How Much Can We Know?

The First Sin and Its Punishment

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,[a] knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.


I completely forgot I was supposed to write this reflection, having spoken with Deborah about it four days ago. In those four days, global COVID-19 infections and deaths have both grown exponentially, the US-Canada border has closed indefinitely, schools are closed until at least May 1st, and all non-essential businesses have been closed in Quebec. It feels like four years.

What struck me today in this passage, so familiar and yet one I generally shy away from, is the amount of misinformation delivered from all corners to the man and the woman. Adam tells the woman that she will die if she even touches the tree. The serpent tells her that if she eats of the tree she will be like God, knowing good and evil. Even the man and the woman tell themselves that they are no longer naked after sewing themselves loincloths from fig leaves, which (as recently discussed in the Cathedral community in preparation for Nuit Blanche) is not enough to cover one’s body in polite society.

It seems to me that, contrary to what God actually says in the text, the real sin is not the desire to know the difference between good and evil, but the belief that we have the ability to know that difference. Two of the most immediate effects of this pandemic on my life are that my grandmother’s assisted living facility is in lockdown, meaning no one in our family is able to visit her and because of her advancing dementia, she doesn’t understand why; and that my mother may not be able to be with me for the birth of my first child this spring. These both seem like great evils to me. Even if I may know good and evil, I can’t believe that I know good and evil like God. I know what is evil for me and my family, but I have to trust epidemiologists and public health policymakers and God that these evils are also good for the world (and my grandmother and my baby). I don’t actually know it. The woman’s consumption of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden may have robbed humanity of blind faith, but it didn’t take away our ability to have faith. Indeed, knowledge of good and evil gives us the gift of choosing to believe contrary to the evidence of our senses, as well as the responsibility. Eve made us able to know that we have to stay home to protect each other – this is the greatest act of faith we can engage in right now.

— Erica Jacobs-Perkins


  1. Reply
    Beth says:

    Erica, thank you for this very thoughtful reflection.

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