The people who wrote the Bible would be astonished if they could see the extent to which we read their stories as if they really happened. I use the word “extent” because it’s not that they didn’t happen, in one form or another, but that we emphasize the literal interpretation over the spiritual. We do this to such an extent that the spiritual aspect of the narratives becomes mere speculation, when, in fact, the original authors could see them in no other way.
We must understand the mindset of these ancient writers. For them, the world was very different than it is for us. We have been steeped in postmodern materialism. For us, the world we see is the world that actually exists. If we try to superimpose meaning onto the world, we slip out of the mainstream; we get labeled as dreamers, or worse yet, delusional. For the materialist, ascribing meaning to a random and chaotic universe is nothing less than superstition. There are no gods, there is no purpose, and no one is coming.
But the writers of the Bible saw only meaning. Everything happened for a purpose. The gods were deeply involved with the affairs of people, and salvation was as inevitable as the rising sun. They could not take a step without contemplating the effects of their next move, whether it was pleasing or displeasing to the Almighty. Eating was a divine act; preparing food was a sacred task; birth and death were portals to another world, and those who passed to and fro were messengers, bringing portents and leaving signs in their wake. These were the real events. Everything else was just a story.
But still, we imagine an actual fruit—an apple. We make jokes about it—”It wasn’t the apple on the tree, it was the pear (pair) on the ground,” which reveals how unholy we regard sex and everything else that has to do with our physical selves. Or, we insinuate that knowledge itself is in direct opposition to God, that wanting to know more is wanting to be “like God,” which is the same sin that brought down Lucifer—pride. A picture of an apple with a bite taken out of it pokes at our deep-seated insecurity about this while at the same time titillates our desire to know everything.
We want to steal fire from the gods, but we’re afraid we’ll get caught!
Of course, this is a cursory read of the story of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, is it not? What were the Ancients really trying to tell us with their fables and legends, especially this one? What is this tree, and why is its fruit forbidden? Surely, there has to be a message here, a deeply profound message that is as relevant today as it was then, one that will continue to be relevant as long as there are human beings alive on Earth. So, what’s the message?
If we consider that it was a spiritual message and not an historical account, it starts to make sense. The fruit ceases to be bodily food and becomes a symbol for the source of our spiritual nourishment. How do we find our spiritual direction? What spiritual energy are we plugging into that will define the nature of our soul? What spiritual food will we eat that will grow us into spiritual maturity? Will that maturity be positive and life-affirming, or will it lock us into the entropy of a materialistic life, one that will eventually wind down and leave us empty?
What is the “knowledge of good and evil,” if we look at it with spiritual understanding? Can we read these words without thinking that we already know what they mean? For example, doesn’t this phrase imply its opposite? In Hamlet, Shakespeare says, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Was Shakespeare wise? Does this quote taken from Hamlet constitute divine wisdom, or is it just a clever line in a play?
Is there virtue in seeing the world with non-judgmental eyes?
If you’re a rationalist, this question will probably bother you—a lot. Why? Because you value your ability to tell right from wrong. And who doesn’t? But, is there such a thing as knowing right from wrong and calling one good and the other evil? Can something be wrong—and just be wrong? Or, must you also call it evil, and then hate it intensely? In other words, do you define sin as a mistake, or do you demand that sin be paid for with blood? After all, if something is sinful, it IS sinful, and is therefore evil. And, as everyone knows, evil must be destroyed! If you equate “wrong” with “evil,” every mistake must be punished. There can be no forgiveness and no reconciliation without judgment. You must pay for your sins with your own death.
This belief, this stream of knowing—this fruit—will kill you. It will not only kill you physically by eating you from the inside out with hatred, it will also kill you spiritually. Your soul will perish, because it is eating fruit from the wrong tree.
Now, I know that some people believe in the “Fall,” that mankind fell from grace, fell from the heaven realm because it became infatuated with the material plane, and that this was a mistake. And for this mistake, mankind was punished by having to eke out its living by the sweat of its brow, bringing forth children in pain, and all that. I’m not one of those people. I think that we’re here because God needs us to be here, that God needs our eyes and ears, our hands and feet, our experiences and our questions in order for God to be able to know that part of It’s own being. Call me crazy, but this is what I believe. I do not believe that I’m in some kind of exile or that I’m being punished because someone ate an apple, or had sex, or whatever else that was wrong and therefore sinful and therefore lethal(!) I don’t believe that God works that way.
Being proud of knowing right from wrong, turning one into good and the other into evil, will make a person feel like…well, God. And what do you get when you take a God complex and add it to a strong belief in good vs. evil? Any ideas? Anyone? I think you get my point. You get a person who is capable of and dedicated to destroying the world. He, or they, will destroy it by any means they can get their hands on, whether by waging war on the “infidels” or the planet’s fragile ecosystem. One way or the other, they will get the job done, and they will feel like they are doing God’s will even as they plunge us all into hell.
Getting your spiritual nourishment from a strong belief in good and evil will get you one thing for sure—cynicism. You will be cynical, and you will believe that your cynicism gives you strength. You will be proud of your ability to see the evil in the world, and you will gradually come to believe that the whole world is evil and should, therefore, be destroyed. And for you, it can’t happen soon enough. The reason for this is simple: cynicism leads to hatred. Once you start down the path of “knowing” good and evil, the more you will see evil everywhere. Not one person will be beyond your reproach. And everyone will have to die.
The solution to this problem is not to ignore the evils of the world. The Christ, through Jesus, told us to be harmless as doves and wise as serpents, to be both good and smart. He also told us not to resist evil, knowing that what we resist persists. Rather, we are to conquer evil with love. This is true spiritual power.
As usual, Your insights are stunning.
Illuminating insights! Thanks for your writing.
Doug G in LV
Thank you for this brilliant, meaningful interpretation of this ancient myth. It is extremely helpful.