Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. –Genesis 2:9
Dear members and friends,
When I read the Bible as a teen, the tree of the knowledge was a very confusing figure to me. As a leader of the youth group in a Korean Presbyterian church, I was expected to have read the whole Bible at least once, if not a few times. I tried many times, but was always confused by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in Genesis 2, and then got stuck again with the talking snake in Genesis 3. What was confusing to me was precisely that God planted the tree in the garden, even when the first human(s) did not know the word “evil.” My simple question at that time was, why?
Several Sunday school teachers and youth pastors tried their best to explain the “why” to me, but sadly none of their explanations brought clarity to my mind. Mostly because their points were somewhat similar, expressing the idea that “you should have faith that the almighty God planted that tree for a good reason, even if you do not understand why.” It certainly took me many years to gain a certain degree of clarity, and thus comfort, on the matter. The very first step was suggested by Joseph Campbell: everything in the creation story is allegorical. Then, Swedenborg opened a door for me: everything in the Bible is written symbolically to describe how our spiritual journey begins, processes, and ends.
The tree of knowledge of good and evil is the starting point of our actual spiritual journey. It represents our innate tendency to articulate and evaluate everything based on sense-based information. Thus, the tree of knowledge symbolizes our very self that is born, raised, and disciplined in the materialistic reality, which is meant to be temporary. In other words, the tree of knowledge of good and evil is our own mind that confirms and even prefers the joys and pleasures in the materialistic reality, while our true self is imbedded within and is waiting for us to acknowledge and realize that we are actually spiritual beings rather than bio-organic bodies. The most significant truth about the tree of knowledge is that we have to voluntarily acknowledge the truth about our self, and thus choose to liberate our self from being imprisoned by the materialistic reality in which we are born, raised, and disciplined.
Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee