The knowledge of good and evil

Stewart HuntFeatured, From Stewart

Together we quickly did the math. It was twenty-five years ago that I would have sat in his theology class as an undergrad student (a fact that disturbed us both)! It was good to see Brian Edgar again after many years. As Professor of Theology, he stimulated my thinking then and he did so again last night at our “4:12” gathering.

Brian was reflecting on how formative a book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer had been on his life.

In his book “Ethics” (published in 1949 after his death), Bonhoeffer points out that whilst the aim of ethics is to discern between good and evil, the aim of Christian ethics is to “invalidate this knowledge”.

Motiv 2 von 3Aufnahmedatum: 1939Aufnahmeort: LondonSystematik: Geschichte / Weltkrieg II / Krieg in der Heimat / Deutschland / Widerstand / Bekennende Kirche / Bonhoeffer

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

On the surface, it is a surprising statement however it helps us understand how different is the discipline of Christian ethics to that of ethics generally. The role of Christian ethics is to actually critique the discipline of ethics itself and to this end, the problem behind the knowledge of good and evil.

The very pursuit of what is wrong or what is right, indicates that something far bigger is amiss. Rather than regard it as a noble quest, the need to do so should serve as a warning sign.

Why is it so difficult to discern the difference between right and wrong? The answer is, that we were never meant to.

In Genesis 2:17 we read,

“…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.” (NIV)

Up to this point, mankind knows only God and that is enough. Knowledge of good and evil is outside of that relationship and is equated with death.

Then in Genesis 3:22 – after disobeying God and falling away from Him – we read,

“…The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” (NIV)

Does this help explain why we (particularly in the west) are afloat in an ocean of knowledge, yet have so little wisdom to drink?

It underscores our need to lay hold of promises such as this,

“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” (James 1:5 NIV)

God delights to answer such a prayer! How does he do this? … next week!