I am still thinking about God’s word to the woman and the man in Genesis 3. I want to understand the justice that God is doing here. My assumption is that when God does justice he begins a process of setting things right.

The wrong God aims to set right, I have been suggesting, is a failure to see the good in the other. The man speaks as if all the trouble began with “the woman you gave to be with me” (Gen. 3:12) and the woman speaks as if there were no man with her (Gen. 3:13). But the truth is that they have no hope for life apart from the good of the other. That is what I have been calling “the biblical logic of otherness.” Only as male and female—the one with the other—can they be fruitful and multiply, creating a human future of life, not death. Their hope against the death-dealing lie of the serpent is the woman’s seed (Gen. 3:15), which she cannot have without her husband.

It is important that they know this. That, I’m thinking, is one purpose of the sequence of speeches God makes to the serpent, the woman, and the man in Gen. 3:14-19. A large part of the justice God is doing is precisely this giving of knowledge about life and death, which takes the man and the woman one step further in the knowledge of good and evil that began when they ate from the tree. For the knowledge of good and evil really is essential to wisdom, as Solomon recognized when, longing for wisdom, he prayed to have a heart that discerned good and evil (1 Kings 3:9). The difference in Genesis is that instead of praying and learning this knowledge by beginning in the fear of the Lord (Prov. 1:7), the man and the woman try to pluck the fruit of wisdom in disobedience.

The process of learning, which was to end up with wisdom as a tree of life (Prov. 3:18), has gotten off on the wrong foot, and God must get it onto the right foot and move it in the right direction. His words give them the next step, setting them back on course to a knowledge of good and evil that really is a life-giving wisdom.

The first thing that happened when they got off on the wrong foot was that their eyes were opened and “they knew that they were naked” (3:7). The verb is the same one that both God and the serpent use to describe them knowing good and evil (Gen. 3:5, 3:22). It is the verb from which is derived the “knowledge” in the name of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. To know they are naked is to know good and evil in each other.

Much has been said about the self-consciousness represented in this moment, which results in their hiding themselves rather than walking with God in the garden (Gen. 3:8). But in addition to self-consciousness there is surely also a new consciousness the other—the one whose eyes are open and seeing you. At this moment the other becomes an unwelcome presence, troubling and even threatening. What the other knows about you may be good or evil, so it would feel safer to be hidden, unseen. To be naked with an other who knows both good and evil is to entertain the thought: Wouldn’t it be nicer to be alone, without any other with eyes open to see me?

This unwelcome knowledge of the other is what both man and woman try to repudiate when they reply to God’s questions. Adam blames the other (“the woman you gave to be with me . . . ”) and the woman speaks as if the other, her husband, were not there (“the serpent gave me . . . ”). Each now knows the other as a potential source of evil as well as good. Indeed, each has already been for the other a source of evil as well as good, for each now knows that the other has disobeyed God’s word, as together they led each other to eat from the tree of knowledge.

God must do something about this knowledge of good and evil in each other if it is to lead to life, not death. Famously, he covers their nakedness (Gen. 3:21), but first he gives them more knowledge of good and evil. He speaks of how their painful and troubled relationship with one another will lead to life, not death, as the woman’s seed is put at enmity with the serpent’s seed (Gen. 3:15).

And what is the next thing they know? “Adam knew Eve his wife and she conceived” (Gen. 4:1). Again it’s the same verb. I’m thinking: God’s words make the difference between the one kind of knowing and the other, between a knowledge of each other that leads to wishing the other did not exist and a knowledge of the other that leads to new life.

Articles by Phillip Cary

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