02 January 2007

"It seemed like the thing to do"

by Dan Phillips
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate (Genesis 3:6)
This is the only description of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil that we have, apart from the fact that it was in the midst of the Garden (2:9, which also may confirm its attractiveness).

To the eye, there wasn't one thing wrong with it. It looked tasty. It was beautiful and pleasing. It beckoned to Eve, promising fulfillment, self-realization, growth. Absolutely nothing in the fruit itself put up a Stop! sign. No one, standing in Eve's place and confining himself to what he could see, would have thought otherwise.

Yet in that fruit lay rape. In that fruit lay murder. In that fruit lay theft, violence, hatred, deception, insanity, misery, cancer, starvation, torture, perversion, drunkeness, slander.

In that fruit lay guilt, sin, depravity. In that fruit lay Hell.

The phrase "appearances can be deceiving" finds its first reality here, in the Biblical narrative. I don't myself take it that the physical properties of the fruit gave rise to these things; I see its role more as that of a dark Sacrament. What it effected rose from what it represented. It represented God's first No; and partaking of it represented man's first act of defiance, his first rebellion, his first sin.

God had given positive commands: be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue the earth, work the Garden. Enjoy all the fruit and vegetation you see. He also gave one negative command, along with a warning: do not eat the fruit of this one tree, or you will certainly die.

Eve's position was very like our own. She was not there when God spoke this word, as far as we can see from the narrative. God spoke this word to Adam (Genesis 2:17), and then He created Eve (2:18-25). Eve, like us, did not receive the word by direct revelation. She received it mediated, through Adam.

But she was bound by it nonetheless. Spoken directly to her, or mediated through Adam, it was the word of God. And this is where she went wrong.

She found herself for some reason near something she had no known business being near. The tree should have forever been #1 on her list of Things I Don't Need, Ever. Yet there she was, close enough to hear the Tempter's voice. I infer that this was her first mistake; her second was participating as she did in this deliberation.

As is the case with every heresy, the Tempter calls into question God's goodness, His veracity; His Word. And Eve is persuaded that he has a point (1 Timothy 2:14). But it's a subtle persuasion.

We do not read that Eve replied, "You know, you're right. God is a liar. He is a fool. He is a stingy killjoy. I don't have to obey Him. No consequences will follow disobedience." The text doesn't require that she thought any of these things. We only know what we know by examining what she did. And what was that?

She looked it over for herself. And in this very act, she had violated the Creator/creature distinction. Implicit in her thinking was, "God might be right, but He might be wrong. I'll decide for myself." And in this is the seed of all sin.

Every heresy today, every apostasy, every false doctrine, looked good to its purveyor, and looks good to its adherents. But don't stop there. Every rapist, thief, murderer (single, serial, or mass), every lying demagogue, did what seemed like the thing to do at the time.

But keep going. Every husband who is unfaithful to his wife, every wife who demolishes her husband, every child who shakes his fist at his parents, every pastor who shrinks from faithful service, every church member who undermines the unity of the church, every person who starts a forbidden activity, pursuit or relationship -- every last one did what appeared to him to be the thing to do.

Now, in some of those particulars, you could make a good case that dire consequences would follow these actions ("In the day that you eat...."). But the actions themselves commonly don't bear these consequences on their face. What the actions themselves promise is fulfillment, happiness, joy, reward, success, achievement; scratching the itch, meeting the need, filling the hole. That's why people do what they do. That's why you do what you do, and why I do what I do.

There isn't any way in the world that you could tell, by the action, whether it was evil or not; whether it was moral or not; whether it was good in God's eyes, or not.

This is the ineradicable fact that drives atheists absolutely nuts. ("More of a putt than a drive," on might comment.) "You need some god to tell you that murder is wrong," they mock. "We don't." Actually yes, they do; they just hate, hate, hate that fact. Who's to say that this murder, this rape, this theft, mightn't move our race forward in the grinding march of evolution? Who's to say, indeed?

Where we Christians get in trouble, though, is through over-confidence in our holy vapors.

Of course, the leaky-Canon Christian begs for such trouble insofar as he canonizes his feelings and hunches, never certain whether the Holy Spirit mightn't be mumbling, hinting, or nudge-nudging some secret-code semi-revelation. It's possible to him. It's a door God has closed, that he insists on leaving open. This leaves him ripe to be straining his ears into the darkness and silence, rather than putting all his efforts into searching the Scriptures.

But Sola Scriptura-types are also vulnerable. How so? We can be so confident in our study, our reading, our accomplishments, our years of stable growth, our church, our pastor, our Christian upbringing, our theological tradition, that we forget our own need constantly to be on guard, and our own continuing vulnerability. We've helped so many, we've set so many straight, we've been sought out so often, that we come to see ourselves as fonts of wisdom, resources — sources, even.

And in that lies great danger. The apostle cautions, "let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12).

But how could you fall, such a wise and holy one as you?

The same way your great-great-grandma Eve did. You decide that you can decide, yourself, on the basis of what you see and calculate. You think you're smart enough to do the moral math. You don't think you need to check everything by the Word of God, consciously, as if your very life depended on it. It looks good, you don't see anything wrong with it. And so you go for it.

Before you know it, you find yourself right next to our idiot great-great-grandfather. Hiding. From God. Behind some lame bush.

Now, we could do this to ourselves all by ourselves, through our own limitless folly. But it's even worse than that. We're not "all by ourselves," are we? No less than Eve, we have a tireless, merciless enemy at hand to fan the flame of our natural arrogance. Mr. Fuel? Meet Mr. Fire.

Remember how good that fruit looked.

Fear. Stay on guard. Run everything by the Word, before God. What matters isn't how it looks to you. It's how it looks to God.

If it doesn't pass the test, you don't need it—no matter how pretty it seems.

Dan Phillips's signature


Matthew said...

I really liked this post but I was also kinda disappointed in it also...

...because it wasn't a book. ;)

DJP said...

Thanks, Matthew. I know you're being encouraging in a humorous way, but actually it is a dream and a goal of mine to write something that merits publication, and is in fact published (not always interchangeable). In fact, it's a goal of mine for 2007, that I get a book contract for one of the books in my head and/or on my hard drive.

I'd be grateful if you'd pray for me to that end.

Mike Felker said...

I agree Dan. I've enjoyed and benefitted from just about everything you've written. Specifically, i've benefitted the most from your perspectives on cessationism/continuationism. There are too few books in print on the subject that adhere to a strict cessationist position (MacArthur's and Waldron's books have the only ones in print that i'm aware of), and even those don't go in the depth that is needed to respond to the most persuasive arguments put forth by continuationists. So i'll definitely be praying for you in these goals of yours!

ricki said...

Dan - another home run. Well written. Thanks.

Regarding the book - best wishes and certainly I'll pray for you as I remember. I'll even ask God to speak to you regarding whether or not it should be on cessationism/continuationism.

FX Turk said...

[1] We are going to write a book and call it Everyone can read this book but Matthew. And then make CBA not sell it to you, Matthew. Not even Amazon.

[2] It seemed like a good idea at the time.


You get a book contract, and the honeymoon is over, pal.

rg said...

But exhort one another daily, while it is called Today, lest even of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Hebrews 3:13

Dan- Thank you for the exhortation!

Ebeth said...

Please re-post this periodically this year. This admonition bears such repeating.

Ebeth said...

Proverbs 16:2
All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the LORD weights the spirit.

Ebeth said...

Weighs the spirit

FX Turk said...

What? Only 11 comments??

Dan -- you'll never get a book contract with only 11 comments!

Sparks said...

It was too painful to read these few paragraphs of raw, biting truth. How could you expect the pablum fed of today's church to get through a book like this?

Excellent post.

DJP said...

Frank -- you're killing me.

Chris Hamer-Hodges said...

Overlooking your usual dig at those who apply Sola Scriptura to their belief and practice regarding the charismata, this was an excellent post.

We have no authority to judge the Word; the Word judges us.

I also liked your illustration of 'dark Sacrament' - insightful.

Andrew Lindsey said...


Thank you for this post. My wife and I read Gen. 3 in our family devotion last night, and I just re-read it right before checking out Pyros this morning, so this is providential that I now have some teaching to re-enforce the truth of the text in my mind.

Carrie said...

A great reminder, Dan. Thanks.

Rileysowner said...

Excellent post. I will have to re-read it later after I have let it sink in a little more.

Brent said...

I've printed this off for my five boys to read. But... let's not call our great great grandfather an "idiot"! The boys aren't allowed to speak like that to even their brothers. And Adam is both father and brother to us.

DJP said...

Oh, Brent, I suppose you have a point.

But honestly — hiding! In a bush! From God (who made the bush)!

You pick a word.