October 26, 2010

A Tale of Two Trees part 3 – The Greater Good

ONE OF THE GREAT INTELLECTUALS OF OUR TIME

There were two trees in the Eden narrative.  We’ve looked at the Tree of Life in the last two posts, now we need to examine the other, more infamous tree – the Tree of the Knowledge of God and Evil.  Eating the fruit of that tree led to Original Sin, and death.

Why would gaining knowledge of good and evil result in death for Adam and Eve?  In order to answer that, we need to understand what “good” and “evil” are.  In this post, we will define “good”.

“Good” is in the eye of the beholder

Like “love”, good and evil are highly subjective terms.  Adolf Hitler, the universal archetype of evil, actually thought that his actions were good for the German people.  There was a time in the history of this country wherein many people thought it was evil to free slaves and allow them human rights.  Then there are those who contend that the only “good” is the belief that no one can know what is good, and the only evil is the belief that evil exists.  Traditionally, these people had been known as “illogical, dope-smoking, hippie morons”.  Today they are called “intellectuals”.

Fortunately, we know that absolutes exist, which means that there are absolute standards for good and evil.  Those absolutes could only be set by someone who has all the information in existence.  As we have seen, that “someone” is the First Cause of existence, whom we call God.

So how does God define good and evil?

God’s good

When using the Bible to define terminology, it can be helpful to use something that theologians call “the law of first mention”.  It basically contends that there is usually great significance in the first time a term is mentioned in the Bible.   The first time that “good” is used in the Bible is Genesis 1:3-4

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness.

In fact, the first seven times the word “good” is used in the Bible is in the creation narrative of Genesis 1.  With that in mind, I would postulate that good should be strongly associated with creation, and the working Biblical definition of “good” is “that which creates”.

God is described throughout the Bible as “good”, which means “God creates”.  This of course fits with Genesis 1.

However if we leave the definition at that, it creates a problem (no pun intended).  The opposite of creation is destruction.  Yet the Bible often shows that God destroys.  In Genesis 6, God destroyed the world with a flood.  Throughout the Old Testament God destroys the enemies of Israel.  The Bible is also filled with prophesies of God destroying the world completely at the end of the dispensations.

We know that contradictions do not exist.  So if “good” is “to create”, how can God be good if He also destroys?

Creative Destruction

Well, lets look at the long-term results of the destructions I just mentioned.  The Flood of Noah destroyed all the unrepentant evil in the world and allowed man a fresh start.  The destruction of Israel’s enemies resulted in the continuation of the Jewish race and the eventual birth of Christ.  The destruction of the world at the end of the dispensations will usher in a new world completely devoid of evil.

So it seems that the short-term destruction that God caused was necessary in order to create favorable situations in the long-term.

With this understanding, the definition of “good” is the idea of “that which creates in the long-term”.  Good can include short-term destruction if that destruction is necessary for long-term creation.

An interesting exercise would be to go through the Bible and substitute the idea of “that which creates in the long term” everywhere you find the word “good”.  I think you will see that it fits pretty consistently.

The ultimate expression of good would be something that perpetually creates in the long-term.  We are actually quite familiar with an example of a system that was designed to perpetually create.  The cells of our bodies constantly reproduce and repair.  We call this system life.  Life perpetually creates.  Life is not only “good”, eternal life it is the ultimate expression of good.  Jesus summarizes this idea in John 12:24-25.

Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Next time we will examine the Biblical meaning of “evil”.

Related Podcast:

Create Good, Destroy Evil

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