THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL AND THE CAPACITY FOR LOVE  (Genesis 2:16)

 

With twenty something carol services before one Christmas giving me plenty of time for thumb twiddling, I decided to read all the Harry Potter books. (I managed the first five before New Year’s Day.) OK this was 15 years after they grabbed the imagination of a younger generation, but I thought maybe it would be a good time to see if J. K Rowling was really as good a writer as they say.

 

I must say I was hugely impressed. What wonderful writing. She seemed to match Dickens’ understanding of people, the pressure and problems of life, the triumphs and disasters, the emotional tensions of the dark magic of this world, of choices and love. For me it all seemed very Biblical in the way the stories juggle the knowledge of good and evil and the redemptive qualities of love.

 

Genesis 2:16 And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may eat freely of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’

 

Here is a situation fraught with danger. Humanity’s capacity for knowing good from evil and also for love, places a heavy burden upon us all. Of course what the verse means is that alone among created beings we men and women are morally responsible for our actions. Humanity has a unique power to act for better or worse. Our knowledge of good and evil, plus the ability to love, are God given characteristics, both with the potential for triumph or disaster.

 

Why should God allow us this freedom? I have no answer for you except to say that the ability to mess up is uniquely human, and (dare I say on a lighter note) is useful sometimes. If the English had not played so badly at Cardiff yesterday, we would have thumped them, nor would we have lost the Ashes from the Ozzies unless our batting and bowling had collapsed. I am sure you take my point. It is part of being made in the image of God.

 

But does it mean that we get what we deserve in this world? Those at the ends of the churchmanship spectrum often believe so. Looking at the Old Testament they take various texts to mean that if we exercise good judgement in this world God will inevitably bless us with health, prosperity and good fortune. Conversely they believe that those who are rash and secretly sinful can expect God’s judgement to fall upon them at some point sooner rather than later. This is the essence of Puritanism, high or low.

 

Of course it is true that we will reap the consequences of our decisions good or bad, but it is as true for non-believers as it is for those with religious faith. Puritanism imagines a vengeful God on the lookout for secret sins. But the New Testament knows nothing of this; it is much more a case, as Jesus said, of “Go your way and sin no more.” The difficulty for Puritans (of all religious traditions) is that when life goes wrong big time and they know it is not directly their fault, their faith is undermined. ‘Was not God supposed to be looking out for me?’

 

A colleague of mine lost his faith when his wife developed cancer. And you may remember the tragic case a few years ago when a Vicar in Bristol Diocese whose daughter had been killed by a hit and run driver had to leave her ministry for the same reason. And one of those unfortunate ladies burned as a witch in the Salem trials is quoted as saying “What secret sin hath God found in me?” The problem for Radical Islam is very similar. What is Allah playing at not granting swift victory to his faithful soldiers of the Islamic State?

 

This world, as J. K. Rowling reminds us, is full of dark magic. However well or badly we play our part as religious believers we may well be caught up in its unfortunate consequences. The best we can do is to aspire to make good moral choices, and accept that we may fail and be caught up in the failure of others. The good news is that God’s love covers our inadequacies, and as part of being made in his image we are also granted the capacity to love. Even better as St Peter reminds us love will cover a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)

 

This is never easy! A while ago when asked to do my weekly schools’ assembly on Water into Wine, I made the point that alcohol in itself is not evil but the abuse of it is.  By extension drugs too are God given, but our capacity to misuse them, from paracetamol to heroin, is something we need to think about carefully.

 

Some parents were outraged. What was the Rector doing teaching children about that sort of thing? But then the fact that the Government regularly runs advertising on TV warning children about the very same and saying that we are never too young to learn, rather bears me out. Humanity’s capacity for knowing good from evil and also for love places a heavy burden upon us all.

 

Being human is a wonderful thing. But, unlike other creatures we are morally responsible for the choices we make and live with the consequences. The good news is that the love of God and other people can repair just about anything.