Carnal Knowledge

James Montgomery Boice

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked,
so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (Genesis 3:7)


The most dangerous lie is one that contains some truth, and by this standard the lie of the devil in tempting Eve to sin was very dangerous. He had encouraged Eve to disobey God and eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, arguing, "You will not surely die...For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Gen. 3:4-5).

This was partially true. Up to this moment Adam and Eve did not know good and evil. They knew the good but not the evil. (God knows both, of course. He knows good because it is an expression of his own nature. He knows evil because it is all that is opposed to his nature.) By sinning, our first parents came to know evil as well as good, which is what Satan had said. But they came to know it, not from the standpoint of' God, who loves good and hates the evil, but as fallen creatures, who love evil and hate the good. Satan would have been perfectly truthful if he had said, "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like me, knowing good and evil."

Matthew Henry has some well-written words on this subject. He notes that their eyes were opened. "Now, when it was too late, they saw the folly of eating the forbidden fruit. They saw the happiness they had fallen from, and the misery they had fallen into. They saw a loving God provoked, his grace and favor forfeited, his likeness and image lost, dominion over the creatures gone. They saw their natures corrupted and depraved, and felt a disorder in their own spirits of which they had never before been conscious. They saw a law in their members warring against the law of their minds, and captivating them both to sin and wrath. They saw, as Balaam, when his eyes were opened (Num. 22:31), the angel of the Lord standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand. They saw themselves disrobed of all their ornaments and ensigns of honor degraded from their dignity and disgraced in the highest degree, laid open to the contempt and reproach of heaven anti earth, and their own consciences. "

This knowledge is painful, as we can see it to have been in the case of Eve and Adam and know it to he in ours. It was so painful for them that they immediately took steps to deny it or at least cover it up. They tried to cover it up by denial, by flight and fig leaves. Their denial is an example of why the accumulation of greater and greater knowledge often makes it more difficult, rather than easier, for people to come to that true knowledge of self and God that is salvation (John 17:3).

One painful effect of the knowledge gained by sin is guilt, and the most common attempt to get rid of it is by denial through shifting the blame to other persons. Adam and Eve did this when God came to them in the garden to confront them with their sin. Adam blamed Eve and ultimately God himself ("The woman you put here with me--she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it," v. 12). Eve blamed the serpent ("The serpent deceived me, and I ate," v. 13). Today people blame their parents (or children), society, the establishment, or whatever--rather than admit their own responsibility and guilt before God and each other.

With a cunning sharpened by time and desperation, we have today gone even farther and have denied the wrong itself. What I mean by this is that (in the majority of cases) we have made unwarranted distinction between guilt and guilt feelings--a distinction that we owe to psychiatry--and have tried heroically to bring these "feelings" out into the open where they can he disposed of' by public approval of our acts and where the acts that caused them can then he done freely. C. S. Lewis writes of this tendency, saving that "we have labored to overcome that sense of shrinking, that desire to conceal, which either Nature herself or the tradition of almost all mankind has attached to cowardice, unchastity, falsehood, and envy. We are told to 'get things out into the open,' not for the sake of self-humiliation, hut on the ground that these 'things' are very natural and we need not he ashamed of' them." He says that in doing this "we have broken down one of the ramparts of the human spirit, madly exulting in the work as the Trojans exulted when they broke their walls and pulled the horse into Troy.

To deny that wrong is wrong is no doubt thought to be a great gain by those who are engaged in the wrong. But according to the Bible, the opposite is the case. It is actually the end of the line, the nadir of a darkened mind. This is what Paul indicates in Romans 1, in that threefold repetition of the phrase "God gave them over (or up)." Each repetition represents a degeneration or downward step from the actions described before. In the first case (v. 24), Paul says that when men and women rejected the knowledge of God, and so became fools, "God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another." He is talking about illicit sex--fornication and adultery--as the following verses show. In the second case (v. 26), he says that "God gave them over to shameful lusts." Here he is talking about unnatural sex--homosexuality and lesbianism--as the verses following this also make clear. This is degeneration. Finally (v. 28), Paul says, "God gave them over to a depraved mind," as a result of which "although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things: deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them" (v. 32).

At first glance, the third step in this sequence seems wrong. It is talking about the mind, and we would reason that, since sin enters the mind before it expresses itself in outward acts, the third step should actually be the first one. But while it is true that sin does begin in the mind, this is not the matter that is involved here and the order is right. What Paul is talking about is not that initial contemplation of sin, as a result of which we do sin, but rather that further rational justification of it by which we deny sin's sinfulness and attempt to gain approval for sin both in ourselves and others. That is the worst thing we can do. It is the bottom step. Therefore, although it seems a natural attempt to avoid the pain of guilt, which sin has caused, we must reject this attempt and allow ourselves to feel guilt's pain, in order that we might come to the great Physician for the healing that he alone can provide.

The reason we have guilt feelings is that we have real guilt. And the reason we have guilt is that we are in a rebellion against the real God. A second painful effect of that knowledge of good and evil gained by doing evil is shame, and the standard attempt to get rid of shame is concealment. We think back to that beautiful verse that ended chapter 2 ("The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame"), and we realize how much has been lost by disobedience. Before, there was no shame, none at all; there was nothing to be ashamed of. Now there is enormous shame, focused in Adam and Eve's sense of nakedness before God, each other, and themselves.

The proof of this acute sense of shame was their attempt to cover themselves with garments made of fig leaves, probably the closest thing at hand. Concealment ties in nicely with some things C. S. Lewis has written in The Problem of Pain, from which I quoted earlier. In this section of his book he has been writing of our need to see sin as sin and thereby realize how bad we are in the sight of the holy God. Now he shows that there are difficulties to be overcome in that we have all tried to conceal these facts both from ourselves and one another.

1. The first way we have done this is by looking on the outside of things rather than on what is within. Adam and Eve did this by their makeshift attempts at clothing, a tradition that the modern fashion industries carry on. What Lewis focuses on is our tendency to compare ourselves externally and favorably with other persons. He writes, "We suppose ourselves to be roughly not much worse than Y, whom all acknowledge for a decent sort of person, and certainly (though we should not claim it out loud) better than the abominable X. Even on the superficial level we are probably deceived about this. Don't be too sure that your friends think you as good as Y. The very fact that you selected him for the comparison is suspicious: he is probably head and shoulders above you and your circle. But let us suppose that Y and yourself both appear 'not bad.' How far Y's appearance is deceptive, is between Y and God. His may not be deceptive: you know that yours is. Does this seem to you a mere trick, because I could say the same to Y and so to every man in turn? But that is just the point. Every man, not very holy or very arrogant, has to 'live up to' the outward appearance of other men: he knows there is that within him which falls far below even his most careless public Behaviour, even his loosest talk. In an instant of time-while your friend hesitates for a word--what things pass through your mind? We have never told the whole truth. We may confess ugly facts--the meanest cowardice or the shabbiest and most prosaic impurity--but the tone is false. The very act of confessing--an infinitesimally hypocritical glance--a dash of humor--all this contrives to dissociate the facts from your very self."'

What Lewis is saying is that we use an external and superficial comparison of ourselves with other persons to cover up what we really are. And we even cover up in the act of confessing wrongs. We are ashamed of ourselves, and will use any device as a disguise.

2. A second way we have tried to escape seeing how bad things are and thus find relief from our shame, is by focusing on corporate sin rather than our wrongdoing. To be sure, there is such a thing as corporate or social guilt. This needs to he addressed. But institutions of government, business, and society have not emerged apart from us. They are projections of what we are and are sinful because we are sinful. It is at the point of our own sin that we must begin to face reality. As Lewis says, "When we have really learned to know our individual corruption, then indeed we can go on to think of the corporate guilt and can hardly think of it too much. But we must learn to walk before we can run."

3. A third way we try to conceal our guilt and cover the shame of sin is by assuming that time cancels sin, as Lewis also indicates. We see this in the way we talk about some wrong done in childhood or some nearly equally distant period in our past. We act as if this is of no present concern. At times we even laugh about it. Is God laughing? Is God unconcerned? One of our problems is that we are creatures of time, who possess highly selective memories. Thus, although we may remember the wrong itself, we tend to forget the hurt it caused other people. God is not a creature of time. Everything, including
the wrong that we so easily dismiss, is present to him and is an abomination to him. Time does not eradicate it. The only thing that does is the blood of Christ, which "purifies us from all sin" (1 John 1:7).

4. Finally, we cover our sin by thinking that there is safety in numbers. We know how this works. It is based on the simple but illogical conclusion that if everyone fails the exam, then the exam must somehow have been too hard. If all people are as bad as Christianity says, then their badness must be excusable.

In human terms it may, of course, be possible that the exam was too hard. But this is not the case when we are talking about God, nor does it always work as an excuse even in regard to human society. Lewis paints this picture: "Many of us have had the experience of living in some local pocket of human society--some particular school, college, regiment or profession where the tone was bad. And inside that pocket certain actions were regarded as merely normal ('Everyone does it') and certain others as impracticably virtuous and Quixotic. But when we emerged from that bad society we made the horrible discovery that in the outer world our 'normal' was the kind of thing that no decent person ever dreamed of doing, and our 'Quixotic' was taken for granted as the minimum standard of decency. What had seemed to us morbid and fantastic scruples so long as we were in the 'pocket' now turned out to be the only moments of sanity we there enjoyed. It is wise to face the possibility that the whole human race (being a small thing in the universe) is, in fact, just such a local pocket of evil-an isolated bad school or regiment inside which minimum decency passes for heroic virtue and utter corruption for pardonable imperfection."

There are doubtless many more ways in which we seek to cover up the shame of our sin, but the point is sufficiently made. What we need to see is that the attempt is wrong and ultimately ineffective. As long as we live in God's universe, as we do (there is no other), we will eventually have to face reality as Adam and Eve did when they were confronted by God in the garden. God has told us these things so we will confront reality now and turn to him while there is still hope. In speaking of the knowledge of evil gained by doing evil, we have already spoken of two painful effects of such knowledge and of the most common
attempt to escape the pain of each one: guilt, which we attempt to escape by denial, and shame, which we attempt to escape by concealment. There is a third effect also. It is fear and the attempt to escape from it is flight.

It is a pathetic picture that we are given of Adam and Eve in the moments following their rebellion. They had become aware of their spiritual as well as physical nakedness, had found it intolerable, and had immediately begun to fashion clothing for themselves from whatever material lay closest at hand. We can imagine them working quickly and grimly, perhaps also none too well because it was work to which they were unaccustomed. But at last they are done and stand up to look at their work. They are fairly pleased with themselves. "Not bad for a first attempt," says Adam. They are thinking that in time they may get rid of the painful effects of shame entirely. They have forgotten about God. Suddenly they hear the voice of God in the garden. They are petrified. Then, like a child who hears his father coming moments after he has broken the antique vase in the living room, they spring into action. They run back into the shrubbery, perhaps even losing their inadequate and fragile clothes in the process. And there they stand, clinging to each other, hearts beating wildly, afraid for their lives. They know he will find them, but they are hoping he will not.

This is the picture of all of us as we are apart from Jesus Christ. We ought to run to God, as Adam and Eve should have run to him. He has not changed. He has not harmed us. He has done us no wrong. On the contrary, we have received nothing but good from his hand. No, we have wronged him. We have returned evil for good, and now we flee.

This is why Paul says in Romans that there is "no one who seeks God" (Rom. 3:11). It is not that God is not there. It is not that he cannot be found. He has revealed himself so clearly in nature, in Jesus, and in the Scriptures, that a person is guilty three times over for a failure to seek him out and find him. God is there, and he can be found. But we will not seek him because we do not want to find him. We fear to come upon him and therefore hide in the midst of whatever intellectual or psychological shrubbery we can find. Why is it that for all the Bibles and Bible translations in circulation the Bible is so much neglected? It is because the voice of God is heard in that book, calling "Where are you?" and men and women fear the voice of God and run from him. Why is it that the preaching of the Word is so badly attended? People will give many different excuses--busy schedules, inadequate preaching, hypocrisy among believers--but the real reason is that the voice of God is heard even through the inadequate means of preaching and God's voice makes such persons uncomfortable in their sin. How evident it is that we all share in the sin of our first parents.

What can be done? We cannot undo what is done. But we can allow God to do what is necessary to deal with sin and its consequences. Sin? That has been dealt with at the cross of Christ, for Jesus died in our place to take the guilt, shame, and fear of our sin on himself. Sin's consequences? These are dealt with as God draws its to himself through the person and power of the Holy Spirit. He overcomes our fear and clothes its with the righteousness of Christ. And this is knowledge--not that carnal knowledge of good and evil that comes through doing evil, but that spiritual knowledge taught by God's Spirit to all his people.

(Genesis: An Expositional Commentary, Baker Books, 1982)