Point 3332 from Pensées of a Professor

Is the phrase “forbidden fruit” a misnomer?

My student told me that she regretted the language of “Forbidden Fruit,” for that suggested that “The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil” was itself forbidden and evil, when really it was biting the fruit which was the problem. Everything God created was good, so even The Tree of Knowledge had to be good and somehow added to the harmony of Eden — nothing existed that was ontologically evil: evil was a result of “towardness” (she hinted at 1 Timothy 4:4–5). Critically, it also wasn’t the fruit Adam wanted so much as it was to “be like God,” as the serpent tempted — the fruit itself was not what Adam desired, but instead Adam desired to compete with God, to “relate” to God in a certain and different way. My student emphasized that our focus should be on our “relations to things” to determine good and evil, not so much on things themselves.

My student added that because Adam was already “like God,” the serpent wasn’t offering anything new to Adam, because of course the serpent couldn’t create anything new to offer. The temptation had to be for “a different kind of relation” to the “God-likeness” that Adam already had (an idea which was impossible to realize), and it seems God originally gave Adam a relation of “faith” to his “God-likeness,” whereas the serpent offered Adam a relation of “certainty” (my student reminded me that God could not be pleased without faith, according to Hebrews 11:6). Adam wanted to know that he was “like God,” not just be “like God” — the temptation was indeed a temptation of “knowledge.” My student suggested that “certainty” was only possible for God (for only God could “know everything”), and thus “a temptation for certainty” was indeed a temptation to “be God” versus accept “God-likeness,” and there could not be more than one God without the universe being negated (a point my student left hanging). The reason only faith could please God was because thinking God didn’t exist denied God, but “being certain” about God required being God, thus leaving faith the only option. And that was the option Adam rejected, for Adam wanted control over “the meaning of the relationship,” per se. The allusion to “dating advice” made me laugh, and all of this made me wonder if people participated in “the first sin” when they sighed that “they just wanted to know” this or that, but I kept the thought to myself, not wanting more “relationship expertise” from my student.

The distinction between “The Forbidden Bite” and “The Forbidden Fruit” was important, my student claimed, because people now talked about “Forbidden Fruit” as if there were things in themselves which were evil, and that thus sin could be avoided by making sure we “avoided evil things.” But Genesis didn’t teach this: the Tree of Knowledge was allowed to be in the Garden — it did not “negate itself out of existence,” per se, as evil should have done in the middle of Paradise. The Tree was there, and it was not off-limits to look at, touch, talk about, and even sleep under. God is good and must only do good, so the Tree of Knowledge must have been part of the Divine Order of the universe in its ontology. There is no “evil ontology,” my student stressed: there are no “Forbidden Fruits” only “Forbidden Bites.”

This seemed like the most ridiculous distinction in the world, but my student was adamant that it mattered. Sin came from an action and a choice, not from “a thing”: sin resulted from a disposition and orientation — from “inside of us” — sin did not exist in the “external world” that then “transferred” into us like a poison. No, sin was created inside of Adam by the choice to bite into the fruit. Evil results from actions not from things. There are no evil things, for St. Augustine is right that “evil is always a mis-ordered good.” Adam’s sin came from “a mis-ordered relation to the Tree of Knowledge,” and that means it did not come from the Tree itself into Adam. Adam was himself the birthplace and beginning of sin: it did not begin anywhere external and then enter internally into him. Humanity is the point through which evil entered the universe, and it is also according to humanity that evil will be ended — alpha and omega. I mentioned Lucifer and how the rebellion of the angels was the origin of evil, and my student replied, “Not for creation.” I waited for an elaboration, but my student seemed incapable of it. I myself determined that even if evil started in Lucifer, that still meant evil was birthed in “relations to God” versus things, but still I wanted more that my student would not provide.

My student noted that Adam did become “like God” when he ate from the Tree of Knowledge — the “likeness” Adam already had became a different “likeness” — for Adam created “something out of nothing.” There was no sin or evil in the universe, and yet Adam created it. In this way, we are still “like God” whenever we sin, for we are always “creating something out of nothing.” No, we don’t “create things,” but we do “create (sinful) relations” which God Himself did not create. We thus “bring into being” and “into causation’ that which God Himself did not “bring into being.” We are “like God” in this way, and to keep us from “always having to be “like God’ in this way,” God shut up Eden and kept us away from the Tree of Life. For if we gained “eternal life” in our current state, it would only be “timeless life”: we would have no hope of ever becoming a “god who didn’t create sinful relations out of nothing.” Because we can die, we can cease “being like God” and “become one with God.” Because of death, we can escape “likeness,” a point my student somehow convinced herself was comforting.

Paradoxically, as already noted, before “the bite,” humanity already had “the likeness of God” in terms of “trinitarian communion with God,” but it seems we wanted to be “like God” in the sense of “being able to create out of nothing.” We sacrificed the first “likeness” for the second, and that was foolish, for what remained after God’s Creation to be created? God by definition must create “everything that possibly can be created that’s good,” for God is good and things are good, so God would “bring about” everything that was possible and good. Not necessarily all at once, because it is the nature of things to have to develop and emerge “through time,” but ultimately God must create everything that can be created which is good. Thus, all that was left for humanity to “create out of nothing” was that which was bad, and so the only way humanity could be “like God” in the creative sense was to “bring about evil.” Thus, with “the bite,” that was all Adam could bring about, and, indeed, that is what Adam brought about.

All that remained after Creation for Adam to “create out of nothing” was “disorder” (nothing else was “new”), and so when he gained “the knowledge” of how to “creatively be like God,” the only thing Adam could do “creatively” was sin (thus, our plight). Perhaps had Adam been allowed to eat from The Tree of Life, he would have also been given the ability to create things, “lives,” out of nothing, which means Adam could have created evil things. With the Tree of Knowledge, we gained the ability to make evil relations — we gained “knowledge” of how to “disorder the things that already existed,” but perhaps we would have needed to eat from the Tree of Life to make “disordered things in themselves,” which would have been notably terrible, because if we made a “disordered universe,” then “disorder” would have become the new “new order” — “disorder” and “order” would have become similes — and living in that universe would have likely been chaotic and unbearable. Good would have been bad and bad would have been good, which sounds like Hell, so perhaps God removed us from Eden precisely to save us from Hell. God did not banish us from Paradise to keep it away from us but to keep Paradise possible. Yes, perhaps not until the end of time in New Jerusalem, but that’s better than nothing and, after The Fall, the only remaining option. Otherwise, Pandemonium.

My student emphasized the point again that there are no “Forbidden Fruits,” for God cannot make “disordered things,” only “Forbidden Bites,” which means that evil and sin only come from “relations” to things. Evil cannot be located “in” things, only in orientations and dispositions — in the “metaphysical space between things,” per se. It is not by chance that it isn’t until after “The Fall” that Adam becomes “Adam and Evil” — one name refers to both man and woman beforehand, suggesting that it wasn’t until “The Fall” that “the metaphysical space and split between things” existed (before then, everything was perhaps a “harmony” that made divisions “practically irrelevant,” even if they were somehow still there). And this would make sense if indeed all humans could “create” after The Fall would be certain “relations,” which means all humans could do was “create spaces,” per se. Humans changed being to make “metaphysical spaces” possible which were before “practically irrelevant” into spaces where “creative possibilities opened up,” but unfortunately the only “creative possibilities” left after Creation were evil. And it was only that direction which was “left for humanity to go in” after The Fall when perhaps Adam gained the ability to “create out of nothing” — a destiny was chosen.

Perhaps Adam wouldn’t have sinned at all if he just wanted the fruit for the fruit’s sake — perhaps then the trespass would have been entirely different. Had the fruit fallen off the tree, rolled across the ground, and Adam found it not knowing which Tree it came from, perhaps he could have eaten and nothing would have come from it. Perhaps the reason eating the fruit started “The Fall” is because Adam ate it for the purpose of becoming “like God” (to “become” something, to gain a certain “relation to himself and the world”). Perhaps the fruit did nothing at all, and what was forbidden was the desire to “be like God” which God “located” in the tree — it could have just as easily been “located” in a rock or a river or in Adam’s hand. The fruit then simply become a way for Adam to act upon a thought in his head that God concentrated in the tree so that it wasn’t “existentially uncertain” if Adam possessed sin or not. Who knows what that Tree of Knowledge would have done to Adam if all he desired was the fruit itself. Perhaps with time, when God saw that the desire to replace Him was not in humanity, God would have taken fruit from the Tree of Knowledge and offered it to Adam (perhaps far away from the Tree), for there was nothing wrong in eating the fruit itself (as long as eating it did not disturb Adam’s relation to God). The sin came from our relation to the fruit, because biting it changed our relation to God, to Goodness.

Had there not been a precise “point” at which sin could occur, then sin would have been “nowhere” and so then “everywhere”: when it is not clear where sin is “located,” then we can find ourselves wondering what is sin and what isn’t sin, what is good and what is bad (such as we do today in our world without “givens,” as described throughout “Belonging Again” by O.G. Rose). In “locating” sin in a precise act of “biting into fruit,” Adam was free of wondering if his thoughts were evil or if a random rock he stumbled upon was evil or if certain actions were evil and so on and so forth. By concentrating sin in one location and only one location, Adam was utterly free; had evil not been located at all, Adam would have been existentially burdened.

Couldn’t God have simply made evil unthinkable? Well, in a sense, God did, for Adam didn’t (and perhaps couldn’t) imagine The Fall and what would happen if he ate the fruit. Perhaps that’s the problem: perhaps had Adam been able to “think evil” he would have imagined all the terror that could have occurred by eating from the Tree of Knowledge and thus not done it. But perhaps those thoughts couldn’t enter his head because God would not have humanity possibly tortured by such thoughts in Paradise, but it was perhaps precisely because God was so kind to mankind that Adam couldn’t imagine the consequences of The Fall. All Adam could know was a direct command God gave Adam: “You mustn’t eat from this Tree.” This was a raw command that didn’t generate any imaginings of hell or existential anxiety: it was simple and binary, “the best of all possible ways” to make evil off-limits without there being direct thoughts about evil. The burden was light.

Alright, but couldn’t God have kept humanity from having “evil thoughts” and not “locate evil” in a single spot? And to this my student gave the classic reply: then Adam wouldn’t have had free will. Adam would have been a robot, which means humanity couldn’t have had a “meaningful” relationship with God, and if humanity couldn’t have a “meaningful relationship with God,” humanity would have been in Hell. So if God didn’t give humanity “free will,” humanity would have longed for it. Since God is good, God didn’t make Adam in Hell, and instead made “the best of all possibility situations,” which was to make a world in which “nothing in itself was evil,” where man had full control over the creation of evil in the simplest of commands (“Don’t take a bite out of this one fruit in a garden full of countless other fruits, and do whatever else you like”) Well, why didn’t God place The Tree of Knowledge on Mars? Then we could have had “free choice” without risk, yes? Because humans only have freedom if they actually can choose: if the Tree of Knowledge was on Mars, then, relative to Adam, it would have practically not existed, and thus, relative to Adam, there would have been no possibility of freedom. A choice that cannot be practiced isn’t a choice: for Hell to be possibly avoided, Adam needed “real choice.”

Please note that a child is generally free of responsibility, and if Adam couldn’t really choose to do something, then Adam would have never been a “mature person” and thus been denied something vital to “full humanity.” A “coddled humanity” couldn’t be a “full humanity,” and Adam could have been “heroic and noble” if he managed to never commit “The Forbidden Bite”: for those virtues to be available to humanity (as God had to make available if God was fully Good), then there had to be the possibility a “real choice.” By extension, this suggests that Adam could have been “real” without “real choice,” which means there had to be the risk of a “Fall” for Adam to be “fully real.” Perhaps if there were no “real choices,” then Adam couldn’t have meaningfully “committed” to God — the relationship would have been inescapable and thus meaningless — and Hell is where God isn’t committed to fully. Though it seems to us that denying Adam the possibility of sinning, of “disordered relation,” would have been loving of God, again, it actually would have been for God to put Adam in Hell. Our ideas of Paradise are rarely mature and rarely avoid irony, for the life of sin and life of irony are one.

It should also be noted that God wasn’t actually denying Adam anything in making a command not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, for Adam was surrounded by countless other fruit trees he could have eaten that had to taste just as good as the Tree of Knowledge. We get the impression that the Tree of Knowledge tasted “better” than all the other fruits, but that doesn’t logically follow. The other fruits had to taste “as good” as the Tree of Knowledge, for God by definition must make every fruit “taste the maximum amount of goodness possible.” Thus, all the fruits were equal, so God practically denied nothing to Adam: all the fruits had different tastes, no doubt, but they were equal in maximum goodness. Yes, technically God said Adam couldn’t do something (“Do not take a precise bite of this precise fruit”) but not practically. Adam could “bite” into thousands of other fruits that were all “equally good”: it was not the case that Adam couldn’t “bite at all” or “eat fruit at all,” for that would be for God to treat things as evil (“the mouth” or “fruit”). No, what was “forbidden” was a particular act relating in a particular way to a particular thing. It was “a particular act of biting into a particular fruit” that caused disorder, not biting in general or fruit in general; again, there are no forbidden things. Adam didn’t have to worry about “stumbling accidentally” onto something evil (until perhaps after Adam “created out of nothing” and thus brought “a kind of nothing” into being, a privation): all Adam had to do was rightly order his “inner life.” And, unlike us today perhaps, Adam knew exactly how to do that: “Just don’t eat from this one tree.” There was no mystery. Adam was free of wondering. Adam was free of existentialism. And to maintain that state, all Adam had to do was pass “the lowest of all possible bars.” And he didn’t, as we don’t.

In the entire universe, in Eden, there was a single point of disorder that could be caused by a very small and simple act that was practically not denied to Adam (only “technically”), and if that “single point” didn’t exist, then Adam would have been in Hell. Could God have made a “lower bar?” No, and the only other alternative than “being in Hell” would be for us to “not exist” at all, which would mean we couldn’t be around to complain about how God did things. God knew what he was doing, and he knew we would hate him for it. God knew he would die.

Subtly, my student suggested that perhaps God ate from the Tree of Knowledge, and that this tree was only meant for God — when Adam ate from the Tree, he thus “tried to become God” (and a universe which contains two God must be destroyed, for by definition there can only be one God: if there are two, God is negated out of being, taking the universe down too). To keep this from happening, God banished Adam from the Garden before Adam could also eat from the Tree of Life, because if humanity ate both the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life, then humanity would indeed be “like God” before God could distinguish Himself in Christ and the Holy Spirit thanks to Calvary. I didn’t understand this line of argument, but I rarely understand anything regarding theology. Yes, I understood it, but understanding, something deeper, was left behind long ago.

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