In Genesis 3 we find the account of a being in the form of a serpent who deceived the first woman into disobeying God. Here is the initial account of an evil being who is capable of deceiving the whole world and who is the very embodiment of malevolence throughout the entire Bible—the inspirer of evil in countless persons and situations across all of human history.
Despite the breadth of such awful influence, however, this is by no means the whole answer to the origin of evil or its existence. The Bible’s explanation of the origin of evil must be pieced together by carefully analyzing numerous scriptures. For example, the previous chapter of Genesis provides us with additional insight into evil’s existence and function in the world. We may deepen our understanding of evil by studying the account about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Genesis tells us that along with all the other trees, God placed two special trees in humanity’s original habitat, the Garden of Eden. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, could freely eat of the tree of life, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they were not to eat lest they die (Genesis 2:9, 16–17).
These two trees represent two very different kinds of knowledge–two distinct types of thinking and ways of living. The tree of life, as is mentioned from Genesis to Revelation, represents the way to eternal life. It is God’s revealed way of successful human living, with thinking and action that is good as defined by God Himself. It is a reflection of His character, in which there is no place for evil—only truth, good and love. Implicitly, this is the way founded on obedience to God’s wisdom and way. It is both a mode of behaving and an outcome that God desires for all of humanity. We might call it God’s way.
In contrast, however, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents a mixed way of thinking and acting—a combination of some good and some evil—the cumulative effect of which leads to death. This second tree represents the way of humanity’s self-discovery—working out for oneself what is good and what is evil. Relying on one’s own devices and taking to oneself one of God’s prerogatives—that is, to decide what is right and what is wrong. We might call this man’s way.
God grants humans the freedom to choose between these contrasting ways of living. He wants us to accept him at His word and choose the way of life he designed us to live. But He allows us to elect the alternative, even though He would prefer to spare us the outcome of such a decision. God grants free choice because, above all, He is interested in the formation of our character, which results from the choices we make.
The book of Genesis teaches that Adam and Eve were seduced into making the wrong choice: “Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know [to distinguish between] good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever…’”(Genesis 3:22). Adam and Eve were driven from the garden and thereby prevented from accessing the tree of life (verses 23–24).