Our central political problem today is that nobody has any idea of how to drain the vast reservoir of guilt that has been slowly and steadily growing for the last half century or so. It is now a massive reservoir, and all of us are living downstream from the towering dam of our constitutional rationalizations. We have built this towering dam out of shadows and penumbras. And right behind the magnitude of that problem is our unbending refusal even to acknowledge the existence of this vast reservoir of guilt.
And this is the driver of all our shrill moralistic crusades, like climate change. It is also the energy behind our frequent spastic flailing, with impeachment serving as a fine example of that. The crusades seem somewhat organized, the grand mal seizures less so. For the latter, we let just a fraction of our rage out through the sluice gates, and try to pretend that we are in charge of the rage. In actual fact, the reservoir of guilt can also be understood as a reservoir of wrath—and I am speaking here of the wrath of an Almighty God who has destroyed more empires than we know about.
For the former, we construct a semi-plausible case from some of our kept scientists, have the media fall in line, and draw ourselves up to our full height in that Soviet wall mural art sense, acting as though we were moral, and undertake our righteous cause for the motherland. We stare off into the middle distance, as though we had some integrity.
In the meantime, the reservoir keeps filling. The babies are still being slaughtered. The reservoir contains the blood of about 60 million. Dudes are still marrying dudes. Fathers and mothers are still ditching their children. Planned Parenthood is still selling pieces of children. The one who exposed that macabre practice is the one who is on trial. And if God were to destroy the whole corrupt enterprise with a giant meteor from the heavens, there is nothing about it that would be unjust.
The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil
Jesus died on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but this will require some explanation. But hearing the explanation is worthwhile, because it is there that we can find salvation.
He was born into this world in order to reestablish the human race. The first humanity in Adam had failed our test at the prohibited tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It was there that Adam violated the covenant that God had established with him (Hos. 6:7). And so Jesus was born into this world in order to rebuild the ruin we had created here.
Adam disobeyed at a tree, and Jesus obeyed on one. Adam disobeyed at a tree with deadly fruit. Jesus obeyed on a tree, becoming the deadly fruit. He became the curse by dying on the tree, and by partaking of that curse, we are raised to life in Him.
“But the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17).
“But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:14).
So we should all know that there was only one prohibited tree in the Garden of Eden, the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The tree of life was not prohibited to our first parents (Gen. 2:16), but once sin had entered the world it immediately went off limits—lest we should eat from it in our rebellious state, and become unredeemable (Gen. 3:22, 24). So a merciful God barred the way back to the tree of life, until it was opened up again in and through the gospel (Rev. 2:7).
But what about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?
What Was That Tree?
So we need to take a moment to consider the full import of that phrase means. The two basic options are that it was bad for us to have knowledge of the difference between good and evil, period, or that the prohibition was temporary, and the sin was in grasping after something prematurely. We can see that it was the latter by how God responds to the situation when our first parents disobeyed.
Excluded is the meaning “an experience of sin.” This is because the Lord said, “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil” (Gen. 3:22). The serpent had earlier promised that this knowledge would make them “as God” (or gods), “knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). Millennia later, the author of Hebrews does not identify this ability to distinguish sin from righteousness as being sin in itself, but rather with maturity, with the capacity to handle “strong meat.”
It is erroneous to assume that this pre-fall lack of the knowledge of good and evil was a total blank innocence, no ethical categories at all. But if this had been the case, then how would Adam have been able to fall into sin? How would he have known it was evil to eat from the prohibited tree?
No, the knowledge of good and evil here has to mean something more than a simple knowledge of the difference between right and wrong.
Preparation for Rule and Dominion
God had created mankind in order to rule over creation and all creatures (Gen. 1:27-30). In learning how to judge and rule this created order, man really would be like God (Ecc. 12:14). Entering into that rule would have been a transition from immaturity to maturity, and not a transition from moral cluelessness into an ability to tell right from wrong.
Kings make judgments. They have to be able to discern right and wrong in the case before them.
Now it is quite true that the Bible often speaks of “good” and “evil” in the simple moral categories of individuals learning to love the good and hate the evil. But when we talk about this kind of discernment, the kind that kings are to grow up into, we are talking about the ability to tell good from almost good, to discern the difference between white and off-white. Because God created us for rule, He created us for this. And when our first parents ate this forbidden fruit, they were grabbing for this rule prematurely, before God gave it to them as a gift.
Now we have work through this carefully. The fruit “worked.” It did impart to man an incorrigible desire to dictate, to decree, to determine, to decide. But at the same time, out of fellowship with God, divorced from the source of all genuine wisdom, our decisions are demented. We put robes on nine justices, and they get up behind a polished and very impressive bench, and from that high position, they start hallucinating.
Consider the language of Scripture. “Moreover your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, and your children, which in that day had no knowledge between good and evil, they shall go in thither . . .” (Dt. 1:39; cf. Jer. 4:22). This was true of a type of the Messiah, the child born in fulfillment of the promise to Isaiah. “Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel . . . for before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings” (Is. 7:14-16). And we see that extreme old age prevents a man from being able to serve as a judge between good and evil, as Barzillai observed: “I am this day fourscore years old: and can I discern between good and evil . . .?” (2 Sam. 19:35).
And how did Solomon please the Lord when a vision was given to him at Gibeon? Even though he sacrificed in the high places, he did love the Lord (1 Kings 3:3). And so when the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream, and told him to ask for whatever he would have, Solomon’s answer pleased the Lord (1 Kings 3:10). So what did Solomon ask for? He said first that he was “but a little child” (1 Kings 3:7), and so what deficiency did he think needed to be corrected because of this limitation?
“Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people” (1 Kings 3:10)?
So hold that thought for a moment.
The Objectivity of Sin and Wrath
The Scriptures teach us that there is wrath for sin, sure enough. God will bring all of our actions into judgment. But there is also the wrath of sin. Sin is something that incurs wrath, but stupefying sin is also the kind of blind frenzy that God strikes us with.
Sodomy in the streets is not just something that will bring judgment. It is a judgment. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness . . . Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves” (Rom. 1:18, 24). Widespread adultery is not just something that will bring judgment—adultery is a judgment. “The mouth of strange women is a deep pit: He that is abhorred of the Lord shall fall therein” (Prov. 22:14).
As for abortion, we are certainly making ourselves hateful to God through our practice of it, and He will judge us for it. But as we slaughter our own future, we also have to come to grips with the fact that He is already judging us.
And the furies accumulate. They propagate after their kind. The blood of the slaughtered unborn cries out to Heaven. And our legal scholars say that Heaven should pay them no mind because it was all quite constitutional. And a voice from Heaven replies that the divine realm has a Constitution also, and according to that Constitution, blood will either cry out from the ground until it is avenged, or blood will cry out from the cross, until it is forgiven. One or the other.
Ever Increasing Sin
There is yet another complicating factor.
Sin increases and multiplies for the same reason that debts do. A debtor who cannot pay his creditor has to continue on with his evasions, and the longer he continues on with his evasions, the more the debts grow. If he stops to let his creditor seize him by the shoulder, then there will have to be a reckoning right that moment, and yet when it comes to that time of reckoning, he has nothing. Nothing to offer, nothing to say, nothing to pay. And so he continues to run, and in the running multiplies what is owed.
This is why debtors double down in evasiveness. They feel they have no choice.
The psychology of guilt runs the same way, down the same lines, but with this there is a real insanity at the heart of it. Stopping does mean a reckoning, as with the illustration of the debtor, but in this case the creditor who is pursuing us has already settled the debt. He took all of that upon Himself. What is entailed in stopping is simply humility and repentance. We won’t have the pay the debt, but we will have to look Him in the eye. We will have to plead for forgiveness.
“I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness” (Rom. 6:19).
Iniquity unto iniquity. Ever increasing wickedness. Our world, and all its wickedness, is floating like a solitary leaf down into the bottomless pit, and there is nothing whatever we can do about it.
Nothing except to stop. Nothing except to stop and be overtaken. Nothing but to repent and be forgiven.
A Return to the Tree
Christ anticipated His death on the cross in terms of eating and drinking. That is why He instituted the Lord’s Supper the way He did. He took the bread which signified His own body, broke it, and there gave thanks. He took the cup which signified His blood, and which Paul called the cup of blessing, and He gave it to His disciples. That is why He envisioned the experience of death itself as drinking from a cup (Matt. 26:29).
We are called to understand the world so that we might grow up into a maturity that is capable of ruling the world. The author of Hebrews knows and understands the creation mandate. He quotes Ps. 8, and says that we do not yet see everything subject to mankind—but we do see Jesus (Heb, 2:9). The world to come is not subject to angels, but to mankind (Heb. 2:5ff). Mankind in Christ is therefore being fitted out for godly rule (Heb. 5:14). Because we grabbed the forbidden fruit out of order, we have needed to be retro-fitted for it, but this is what is happening.
So it really is Christ or nothing. Many people in the world want it to be God or nothing, and together with the devils they are prepared to confess there is one God. But when it comes to the choice of Christ or nothing, Christ or the abyss, Christ or the void, it is turning out that our generation is opting for the void.
There is no escape from this spiraling down into the void unless we are brought back to the tree where we disobeyed, and there obey in Christ. Apart from Christ, rebellious man has no consistent stopping point between where he is now and the outer darkness. This derangement is manifested in our politics, such that our politics are diseased just like we are. We have a political disease, and so politics cannot not the medicine. Our politics is an essential part of the problem, and is no part of the cure. Christ alone is the savior, Christ alone is the cure.
If we eat the fruit of that tree—His broken body and His shed blood—then we are being broken down and humbled so that we might come back to the tree of life. Christ is the second Adam, and so He must have His reckoning with both trees. And in Him, we come back into a right relationship with both tree. So Christ has done it all, and who is sufficient even to talk about it?