It has been some time since our last post, partially because of the business of the season and of our personal schedule. But the major delay is in my own spirit. I have labored long and hard over the years to know how to say this, and yet I think it is fundamental to the understanding of our life in Christ and of our growth in His grace. I am not against the church! Get that straight! I am against religion! There – I said it. The problem is in defining what that means.
It is my prayer that you carefully consider the following and that you give me grace as I attempt to make a definition that it basically nonexistent in our Christian world.
The church is in trouble, simply because it has gravitated to the definitions of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and left the freedom of His presence.
So, read on and, when you are finished, let me know your reaction!
In His Grace,
Genesis 2:8 Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 9 The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
The Hebrew root of die, in verse17 is – H-333. Ater, aw-tare'; from H-332; maimed; Ater, the name of three Isr.:–Ater. Also translated as exiled, maimed, to be damaged.
Adam was not told to not eat of the tree of life, but he was instructed to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He was warned that when and if he did, he would be exiled, damaged, maimed, altered. To die involves a transition from one form to another and in the sense of this Hebrew root word, the connotation is that mankind, in the act of disobedience to God, would transition from the life known in innocence to a damaged, altered and maimed form of existence. Some suppose that this was a death of the spirit, leaving man to face life with but body and soul, devoid of the higher power of spirit. In whatever way man became damaged, or died, it was a fatal event.
It was many years ago now, that I stood in front of a Bible college class on the Book of Genesis. As I read the passage above, something happened that was rather revelatory. I read, and then I experienced something I shall never forget. In an instant I remembered incidents in my childhood and youth where this scriptural concept was taught to me. In all of them, I had been instructed to not be bad (eat of the tree of evil) but to be good (eat of the tree of good). The context, however sincere, was always about behavior with the mandate that I should avoid evil and do good. And there were definitions of what is good and what is evil, always. Later in life I reduced them all into a little cliché that I threw out when the occasion warranted: “I don’t drink or smoke or chew, and I don’t play with girls who do!”
I was always a sincere child and wanted to please God and my parents, so I did my best to refrain from rebellion to the standards that were set by my parents and the church leaders who were over me. But in that one moment, in front of the college class, I realized, perhaps for the first time in a definitive sense, that it was not the tree of evil, but of good and evil. I saw, as it were, a continuum or behavior, from one extreme to the other, but existing in contradistinction to one another. They are inextricably tied together as equal opposites and in the sense of human worth, one is no better than the other, in that they both grow out of the wrong tree.
The key to the concept of the tree is the word “knowledge.” The temptation from Lucifer was that if you eat of it, you shall be as God, able to judge, to define and to know the full scope of mental and emotional (Hebrew: Towb) – pleasure and (Hebrew: Rah) – Pain! The picture is of humankind in a state of innocence, in which the continuum of pleasure and pain was outside of their experience. They were without the contrasts, judgments and values of good and evil. They were in communion with the God of all things and under his covering they had no need to know, but only to trust.
It is in the quest for definition, that innocence is lost and that we deny the values of God and demand to make those decisions for ourselves. It is at the invitation of Lucifer, who in pride fell from his place as second in command of heaven, that we fall prey to the same quest and the same penalty. We fall – from innocence to knowledge. How far we fell, is only known in the tragedy of human experience.
The fall seems like a step up. We presume to gain something of knowledge and control over our own life, yet, in reality we step into a context that denies the existence of God and reliance on Him. We move from the liberty of life to the tyranny of law. We are forever after, throughout human history, involved in the struggle to define and to evaluate and to know. We set up contrasts and competitions between people, families, tribes and nations. We fight and war over the mundane and trivial. We judge and penalize, fight for control and give control. We become creature of the law rather than participants in His grace. The entire nature of human government is to define and punish. I takes the place of a loving God but is never loving or kind. As Thomas Paine presented government in his book, “Common Sense,” the total scope and purpose of human government is to punish evil –
SOME writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by wickedness; the former promotes our happiness POSITIVELY by uniting our affections, the latter NEGATIVELY by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.
Frédéric Bastiat  writes, –
The Complete Perversion of the Law
But, unfortunately, law by no means confines itself to its proper functions. And when it has exceeded its proper functions, it has not done so merely in some inconsequential and debatable matters. The law has gone further than this; it has acted in direct opposition to its own purpose. The law has been used to destroy its own objective: It has been applied to annihilating the justice that it was supposed to maintain; to limiting and destroying rights which its real purpose was to respect. The law has placed the collective force at the disposal of the unscrupulous who wish, without risk, to exploit the person, liberty, and property of others. It has converted plunder into a right, in order to protect plunder. And it has converted lawful defense into a crime, in order to punish lawful defense.
Human government, even in its highest and purest form, flows out of the broken relationship between God and man. It is the inevitable consequence of the loss of innocence and the need man discovered from Lucifer, to know and to define. The death of man has consequences far greater than the physical loss of life. It is a transition from living by the presence of the creator to living by the resources of human ingenuity alone. It speaks of separation, isolation, insecurity and fear.
Grace and law are the two ultimate contrasts. Love and fear, are the two ultimate passions. Within the context of life, we are free to pursue love and grace, but within the context of the knowledge of good and evil we are bound to the law of contrasts. Within the context of the law, we pursue full pleasure only to find that it is inextricably tied to full pain.
Human history is then the unfolding of law, given to protect us from annihilation, but which carries with it the pain of existence. All of human experience revolves around the law, born out of the fall. All human institutions tend to the definitions of good and evil and yet, because of the damaged human nature, do so with impunity and imperfection.
Pride, that key element of the Satanic fall, is the seed of the fall of man also. It is the need to be as God and to move the power of definition from the infinite minds of God, where it is in totality and perfection, to the finite mind of man, where it is imperfect by its very nature and applied with that imperfection. It is here that man takes life from the context of the spiritual and moves it to the arena of the natural. It is in this one prideful act that man chooses to trust in his own power of perception of the universe rather than to trust the infinite power of the creator God.
I Samuel 8 –
8 When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. 3 But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.
4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead[b] us, such as all the other nations have.”
6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. 7 And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”
From there on, we are to a large degree, on our own. Trying to find our way, we no longer look upward, but outward, contrasting, defining as best we can and providing for ourselves the laws of man. The problem is we do so in the context of fear, without a perfect grasp of love. Love, in the human experience cannot reach to the level of the agape love of God and His unqualified and unmerited acceptance and passion for us. Love, in the human experience is always experienced in the continuum of good and evil, in the evaluation of what it gets for me and how it may damage me. Love, then encompasses fear and is defined in self protective ways. Love thus gives us full pleasure, but also separation, divorce and the need to protect ourselves. It has equal and opposite extremes in the human setting. It is tainted by the definitions of good and evil and the full pleasure and full pain that exist in that continuum.
So it is in the arena of grace and law. The law cannot accommodate grace or it is not law. It is hard, harsh, and reflects the need for humanity to be removed from the actions that warrant its application. It is, by its very nature, not administered for the benefit of the perpetrator, but for the separation of the perpetrator from those that are affected. Grace in contrast accepts the penalty of the perpetrator and forgives them at the same time. It does not lessen the severity of the penalty it simply shifts the point at which the penalty is administered. That is the picture of the animal sacrifices of the old covenant. Where there is sin, someone has to die. Grace is the administering of the law to one sacrifice, at one time, for all humanity. Christ died for us, and removed the curse of the law and the need for the knowledge of good and evil, by taking forever the penalty for our behavior. To the degree that we trust in our own definitions, whether for good or evil, we negate the power of HIs grace toward us.
Sociologists point to religion as the seed plot of conflict and war. If we define religion as the governing power structures of the definitions between good and evil, which they tend to become, then, I cannot argue against the premise. In fact, I agree with Lenin that religion is the opiate of the people. The entire religious dichotomy comes from the tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil. It is not the tree of evil, but of KNOWLEDGE of both good and evil – the definition! God told us not to eat of it, and yet, we, to this day, still have it as our point of reference. Civil government is a parallel system which has as its base of definition and activity, the law – the definition of good and evil.
The problem is, once you go down that road, living within the confines of that paradox you have to prove that your goodness is good enough, so it has to grow both in its demands and in its definition. So also does government have to grow, define and control. It is the verification of existence – that I am good as opposed to those who are bad. So, the proof is in the comparisons and contrasts. If I am to be good, then I must find a contrasting comparison to show that I am.
The problem is that this continuum of equal opposites is always expanding, either to one end or the other. There is no escape, if that is the context of life. And the balance point between the equal opposites, good and evil, is ever shifting. The liberal will claim to not want controls of their behavior and choices, but strive to control others who violate their sense of goodness, the environment, or other sacred cows. The fundamental Christian will do the same thing, only with different definitions and inconsistencies that they do not see.
So, as good as we try to make the law and the religion, It is dangerous and is the seed of the tree that we are to avoid. Until grace appears and moves us into His life, we are doomed to the frustration of self justification, self loathing and self destruction. That is the arena of the law. Always has been. Always will be. The gospel is not an agent of definition of the law, but the fulfillment of it. Christianity, in its intent and core, is not a religious quest, or a path to goodness, but the surrender of the entire struggle of self to His life, in and through me.
And that is the problem with most religions, from Islam, to Judaism, to Christianity and beyond…. It has no sacrifice for self, no release from the quest and no dimension of Life. It becomes the most sophisticated system of good and evil in contrasts ever devised. It demands a perfect leader – whether Mohammad, or Moses, or Jim Jones, or you name them! They have to be more than human to represent the perfection we demand, for they are simply alternatives to standing naked before the Creator God in innocence. So the leaders and originators of any religious system must be perfect in our minds, and the justification for all of their killing and prevaricating and tyranny is never seen for what it is, but is allocated to our definitions of good in contrast with evil as evil becomes good and good becomes evil.
This illustrates the structural problem with the good and evil continuum. It is not a level line with opposing extended ends. It is circular, bending back on itself to become a circle at some point, in which sexual sin, if practiced by a glorious prophet, must be both justified and condemned, leaving an impossible dichotomy where those definitions meet. I think the same is true in Christianity, or for that matter in any religious system. The further it goes in its dictates, administrative structures and traditions, the more evil it becomes. It is an inevitable consequence of the continuum itself.