During my junior year of undergrad studies my counselor talked me into taking a class titled, “Good vs. Evil”. Katie said I would love it as the class combined literature and critical thinking in order to better understand that what we think of as evil is not always the case. Our professor chose to use three takes on the Faust legend as our focal point. Having never been exposed to Faust, I was thrilled at the chance to study his story in detail.
The good professor started us off using few short stories, only one of which I can remember. To be honest, as much as I thoroughly enjoyed studying the works of Marlow, Goethe and Mann, the promise of a better understanding of what we think of evil fell short of my expectations; we really never did get into the subject, but we really got into Faust’s head!
The class has stuck with me, not because of what we learned, but because of what it could have been. Our professor started us out with a biblical tale and asked us if Satan was really acting evil. What struck me odd about this story (we will get to it in a moment) was the fact that Satan wasn’t even involved (even though some churches insist he was). As I read the story, a different question came to my mind, one that was better suited to the class premise: (see down below) As I sat and stared at the story another question came to mind, again one that was better suited to the premise: What the heck was God thinking? Why did he do what he did?
I posed this question today on Twitter. I did not expect much of a response. It was one of those brain droppings we all have from time to time. But not surprisingly, a core group of my Twitter friends, ones who are always ready to discuss big topics, came thru and attempted to answer the question. These guys are some of the smartest people I have had the pleasure of coming across. Not satisfied to just answer my question, each wanted to talk about the symbolism and history of the story. As much as I love them for it, I really just wanted to discuss the literal question. I just wanted a few people to sit back and wonder, “Yeah, why did he do that?” but I had such a good time reading the responses and letting the question take my friends in a whole different direction, I thought I would pose it here.
With that in mind, here is the story. The questions will be posted below.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
16 To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.1It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side[e] of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
Who is the real asshole in this story?
Why did God create and place a tree in the garden if he did not want Adam to take from it? What purpose did it serve? If you ask me, he set Adam up to fall, but why?
When people ask me what I want to teach, my first answer is always “Shakespeare as literature” but I also want to teach a class on good vs. evil. To quote the rock group Alice in Chains, “What you think you may know, what you think you’ve learned”. This will be the first story we talk about.