In Genesis, we are told that the tree of knowledge of good and evil was ‘pleasing to the eye’.
Some detractors would question why a perfect God would give us the sense of vision and then place a visual source of temptation in a perfect world. They argue that if God really loved mankind, He would shield us from harm, making the world a cocoon of virtual experiences devoid of authentic sensory stimuli (a bit like the Matrix?). I would counter that this argument does not identify the real cause of temptation, which is our defiant independence from God. As Paul said, ‘When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.’ (James 1:13 – 15)
It is the dismissal of and efforts to avoid considering the longer term harmful implications of our choices, that constitutes the real cause of temptation. It is our wilfulness, for when we want something badly enough, we belittle the harm it can cause us. Before his approach, Satan would have seen Eve eyeing up the beautiful Tree of Knowledge day after day and wondering how tasting its attractive fruit could really be lethal. She might have wondered why God was so averse to their participation in something that appeared so attractive on the outside.
Without doubt, she would have also felt she was missing out on a new experience of discovery. After all, isn’t that what life is all about? Why would God want to stifle the natural curiosity that He had bestowed on mankind Himself? There must have been something He wasn’t telling them. What if God had imposed this restriction to safeguard HIs position of superiority? What if the Tree of Knowledge could impart complete unrestricted self-determination to humans? In other words, equality with God? ‘Covetousness, which is idolatry’ (Colossians 3:5) is how Paul describes this thinking.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul explains how this independence from God led men astray to worship their temporal environment: ‘For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen’ (Romans 1:21 – 25)
The fall of Man involved a speculation that if we were unshackled from our subordinate authority by which God granted us dominion over the entire natural world, we could enjoy unhindered self-determination. Rather than respecting our position under God as His highest created beings, we presumed that only this restriction stood between us and equality with God Himself. To this day, we choose to experience of good and evil, rather than to avoid them by accepting God’s word. We believed Satan’s lie. To those who, with Adam and Eve, are thinking in this way, God declares: ‘These things you have done and I kept silent; you thought I was altogether like you. But I will rebuke you and accuse you to your face’ (Ps. 50:21)
Far from elevating us to share His divinity, unconditional moral independence venerates our short-term human wants above reliance upon God’s own statement of what we need to keep us safe in His universe. When they ate the fruit, Adam and Eve did just that: by not subordinating their material desires to God, the put them on a par with God. In short, they committed the first act of idolatry.
Idolatry is an attempt to negotiate for more from our environment without recourse to God, visualising and grovelling for the privileges of those man-made ideals of achievement, power and security in human society and the natural world. We become hostages to our immediate context, even making sexual choices that lack any consideration of the natural order or of their long-term impact on our own moral framework or society. In short, we become blind, trading our principles to the highest bidder in following the trends, brands and influencers of the current age. We invent countless permutations of the abuse of the natural world, our bodies and God’s order for them. Anything for a momentary escape from the boredom of our finite human condition.
The appearance of the serpent only served to expose Eve’s internal conversation about the Tree of Knowledge. The last stage of Eve’s descent into sin would have been to ask why God had put the tree in that central position, knowing her weakness for its fruit and that it would, for her, amount to a major distraction.
This argument is as lame as that of a career criminal who argues that since there would be less opportunity to offend in a totalitarian state, the opposite: our democratic State, is partly responsible for his misdeeds. As if restraining an individual’s bad choices is the State’s complete responsibility and that it should be the major consideration when balancing personal freedom with State control!
Christ declared to the Samaritan woman at the well, that God is actively seeking true worshippers. It is Satan’s perpetual accusation is that Man will only serve God for what He provides, rather than offering an obedience that springs from our recognition that the natural beneficial order of the universe is a stupendous token of His greatness, goodness and love towards us.
Overcoming the lust of the eyes involves a recognition of how easily we descend into blinkered, short-sighted greed (temptation) if we don't perpetually ask God to show us the unavoidable longer-term suffering and breach of our relationships (evil) it will cause. Hence, in the Lord’s prayer, we cry: ‘And lead us not into (i.e. away from) temptation, but deliver us from evil.’
It is a responsible and loving God who provides an opportunity for us to make choices (albeit, in many cases, wrong ones) and then affords an ultimate means of escape from their power and consequences through Jesus Christ, our LORD.