Theology of right/wrong better/worse – basis in Gen 3

10 Aug

In my intro post I quoted a piece in which Syd Hielema suggests a particular posture toward difficult questions and issues. He calls it “Holy Uncertainty.” Syd goes on to suggest the “better/worse” moral compass supercedes the “right/wrong” one in most cases.

I stated that behind this problem is the false belief that it is our job to identify right and wrong, white and black. That is my current “operating theory” and I want to test it out publicly.

My theory began to take form when I was in a time of personal reflection and healing, and was further shaped when I worked as a chaplain/spiritual director in an addiction treatment center. It is centered on the question of what “knowing good and evil” is.

I was introduced to the concept and behaviour of “black and white” or “all or nothing” thinking in addicts. Addiction to a substance or activity changes the way the addict sees the world, and the way they think. They move to extremes in their thinking. They cannot understand shades and nuances. I saw that at my work there.

But I also have seen it in the church. I vividly remember the time in the early 80’s when an elder interrupted a council meeting by standing, throwing the King James Bible on the table, and as he marched out saying “If ve can’t all aggrree dat dit is de one en only trrue vord of Godt, den I can’t be wit you anymore!” Looking back with my new knowledge, I can see that this man saw only one version of the Bible as “white” or “good” and felt strongly and fearfully that the newly introduced NIV was moving toward “black” or “evil.” One illustration will have to suffice to illustrate this point. More are possible.

So where do we as humans and as Christians get this idea that we are to be arbiters and declarers of what is actually and ultimately good and what is ultimately evil?

Some years ago I did a quick study of the combination of the words “good and evil” in scripture. The first place you end up is in Genesis 2 verses 9 and 17 where the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil is mentioned. The next mention is this one, with the serpent speaking into Eve’s ear:

“God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:5 NIV

To know good and evil, to eat the forbidden fruit, is to be reaching for something that is to be God’s alone: the knowing of what is ultimately good and what is actually evil. Mankind were exiled from God’s presence for doing this! They, to use 12 step language, made themselves their own highest power, thereby breaking relationship with the Creator.

To me now, whenever I displace God as my highest power, I am again partaking in fruit that is forbidden, and repeating what Eve and Adam did. All that works ok for me in my mind, but the next step is the challenge. Maybe we have no business at all trying to decide and discern what true good is. Maybe we are called to do our best with the Spirit’s help to keep moving toward the gate that Jesus opened, the path back to walking in the garden in the cool of the day in full fellowship with a God who we leave that kind of knowledge to. Meanwhile, on our journeys, we let better/worse be our compass, because ultimate right/wrong is not an area we were given dominion in. Nor should we. We are to acknowledge how veiled our certainty really is, and we are to hold sacred the space where our certainty ends and God’s knowledge begins.

Thats my operating theory at this time.

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Posted by on August 10, 2016 in Uncategorized


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