It is truly disquieting what beliefs one naturally inherits and accepts from a group assembly. Equally troubling is with what ease our minds can be molded from birth by religious doctrine to seek not out God, but rather, vicariously accept external belief on what the nature of this grand being is. Many churches, it seems, are more of a place where one goes to hear a cliché message of what God is like (usually these messages involve love, care, kindness, forgiveness, etc.), rather than a place one goes to truly seek out the nature of God. Hardly does there exist an assembly that truly presses its congregation not to accept what they have been taught, but to read the Bible free from the heavy chains of religion and discover the nature of God for themselves. When one does this, it becomes apparent that there is a gaping hole between the actual God of the Bible, and the God that many profess to know.
Several months ago I began a Biblical journey with the express intent of realizing, if even but in the smallest of degrees, the truest nature and personality of God. As I was reading and rereading the first chapters of Genesis in late December and early January, I was struck with a profound concept regarding sin and the knowledge of good and evil (at least in the way I traditionally see the concept viewed.) For most of my life I assumed that sin and evil were identical concepts. Indeed, Christians often speak of sin as representing a grave misdeed, that is, evil. I was pondering over verses seven through eleven of Genesis chapter three, however, when I suddenly realized this not to be the case.
“And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?” [Genesis 3:7-11]
Note that Adam and Eve were in a perpetual state of evil (that of being naked) since the beginning of their existence, but God cared not of this matter. God cared only that they held his singular commandment (to eat not of the tree of knowledge of good and evil) in perfect order. This fact, then, heavily suggests that sin, and knowledge of good and evil, are disparate concepts. Furthermore, God seems to show some anxiety after learning of the ascended state of his creation:
“And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the LORD God sent him from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.” [Genesis 3 : 22 – 24]
The fundamental drive behind God’s anxiety may share a common root to a great fear that plagues humanity: the fear, or perhaps resentment, of judgment. For, if we assume at the moment that the concept of good/evil and sin are disparate to one another, would not the ability to discern good, and the ability to recognize evil, then allow man to place under scrutiny God’s actions? And would not the ability to recognize good from evil allow man to compare God’s commandments against these universal laws? Or perhaps God is troubled that man is now two thirds a true god. Man is at this moment immortal and knowledgeable of the Law of Good and Evil. The only grand ability lacking between humanity and God at this point in time is great power, and that is something that, given enough time, might have been obtainable. It was necessary for God to impose mortality upon his creation to keep the scales balanced, or rather, to prevent them from tipping too much in our favor.
If man now has the ability to judge good from evil themselves, then what is sin? It is obvious that sin isn’t some sort of barrier to keep man from doing evil, as God would have commanded Adam and Eve to be clothed. We can deduce from Genesis 3:11 that to sin is to break a commandment of God, or to go against his will. It is possible, when seen from this viewpoint, to do good, but still commit sin. And it is possible, from this viewpoint, to follow God’s commandments, but still commit acts of evil.
This then, brings us to a moral dilemma. If God commanded us to perform an act of great evil, what would one do? To not follow God’s evil request would cause us to disobey (or sin against) God, and therefore invoke his wrath, but to follow his command would perhaps break an even greater law, one that the all-mighty himself may be subject to: The Law of Good and Evil. The ‘traditional’ and ‘religious-taught’ Christian likely will say at this moment that God is incapable of sin, and thus would never ask a person to commit an evil act. I must remind the one thinking this that they are but confusing two different concepts. It is indeed logically impossible for God to sin, for how can God go against his own will? It is very much possible, however, for God to commit evil acts, and the Holy Word is filled with instances of him doing so. One of the more fascinating, and troubling, cases is in Numbers 14.
The story in Numbers 14 takes place several years after God had wrenched the Israelis free from Egypt’s iron grip. They had all left their slavery (and everything they had ever known) on God’s express promise that he would bring them into a much better place, a place ‘flowing with milk and honey’ [Exodus 3:8]. God had already shown himself to be a very demanding and demeaning entity during this journey by murdering, on several accounts, thousands of Israelis. There were even times when God appeared to play games of life and death with Israel, granting them food that they deeply desired, and then killing them while they ate.
“And there went forth a wind from the LORD, and brought quails from the sea, and let them fall by the camp, as it were a day’s journey on this side, and as it were a day’s journey on the other side, round about the camp, and as it were two cubits high upon the face of the earth. And the people stood up all that day, and all that night, and all the next day, and they gathered the quails: he that gathered least gathered ten homers: and they spread them all abroad for themselves round about the camp. And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD smote the people with a very great plague.” [Numbers 11:31-33]
I can in some ways empathize with God’s anger towards Israel. The Israelis had proven to be a distrustful group who were not at all shy to vent their frustrations and worries, and they did so on numerous occasion leading up to this moment. The incessant whining of a people you were trying to help would undoubtly become irksome, but I can’t help but think that God is, in part, to blame for their discomfort in the first place. There were numerous times (see Exodus 15:23, Exodus 16:1, Exodus 17:1) in which God led them into bleak scenarios and failed to provide basic needs for the multitude until they were angrily complaining about their lack of welfare. Had he met their needs, or communicated before the journey what sort of hardships they were to face, then the whining would have likely been much less prevalent. Now that we understand the state of Israel (that of being hungry, thirsty, and terrified of a seemingly unjust entity with great power) let us move on to Numbers 14.
This chapter takes place right after God had commanded Moses to send scouts into Canaan. After searching the land for forty days they returned with grim news:
“And they told him, and said, We came to the land where you sent us, and surely it flows with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it. Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great… And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it. But the men that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we… The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eats up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature. And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.” [Numbers 13:27 – 33]
At this news Israel beings grumbling, going as far as to wish that they would have died in the wilderness or in Egypt than to be consumed by the giants living in the land:
“And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said to them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness! And why has the LORD brought us to this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt?” [Numbers 14:1 - 3]
Israel’s complaining irritated God with such degree that he was on the verge of murdering the entire congregation. It actually took a human figure, Moses, to keep God’s morality in line. But even after God granted Israel a pardon his rage wasn’t fully quenched, and he spoke a troubling message to Moses:
“Say to them, As truly as I live, said the LORD, as you have spoken in my ears, so will I do to you: Your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward which have murmured against me. Doubtless you shall not come into the land, concerning which I swore to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, which you said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised. But as for you, your carcasses, they shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your prostitutions, until your carcasses be wasted in the wilderness. After the number of the days in which you searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall you bear your iniquities, even forty years, and you shall know my breach of promise.” [Numbers 14: 28 – 34]
Read the last sentence again: “After the number of the days in which you searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall you bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my breach of promise.” God broke the promise he made with Israel in Exodus 3:8. He had promised the entire assembly that he would bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey if they would follow him. But what happens when they get there? That’s right, God nullifies the promise he made. This knowledge profoundly alters my view of God, for I have been taught since my upbringing that God cannot lie or break his promises. The Old Testament, much to my dismay, stoically disagrees with this viewpoint. I must make clear, though, that God was actually answering the cry of Israel, for did not they wish to have died in the wilderness (Numbers 14 : 2)?
That was a rather lengthy delve, but it was necessary to make clear God’s capability for committing acts of evil, and our ability to judge those acts. Keep in mind that there are many more instances in the Bible that support these points, but it would take far too long to mention every one (or even just a few!) It’s interesting really…the more I read the Holy Bible for myself the more I discover that the nature of God is much less ‘godlike’ than what people generally profess (and what I used to believe may I add.) The Bible is indeed an interesting book…
I’m always up for some philosophical debate, so hit me up in the comments section below if you are in the mood.