And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die!” (Genesis 2:16-17, N.K.J.V.)
God completed all the work of creation on day 6 of the creation week and rested on day 7. Not only had He finished all the work, everything was still in freshly minted, pristine condition. We know this because Genesis 1:31 says that God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. Presumably, that means that Satan and his fellow angels hadn’t rebelled yet, and sin hadn’t entered into the equation.
Interestingly, the Garden of Eden’s tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a part of what God labeled as being “very good.” This proves that the tree was not intrinsically evil or wicked. Harry F. Sanders III, writing for Answers in Genesis, compares the tree to a stove burner. He writes:
Man was explicitly commanded not to eat from the tree, yet he decided to do it anyway. This is analogous to a parent telling a preschool child not to put his hand on the stove burner. If the child does so, there are consequences for the child beyond the risk of him getting burned. However, the stove is not evil. It is still serving its intended purpose. The disobedient child sinned. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil can be viewed in a similar light. It was not somehow bad because man used it to disobey God.
Popular pastor and author Tony Evans has called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil a “Google tree.” Google is nothing more than a virtually bottomless reservoir of knowledge, and knowledge is neither good nor bad. Knowledge is just knowledge, built from amoral facts and amoral information. Just as through wisdom knowledge can be used to serve God, through foolishness it can be used to disobey Him.
The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a litmus test for Adam and Eve. If they obeyed God by not eating the fruit from it, they would acquire a knowledge of “good.” On the other hand, if they disobeyed God by eating the fruit from it, they would acquire a knowledge of “evil.” After spending an untold amount of time keeping God’s command by not eating that fruit, Adam and Eve had a knowledge of “good.” In other words, they knew what “good” behavior was because they had lived it. What they didn’t have was a knowledge of “evil.” They didn’t know what “evil” behavior was because they hadn’t lived it. And the only way to acquire that knowledge was to eat the fruit from the forbidden tree.
It should be understood, though, that the fruit itself wasn’t the problem. That fruit was definitely not poisonous, a fact that is borne out by Adam and Eve remaining physically alive after they ate it. For that matter, there’s nothing to suggest that Eden’s animals couldn’t eat that fruit without repercussion. The problem was the blatant rebellion against God’s revealed will that was accomplished by Adam and Eve eating that fruit.
It’s not like the fruit’s juices somehow magically downloaded the knowledge of good and evil into the brains of Adam and Eve. I’ve even wondered if any singular tree from the Garden of Eden, regardless of the type of fruit it produced, could have served as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil if God had chosen it for that role. The point is, it was the eating of the fruit, not the fruit itself, that created the sin and in so doing gave Adam and Eve the knowledge they hadn’t had: the knowledge of evil. The fruit was nothing more than some type of fruit. According to Genesis 3:6, it was “good for food” (K.J.V., N.K.J.V.), a description that can be taken to mean that the fruit not only looked delicious but also tasted delicious.
Of course, having more knowledge doesn’t necessarily make you happier or more godly. Seeing the video footage of President John F. Kennedy getting assassinated in Dallas, Texas, will certainly give you a knowledge of that event, but does having that mental image in your head and knowing that you live in a world where leaders sometimes get assassinated really make you happier? A teenage boy who has never seen a naked woman clicks on a pornographic site and instantly gains a new knowledge of the female anatomy, but does that knowledge draw Him closer to the Lord and make him more godly?
Physically speaking, God created Adam and Eve as fully grown adults. Adam was expected to tend (cultivate) the Garden of Eden and keep (watch over) it (Genesis 2:15), while Eve was expected to be fruitful by producing offspring (Genesis 1:28). In regards to their moral state, however, they were akin to infants. Little babies enter into this world like blank slates when it comes to knowing about good and evil. It is only over the course of time, learning, and experience that they gain a knowledge of not only good but also evil. How many of us adults, though, find ourselves sometimes longing for the days of our childhood, days when we walked around in a childlike naivety and were quite happy because of it? That simple innocence, not to mention their fellowship with God, was what Adam and Eve forfeited when they acquired the knowledge of evil by eating the fruit from the forbidden tree. And once that innocence is gone, there is no way to get it back.
Even though the exact location of the Garden of Eden has been lost to history — the flood of Noah saw to that — and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil no longer exists, you can still have your own such tree in your life. In a very practical sense, anything or anyone that God has told you to stay away from plays that role for you. If you obey God by staying away from that thing or person, you will automatically gain knowledge about doing “good” because you will be learning by experience. Conversely, if you disobey God by eating the fruit from that thing or person, you will automatically gain knowledge about “evil” because you will be learning by experience.
It might even be that there isn’t anything inherently sinful or wicked about the thing or person in question. Like the fruit on that forbidden tree in Eden, that person or thing might be amoral. Nevertheless, if God has told you that the fruit is off limits to you, that command is what makes the difference. Somebody else might be able to enjoy the thing without sinning or participate in the relationship without consequence, but you can’t because to you that fruit is forbidden.
That lands the choice in your lap, just as it once landed in the laps of Adam and Eve. And Satan and his demons will surely tempt you to choose wrongly, just as Satan did with Eve. But just remember that Satan and his demons can’t make you do anything, and with God’s help you can always resist the temptation to eat the fruit from your tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I’m not saying that it’s always easy to resist that temptation, but I am saying that it’s always doable. You see, forbidden fruit doesn’t have to be eaten, and the less knowledge of evil you have the better off you will be. That’s something that Adam and Eve found out the hard way, and here’s hoping that you don’t follow their bad example.