The God of Good and Evil: A Midrash [jacob]

Disclaimer: The following post is a dramatic explication of some (borderline heretical) thoughts I’ve wrestled with for some time, especially over the last few years. It was through a conversation with my wife that I first found rest in—in, not from—many of these questions, thus it is through a fictional dialogue between two ‘friends’ (two sides of myself, one might say) that I exposit them.

midrash (n, Hebrew) – [mee·DRAHSH; mi·DRAHSH]
1. an early Jewish interpretation of or commentary on a Biblical text, clarifying or expounding a point of law or developing or illustrating a moral principle.
2. a homily on a scriptural passage derived by traditional Jewish exegetical methods and consisting of embellishment of the scriptural narrative.

The general fact is simple. Poetry is simple because it floats easily on an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. […] To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits. – G. K. Chesterton

leftright

[Scene opens on POET, lying under a tree, gazing up into the branches in wonderment. Enter LOGICIAN, frowning, eyes focused down on his toes as he walks. POET notices his friend’s approach.]

POET – Morning, L.

LOGICIAN – [looking up, suddenly] Oh – hey, P. Sorry I didn’t even notice you, I was… a little distracted in thought.

POET –Me, too. [Sits up, smiling] What were you wondering about?

LOGICIAN – [eyes drop back down] Well, first of all, I was not so much ‘wondering about’ something as I was ‘working through’ it, or trying… [frowns, rubs his chin]. It’s all very complicated.

tree universePOET – In that case, I’ll go first: [points up] I was wondering about this tree here, actually. [LOGICIAN glances up at the tree, eyes slowly widening.] I started thinking on the tree and its fruit and seed, then eventually I was thinking on all different kinds of trees and their different kinds of fruits and seeds—even fruitless trees—then I wondered about new life growing from old life—or even from death—and about the seasons and cycles of the earth and the universe and life, deftly, sovereignly stirred by the steady hands of Yahweh. And then I started wondering—

LOGICIAN – [thrusts an open hand toward POET] Yes, yes—the Tree! Oddly enough, my friend, my thoughts also originated from this very point—referring strictly to the genesis of the thoughts in my mind, of course; the content through which my thoughts travailed originates much further back than the Tree, chronologically—but, yes: the Tree.

POET – The Tree.

LOGICIAN – The Tree—not of Life, the one which incidentally drew your humble fascinations—but of Knowledge, P. The Tree of Good and Evil, we’re talking about here. And, as it turns out, the Tree of Death, which is what’s got me. Got us all.

POET – [nodding] Tree of Death. Good and Evil. I’m with ya so far, L.

LOGICIAN – [Begins pacing with a furtive expression, gesturing, as if in lecture, toward an imaginary chalkboard when highlighting key points.] So our Story, as we understand it, is that in the beginning, Yahweh, who was Good—is and will be Good, for that matter—created the heavens and the earth and all things that live and thrive therein. And all these things were Good because they were made Good and made by a Good God, were they not?

POET – They were.

forbiddenfruitLOGICIAN – And then, as with any story worth telling, a conflict arises; or if you prefer, as in a sonnet, there is a turn, as you know, upon which the rest of the poem—and the meaning of the entire poem—hinges, yes? [POET nods earnestly throughout.] And our turn is, of course, the Introduction of Evil. Temptation. The Tree of Knowledge. The Fruit of Understanding. The Snake of Deception.

The world, right and well-made by our Good God, became corrupted and undone, broken by Evil, by Wrong, by the Sin of Man—our sin, our choice, our plucking fingers and our tasting tongues, our bitterly opened and subsequently blinded eyes. Our action of Evil—against Good, against Yahweh—was the Original Sin, and thus the Origin of Evil, was it not?

POET – Right.

LOGICIAN – Wrong.

POET – [blinking] …Wrong?

LOGICIAN – Wrong. Logically, it’s inconsistent. It doesn’t fit in our Story, as we understand it, so there must be a fallacy somewhere [nods quickly and conclusively]. That’s what I’m trying to work through.

POET – [shakes his head, as if to rattle loose the hard-thinking mechanisms of his brain] Alright, L, you’ve got my fascination now. Take me a little further.

LOGICIAN – [smiles] Okay, P. Follow me here [resumes lecture position]: before the Snake, as we understand it, there was no Knowledge of Good and Evil, right? Wrong. Man had no Knowledge—we had no Knowledge—but the Knowledge was out there. It already existed. Sin was not a concept we came up with on our own—though our freewill would seem to’ve predisposed us to it, and it’s certainly unavoidably inherent in our nature now—but we were made Good and had no Knowledge otherwise. So Evil could not have originated in Man because the idea could not have originated in Man. It had to have been introduced to us, it would seem.

POET – [frowning, but in concentration, not displeasure] It would seem.

LOGICIAN – Indeed, it would. So who introduced us? Who made Man—Good though imperfect, and therefore prone to Sin—acquainted with Evil?

POET – [rolls his eyes, laughs out loud] Come on, L, I thought this was supposed to be one of your mental gauntlets! You know our Story as well as I do: The Fallen One, The Tempter. The Snake introduced us to Evil. He deceived us, and we sinned. No logical fallacy.

LOGICIAN – Ah-hah! [Practically hyperextending an overexcited index finger] Wrong again. You think I haven’t thought this through, but I have…! Well, to a point.

POET – [still chuckling] Alright, L, take me further. I’m following you.

LOGICIAN – Our Story, as we understand it, also details the history of the Fallen One, presumably long before the incident with the Tree, does it not?

POET – Right, right. Once named Light-Bearer, Most Glorious Star, beautiful and apparently also vain. [LOGICIAN nodding throughout] Knew enough to know he couldn’t surpass Yahweh, but seemed fitting to him that he be enthroned in equal and parallel glory. Cast out with a host of other Darkened Stars and, as I already mentioned, took the form of the Snake to introduce us to Evil, to cause us to sin.lucifer

LOGICIAN – [grinning] But who introduced him to Evil?

POET – Who? The Fallen One?

LOGICIAN – Right.

POET – [incredulous] You’re kidding.

LOGICIAN – I’m absolutely serious. Think through it with me: why did Light-Bearer fall and not the others? If Yahweh is Good and made all things Good, then how could any of His stars fall? Did Yahweh make Light-Bearer flawed?

POET – [visibly upset] Please, stop calling him that.

LOGICIAN – Sorry: did Yahweh make the Fallen One flawed? Did He—

POET – Did He design the Fallen One to fall?

LOGICIAN – Exactly.

[POET sitting and LOGICIAN standing, their gaze is fixed on each other, difficult but unbroken.]

POET – Well, what of it? It’s in His power. Who are we to question the will of Yahweh?

LOGICIAN – I’m not questioning His will, if by “questioning” you mean “challenging,” or if you’re implying that I doubt His Goodness. But, yes, I am asking questions. I am… processing His will, analyzing it, hypothesizing—

POET – Inquiring. Like David.

LOGICIAN – Inquiring. [Considers for a moment] Inquiring. Yes, as you like it, P. I am inquiring of Yahweh. Working through His Story.

POET – Wrestling through it. Like Jacob.

LOGICIAN – [smiles] Like Jacob.

POET – [takes a breath and nods] Still with you, L.

LOGICIAN – Let’s move on from the Snake and return [indicating with his index finger] to the Tree. Our Story—

POET – As we understand it.

LOGICIAN – Yes. As we understand it, Yahweh planted the Garden—

POET – The Garden, Eden, fed by a spring of living water, by Yahweh’s Goodness, sprouting full of all different kinds of trees and their different kinds of fruit and seed, pleasing to the eye and… Good—for food.

LOGICIAN – [nodding, circling his hands in a locomotive “and then?” motion] Among these trees were…treeoflife treeofknowledge

POET – [knowingly quoting] “The Tree of Life was in the midst of the Garden, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.”

LOGICIAN – Yes! [Building to a professorial crescendo] Yahweh Himself, bless His glorious name, created and planted the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in Eden, and, knowing its destructive potency, commanded Man and Woman not to eat of its fruit, not to eat of its knowledge—knowledge Yahweh Himself already had!

Though incapable of Evil because it’s against His nature and character, He was aware, cognizant, He understood that an opposing nature and character to His own could exist, and He planted the potential for that knowledge in the Garden with us! We were made, by His Goodness, only knowing Good—albeit experiential knowledge—as truly all human knowledge is acquired through experience—but we were introduced to Evil by Yahweh! The Origin of Evil as an idea was not with us or with our Tempter, but with our God.

“Why?” is my question, P. Why would our Good and glorious, gracious and holy Yahweh introduce us to Evil?

POET – “That all flesh might know that I AM the LORD.”

[LOGICIAN nearly stumbles back, astonished at POET’s sudden, unfettered response. POET rises to his feet.]

POET – Believe it or not, L, this is what I was wondering about, too. [Pointing up] This tree and its fruit, all different trees and their different fruits—pleasing to the eye and Good—even to eat. How could I not think of that which they mirror: The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge which they symbolize? And how could I not inquire, like you, how something which appeared pleasing in our sight and promised further knowing—something furthermore which Yahweh planted—could be so empty of pleasure and promise? How something which seemed so good not be Good? And why would Yahweh plant it?glory

But then I wondered deeper into the tree, deeper into its fruit and its seeds. I remembered new life growing from old life, and I saw One Rising from the Fall, the Fruit of Life borne even by the Tree of Death, as you called it. Yahweh is our Light and cannot be dimmed by Darkness. He is so Good that He can contain the knowledge of Evil and not be tainted, that He can introduce us to Evil and not lose us to it. Yahweh, in whom all things consist, can allow the world to be enveloped by Evil and still show us a deeper level of His nature, a fuller aspect of His character, a degree of Goodness we would not have known—would never have needed to know—without being torn from His presence by Sin. Sure, we would have experienced Him and experienced Good, but would we know what we now know? That Yahweh is the LORD, our Savior and our Redeemer? We may have lived in glory, but would not have known glory—and not glory to glory, not grace upon grace or deep into deep.

[LOGICIAN, dumbstruck, has collapsed, now sitting on the ground.]

POET – I think some of that was from you, L. I don’t think I could’ve wondered that long before I started following you. [Shrugs] I’m not too good with chronology like you are. That’s why we need each other.

[POET extends his hand to LOGICIAN and pulls him up.]

LOGICIAN – [regaining composure, wiping dirt off his pants] And I mightn’t have thought so deeply without you. [Thinks for a moment] You know, that was quite a sonnet-like turn you made in this very conversation, P.

POET – [chuckles] It was, wasn’t it? [Pauses] Ya know, I like your phrase, L.

LOGICIAN – Which?

POET – “Our-Story-As-We-Understand-It.” We shouldn’t avoid understanding, yet all we observe now is through distorted mirrors, and all we understand now is incomplete.

LOGICIAN – [smiling] Someday we’ll understand our Story fully, P. Someday we’ll see it clearly.

[LOGICIAN plucks a fruit from a low-hanging branch and grabs another from at his feet, holding them out to POET, who grabs the one from the ground. LOGICIAN gestures with his head for POET to follow him. They walk together away from the tree, biting heartily into the fruit of their labor.]

[Exeunt LOGICIAN and POET.]

FIN.

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4 thoughts on “The God of Good and Evil: A Midrash [jacob]

  1. if pilgrimage was the word of 2013 I think midrash will be of 2014 (which is fine with me).

    heresy is great because without it we wouldn’t have orthodoxy.

    I think this is my favorite use of pictures post.

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