In the book of Genesis, we read concerning the temptation of Eve. Placed in the garden with her husband, Adam, she was blessed with access to every sort of fruit, and all the necessities of life. Yet there was one fruit, a lone tree in the midst of the garden, that she was forbidden to eat: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (cf. Genesis 2:15-17).
Why, we might ask ourselves, was the one thing forbidden to man a certain sort of knowledge? What was God trying to teach us?
The tempter, in the form of a serpent, came to Eve, questioning her concerning her ability to partake of the fruit of the garden: “Did God really forbid you from eating any fruit?” When Eve helpfully clarified that they were only forbidden the one fruit (cf. Genesis 3:1-3), and that eating it promised death, the serpent lied through his pointed teeth, telling Eve, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. (Genesis 3:4-5; ESV)”
It is a curious thing, when we consider that Adam and Eve were made in the image of God (cf. Genesis 1:27), that the temptation put before them was that they could, through the acquisition of knowledge “be like God,” as if the only thing that separated God from man was how much God knew that man did not. The promise of this knowledge gave the illusion of power and control, but it proved hollow. The knowledge gained was not worth the trade-off. Eating of the fruit, the two progenitors of our race found themselves cut off from their paradise, separated from the relationship they had with the Father, and cursed upon the earth, destined to die physically, even as they had already died spiritually.
We live in an age where knowledge is more available than ever. Smart phones, computers, the internet, search engines all combine to provide ready access to the entire library of knowledge available to men. There is a temptation to think that such a plethora of knowledge makes us more god-like. Like Eve, we might be tempted to think that we can reach a point where we no longer need God. But if we fall prey to such thinking, we are, like Eve, going to find the promises of knowledge to be hollow.
God is certainly not interested in men being ignorant. He made us to be learning creatures, and advocates that men grow in knowledge and in wisdom. He teaches, “an intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge,” and “there is gold and abundance of costly stones, but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel (Proverbs 18:15, 20:15; ESV).”
Further, the Bible instructs us that God is the ultimate source of all knowledge. “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding (Proverbs 2:6; ESV).” It is impossible for men to learn that which God did not already know and all that we learn is because God made it possible for us to learn it.
The Bible declares, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7).” True knowledge and wisdom must include a proper perspective of God in relation to man. God is supreme, and though we are made in His image, we are not nor ever will be God. When we are tempted to think that we can follow our own path to knowledge, apart from God, in order to be like God, we are deceiving ourselves.
Paradoxically, God promises that if we will turn to Him for knowledge, following His path, we will grow to be more like Him as His children. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:3-4; ESV)”
Knowledge is a powerful thing. Knowledge, apart from God, is often a hollow venture, making promises it cannot deliver, tempting us with a path which ultimately leads to destruction. When it accompanies a proper understanding of who God is, knowledge leads us ever closer to God, creating faith in God and teaching us how to imitate God, so that we fulfill our potential as God’s children made in the image of God.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.