this make her evil?
Then there are people like Hitler, who are able to beguile so many others. If we say Hitler was evil, then we must question the capacity of ordinary people to discern evil from good.
It is interesting to me that the Bible talks about hating God, and the people who purported to love God most diligently were the ones who killed Jesus.
As we think about terrorists, child molesters, arsonists and rock throwing youths, it becomes even more difficult to distinguish who is evil and what is understandable; if antisocial. It is a matter of some debate as to which are really the scum of the earth; child molesters, arsonists or rock throwing youths?
I find it interesting that the most dangerous and destructive people in this world are the religious, those who are entirely certain who is good (themselves) and who is evil (others).
And again as I ponder this, so often the people who know just who is good and who is evil are those who are entirely sure of the correctness of their dogma and their uprightness before the Lord.
Then I thought that we are not denied all knowledge, for the scripture makes certain we know what is clean and what is unclean, though even this is abrogated in the New Testament. It is clear that there is a difference between people who cannot be categorized into good and evil, or clean and unclean; and things, which may be clean or unclean.
Jesus says that when the advocate "comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned." So Jesus himself wants us to be knowledgeable. (John 16.8) I have just finished reading the book "The Calendar" by David Ewing Duncan, and this book explains that the prime impetus for the way we measure time and our calendar with which we are so familiar, comes from the desire to work out the proper day to celebrate Good Friday and Easter.
God is quite able to make things clean that previously weren't. It is precisely this that contains with in it the hope of our redemption.
So I don't think that the effect of eating this fruit has caused society to be able to live together harmoniously; indeed quite the opposite. The ability to categorize people into good and evil is only likely to provide us with an excuse to fight against others.
I have heard it said that of those who are most certain of their own personal vocation to the sacred ministry, often are those who 'drop out' the quickest. So I have much cause to be grateful for the uncertainty I've had about my own vocation.
I have a good deal of sympathy for Adam and Eve. After all they had no parents to care for them and guide them. They were the original orphans in a world totally unfamiliar to them. They could not ask anyone else for guidance; they were probably not aware if there were other people besides themselves; and if there were, whether they would be friendly. I suspect that firstborn children particularly feel these things to some extent. They are, by necessity, the trailblazers, and it is not easy.
With all this new and unfamiliar, it is not at all surprising to me that the opportunity for knowledge was a thing to be desired. It helped develop a sense of security.
It is worthwhile mentioning that some people read these words and wonder that we can picture God as loving. To create a world, with a tree of knowledge, then command the first people to not eat of it, and then to banish them from the garden, and multiply the pains of childbirth, does not seem to some to be the actions of a loving parent. I have a good deal if sympathy with this as well. It's a bit like eating an ice-cream in front of your children and not giving them one, just to show who is boss!
And knowledge is good. God invites humanity to have dominion over the earth, and surely we are supposed to exercise this dominion in a reasoned and informed manner. The evidence is that humanity has done much harm in not acting in a reasoned and informed way.
The book of Proverbs invites us to think and learn from God. 'Fools despise wisdom and instruction' (Pro 1.7). In our second reading, St Paul struggles to know and articulate how grace overrides law, how God is good to all people. We, too, are invited to work at these things. It is curious that I am typing these words as I do my Justice of the Peace duty at the West Torrens library, a delightful and well-used repository of knowledge if ever there was one!
So these words have their importance, but they are not to be taken apart from the rest of scripture.
These words express the truth that all is not 'hunky-dorey' in this world. They try to maintain the truth that God is all-powerful and all loving, yet there is sadness and sickness, strife and mortality, and we wonder why; why God created it so in the first place and why doesn't God fix it up now, and put us out of our misery!
The traditional answer that it is something to do with humanity's rebellion from God. We need however to be careful for some things are beyond our control, like tsunamis for instance. The reality is that God will not arrange for all tectonic activity to cease when everyone repents and becomes a Christian. There is a good deal of evidence that tectonic activity is vital for the renewal of creation.
There are indeed things we can do to make this world a more pleasant place and we do well to do them. God has broad shoulders and will cope with our complaints.
For me, God does not want us to remain ignorant, but God would spare us knowledge of evil if possible. But evil exists, often inspired by fear.
Evil will not be conquered by categorizing and ostracizing it, but by trying to deal with it in a loving and caring way. In this sense labeling some one as evil cannot make any difference to us in our attitude to them; we are still called to love and care when we can.
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