Adventist Tomorrow: #9: The Blessed Knowledge Tree
by Jack Hoehn | 17 September 2018
At the center of life stand two essential gifts, existence and understanding, well symbolized by Eden’s two trees, one offering “Life” and the other offering “Knowledge.” The Knowledge Tree was not a trap, it was a school. It was not a danger; it was an opportunity, one we can still take advantage of.
The Genesis 1 song—poem—outline—story—ancient history of Creation suggests in broad strokes how this empty planet came to be verdured. Each successive Creation Day offers something for plants and their ecological niches.
- Energy is provided in the primal “Day 1” command of “Let light be.” Preexisting water and the introduction of light energy followed by the creation of photosynthesis become the main drivers of all plant (and animal) life.
- Oxygen in the “firmament” intelligently designed for “Day 2” is most likely created by photosynthesizing algae and bacteria in “the waters below” using sunlight-powered photosynthesis to create needed oxygen.
- “Day 3” events include the momentous appearance of land above the waters. God then delegates to the land the task of making plants saying, “Let the land produce vegetation, seed-bearing plants, and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” Fossilized plants suggest that the first terrestrial vegetation (following the water-based algae and bacteria) were spore-forming plants. They spread over newly emerged land. Progression from simple spore formers (such as liverworts and mosses) to vascular plants with ways to move nutrients from the land higher into more complex branches and leaves (simple lycopods, then later more complex ferns) are recorded in fossil layers.
- In “Day 4” it has been suggested that earth’s atmosphere changes from a cloudy impenetrable fog to a time when the sun, moon, and stars become visible from earth’s surface. Fossil records now show new plants appearing as forests of larger spore-forming plants with roots and leaves and true wood, such as cycads.
- “Day 5” with sea-life and air-life proliferation starts with a “Cambrian Explosion” of small sea animal types, but there is also an accompanying “Devonian Explosion” of seed-bearing plants (gymnosperms), and the small flying animals necessary to pollinate and propagate them.
- After seed plants, fossil flowering plants (angiosperms) appear, and then figs and other fruited large seeds suitable for food are created so a viable plant world is now fully prepared to nourish complex animals and delight humans by the completion of “Day 6.” God’s world is now ready for a garden.
THE GOOD GARDEN
Inside Eden’s Garden, all was very good:
“Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden;
and there he put the man he had formed.
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.”
“And God saw everything that He had made,
and indeed it was very good.”
I have always considered the Tree of Life as very good–what a wonderful thing that the life vitamin, the missing link, the continual suppression of the cellular aging/death processes, was available in some miracle fruit. This seeded fountain of life I would like to have growing in my yard. I would tenderly nourish it. Good tree.
Only recently have I come to understand that the Tree of Knowledge was as important and as much a blessing as the Tree of Life. Both Trees are vital and beautiful and efficient.
I’ll have to admit that until now I had considered the Knowledge Tree not very good. I have often heard God criticized by the likes of Mark Twain or his lessers for putting a Knowledge of Good and Evil Tree there. That complaint is always good for a wry groan or laugh. At very least, don’t let the snake have a stage. Could there not have been a fence about it? Or bigger signs: ACHTUNG! PELIGROSO! DANGER TREE! EAT AND DIE! CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED!
Atheist and anguished believer alike have criticized or questioned the Creator for putting a “Knowledge of Good and Evil Tree” into the garden.
Knowledge itself has become suspect. Blessed holy ignorance has been praised. Have you not heard sentiments like these? “Just do what God says and obey; don’t try to know things. Be satisfied that you just can’t know everything. See what education and too many books, too many lectures, too much thinking does to you? These educated folks lose their faith. Who needs schooling? Who needs book learning? Why go for advanced education? Ah yes, the beauty of simplicity. Your girls will make more tractable wives if they don’t have too much schooling. See what happened to Eve?”
Yes, see what happened to our Queen. Her Knowledge Tree was said to be “beautiful.” The fruit was full of flavor and according to our prophetess, not poison. Good to the eyes, good to the taste, and hey, able to make you wise. Was this just God setting a trap with enticing bait? Was this really a “bad tree” in a good garden? No, at the heart of this wonderfully created world, at the midst of the safest and most perfect part of this world, was not one, but two wonderful and essential trees.
LIFE WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE IMPERFECT
The garden could not be perfectly good with Life alone. Only Life with Knowledge could be very good. So God places the two essentials for his kingdom of love at the center of this created world:
The tree of GIFT and the tree of CHOICE.
The tree of GRACE and the tree of TRUTH.
The tree of BODY and the tree of MIND.
The tree of FEELING and the tree of REASON.
The tree of FREEDOM and the tree of RESPONSIBILITY.
The “Tree of Knowledge” was not placed there to entice; it was there to teach. It was not a trap; it was a school. It was not to deny knowledge; it was there to increase knowledge. By obedience to God’s mild command to not eat of that fruit, knowledge of life, understanding of good and its evil alternatives, would have been increased, not diminished.
The Tree of Knowledge itself was a blessing, a good. It was meant to increase Knowledge. Disobedience spoiled the function of the tree. Disobedience to God’s command did not bring more knowledge; it obscured knowledge. Instead of revealing more truth, disobedience clouded and distorted truth. Disobedience opened their eyes to doubt, to fear, to death–but not to knowledge. As sinners, they foolishly ran away from God rather than running closer and nearer to God, closer and nearer to truth, to useful information, to reality.
CHOICE NOT CHANCE
God designed that the freedom of choice exercised at the Knowledge Tree would lead to deep, thorough, honest, and accurate knowledge of both good from the inside and evil from the outside. Humans would soon have known more about God and His character by obedience. All Truth would have been clearer and more vivid. Information would have been greater and more useful. The key to the knowledge of good and the knowledge of evil was choice.
Simple life alone without the knowledge to be obtained by the exercise of choice is not compatible with God’s character of Love. Without freedom to choose between love and its alternative (evil), there could be no truth, no relationship, no freedom, and no knowledge. As C.S. Lewis has explained,
“God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can’t. If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.
A world of automata–of creatures that worked like machines–would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free.”
KNOWLEDGE, FROM INSIDE OR OUT?
We wish to know the truth. How can we know truth? Think for example about the truth about cancer. We can learn a lot about cancer by studying cancer from outside cancer. As a physician, I can read about cancer in books, I can look at cancer cells under the microscope, I can treat patients with cancer. I can know a lot about cancer from the outside, and I can continue to learn more about cancer the longer I live. Knowledge of cancer, truth about cancer, the reality of cancer and what to do about it, or how to avoid it, increases the longer I study; the more facts I gain, the more my science and experience with cancer, from the outside, continues.
But I can also know about cancer by having cancer. As a patient with cancer, I will soon feel it in my lymph nodes, or my liver, or my lung, or my brain. I will know its pain and its sorrow, but this knowledge will be limited and soon fatal, for knowing about cancer by having it soon leads to distraction, disorientation, and my course of study will inevitably be cut short. This is an intimate knowledge to be sure, but not a superior knowledge. I will know some things very sharply by having cancer, but I will not necessarily know more about the true causes of cancer, or the possible cures of cancer, by being a patient.
THE NEW TREE
Jesus came to reveal truth and knowledge that has been lost by disobedience and the human descent into sin. He came to free us. And to do so He climbed onto another tree, Calvary, that becomes to the believer the new Tree of Knowledge. And He didn’t just come to reinforce the old knowledge we had of good and evil; He came to correct both. What we thought was good, wasn’t always so. What we thought about evil by experiencing it, wasn’t always true.
The Bible claims humans can call “good” things that are in fact evil. Jesus Himself suggests humans prefer error to truth. He also suggests we don’t correctly understand even the Bible itself. He said we are likely to focus on the insignificant while neglecting the really important things. 
The new standard of truth then, is not our experience, and not our previous limited or partial understanding of revelation. Both experience and revelation need to be refreshed and corrected by the knowledge of God and His character that we can receive standing at the foot of Calvary’s Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
There is a strong temptation for believers to wish to return to previous ages and live in the real or imagined manner of our spiritual foremothers and forefathers. We want to have “Biblical living,” imagining that revelation in the Old Testament or in the New Testament opens to us secrets for overcoming the problems of sin and death we find ourselves struggling with. There are likely hundreds of books and sermons available on “Biblical living.” “Back to the Bible” is a broadcast ministry going on for nearly 80 years. “Apostolic Christianity” tempts us to return to the presumed “faith of our spiritual fathers” in the first century as the solution for our spiritual malaise. Is this an honest and true way to know God and live His will? Apostolic Christians weren’t even sure if non-Jews could become Christians, if there was a trinity, or what books should be in the Bible!
Should we use revelation to correct information given by other reliable sources? Should we demand that the sun goes around the earth as the Bible accepted, if science tells us the earth in fact orbits the sun? What is the correct relationship of the Life Tree with the Knowledge Tree. What is the relationship of Revelation to Science? What is the relationship of Faith to Knowledge?
BEYOND REASON, NEVER AGAINST IT
Gregory A. Boyd articulates a sentence I have found most helpful. “While faith always goes beyond reason, we don’t believe it should ever go against it.”
Ellen G. White suggests God uses two sources to teach us the truth; one is by revelation, the other is by experience or nature. The religious experts wish their opinions to be authoritative. Popes wish to have the right to overrule kings. Cardinals wish to have the right to overrule bishops. Bishops are sure they must command obedience of priests. And priests claim to have the keys to heaven for believers. But the cross of the authoritative Creator is neither coercive nor dictatorial. Like the Eden tree, the Cross brings God in the least powerful, least authoritative, least coercive way to your attention, and then asks for your choice.
Good or Evil. Christ or Barabbas. Give in to taste or let reason control desire. Say what pleases the mob or stand against the vigilantes. Go for greatness or go for goodness. Hurry home to bathe and keep the Sabbath, or break the Sabbath by remaining at the cross to fan the flies from the Crucified’s brow.
A LIFE OF LEARNING
Why is life random and unpredictable? Because without the randomness of chance there can be no choices. If every fruit were red you couldn’t prefer orange. Chance, randomness, gives us options. And without choice there can be no growth and no love. Although subject to chance, we can however refuse to submit to chance. We can deny the power of random tragedies to steal or stifle our love, our hope, our knowledge of the goodness of God.
Accept the gracious gift of life, and fight the evil that would take it away. But don’t fear knowledge; embrace it. Don’t fear science; improve it. Don’t fear books; devour them and write better ones. Don’t stifle questions; struggle with them. Have a GED? Get a BA. Have a PhD? Earn a Nobel Prize. Got the Prize? Win the Crown. Don’t surrender to lusts and the sin that crouches at each door; resist your devils and learn of Him who takes away sin from this world.
With knowledge God will replace simplicity with depth, ignorance with wisdom, misunderstandings with insight, past truths with present truth. The Tree of Knowledge bears yet sweet fruit and fragrant blossoms for the faithful. “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden… take my yoke upon you and learn…”
Think of what kind of Adventism that could grow.
* This article is 9th of a series suggesting possible new frontiers for Adventism. A list of the previous Adventism Tomorrow articles and were to find them are listed by clicking HERE.
 There are different ways Bible readers can understand Genesis 1. For the purpose of this article all arrive at the same conclusion that God has created a wonderful world, with a well-adapted garden home for early humans whose central meaning was best explained by two unusual “trees.” Understanding the trees as literal or symbolic does not change the meaning of the sacred story.
 Even the most basic creatures, single-celled organisms without a nucleus or organelles (prokaryotes), are capable of this miracle of chemical engineering to use solar energy to create chemical energy (carbohydrates) through photosynthesis. And oh yes, by the way, photosynthesis also releases another chemical into the atmosphere—oxygen. How convenient.
 Genesis 1:11.
 For example, Astrophysicist Hugh Ross, Navigating Genesis, page 52 (RTB Press, Covina CA, 2014) “At least for some brief moments, probably only a few at first, the clouds would break, making the Sun, Moon, and stars visible to creatures on Earth’s surface.”
 See “Darwin’s Doubt—the explosive origin of animal life and the case for intelligent design,” Stephen C. Meyers, 2013, HarperCollins, New York, for a detailed exposition of how the sudden appearance of almost all types of fossilized animals (23 phyla in the Cambrian fossils of the 27 phyla found in fossils, in a geological blink of time) supports creation by an Intelligent Designer, and does not permit any possible unguided evolutionary origin for the complexity and diversity of life on earth.
 University of California Museum of Paleontology (http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/devonian/devonian.php ) “This rapid appearance of so many plant groups and growth forms has been called the ‘Devonian Explosion.’”
 Genesis 2:8,9.
 Genesis 1:21
 Mark Twain in – Pudd’nhead Wilson, “Adam was but human–this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple’s sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the serpent; then he would have eaten the serpent.”
 Genesis 3:6, “the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable…”
 Ellen G. White, Education, page 25, 1903, Pacific Press, Nampa, Idaho.
 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 52, 1943, McMillan. New York.
 John 14:6,7.
 John 8:36.
 Acts 5:30,31.
 Isaiah 5:20,21.
 John 3:19,20.
 John 5:39,40 and Luke 24:25-27.
 Matthew 23:23.
 Ellen G. White, Education, page 128. “The book of nature and the written word shed light upon each other. They make us acquainted with God by teaching us something of the laws through which He works.”
 Genesis 4:7.
 Matthew 11:28,29.
Jack Hoehn is a frequent contributor to both the print and online versions of Adventist Today. He has served on the Adventist Today Foundation board since 2012. He and his wife Deanne live in Walla Walla, Washington. He has a BA in Religion from Pacific Union College, and an MD from Loma Linda University. He was a licensed minister of the Adventist church for 13 years when serving as a missionary physician in Africa.