In my continuing series of blogposts on the first several chapters of the book of Genesis, I want to report that it has only recently come to my attention (and, yes, I should have noticed this decades ago), that Yahweh (the God who first made the Garden of Eden as well as the man meant to cultivate it [see Gen 2:4b-16]) had already proffered a forthright evaluation of all the trees he had planted in the Garden as “pleasing to the eye and good for food” (Gen 2:9, NIV). Later on, prompted by a talking snake of all things, Eve looked again at the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” and she decided that it was indeed “good for food and pleasing to the eye” (Gen 3:6, NIV), and—as a bonus—also “desirable for gaining wisdom.” Thus, she literally confirmed Yahweh’s two implicit criteria for the trees found in the Garden, plus she presented a third criterion: the gaining of wisdom (Hebrew, khokmah, a word which clearly includes the results of experience, whether favorable or unfavorable). So, ironically, Yahweh and Eve essentially agree on how to evaluate the trees in the Garden. But are they correct?
Now, as all parents and grandparents know, the gaining of wisdom by their children/grandchildren can be a good or bad thing. I slip into a bad habit in front of my grandtwins once (for example, picking my nose), and they never forget it (why can’t they notice the many times I do things correctly, and profit from all those good actions?). Well, as the author of Ecclesiastes reminds us:
“For with much wisdom (khokmah) comes much sorrow;
the more knowledge, the more grief” (Eccl 1:18, NIV)
College instructors know that the transmission of worldly wisdom in class can bring mixed results—that is why it is a good thing that most of their students are very sleepy, and therefore miss much of what is going on (but to be safe, some religious schools greatly limit what an instructor can say, just in case someone might be awake at any given time).
But, back to Eve: she decides to eat fruit from the tree, and even gives some to her male companion, “who was with her” (Gen 3:6, NIV). Then (and only then?) “the eyes of both of them were opened,” and they now recognized that they were naked, with all the coming-of-age implications that would entail. Changes had to take place immediately, and in this case, fig leaves (which are large but flimsy) had to serve as clothing (talk about being green!). So my question remains, was Yahweh correct in his assessment that all the trees in the Garden were pleasing to the eye and good for food? How about Eve, who came to the same conclusion concerning the otherwise forbidden tree of knowledge? And, for that matter, what about such “knowledge” anyway? I suspect that both Yahweh and Eve were knowledgable horticulturalists, as well as free and independent spirits. But neither such biological acumen nor theological independence could forestall the seemingly inevitable results: hard work, pain, and drudgery (see Gen 3:16-19) which the non-Garden environment only had to offer.
Growing up may well be a painful process, but again I suspect it still inevitably must take place (see my previous post). And let us discount both the biological study as well as the interminable theological arguments about predestination and free-will; they will at best only muddy the process and thus postpone the inevitable. Leaving home (parents, and the Edenic-like memories of one’s childhood) must take place some time or other for all of us, and even if we agree with God’s positive assessment of various aspects of our former childlike environment, that cannot save us from the heartache which must accompany the hard-won wisdom of adulthood. But I leave the last word again to the writer of Ecclesiastes:
“Sorrow is better than laughter, / because a sad face is good for the heart,
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, / but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
It is better to heed a wise man’s rebuke / than to listen to the song of fools.
Like the crackling of thorns under the pot/ so is the laughter of fools. / This too is vapor.” (Eccl 7:3-6; the term “vapor” is a literal translation of the Hebrew hebel, often translated “meaningless” as in the NIV)
So, check out the fruit of the attractive trees nearby, and stay awake in class. But don’t forget how dangerous the results of those actions might become!