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JOHN PEARRELL: Old Testament stories of human struggle to define good and evil still relevant today

John Pearrell

John Pearrell

There is an interesting verse in the Old Testament book of Malachi. The prophet records, “You have wearied the Lord with your words. ‘How have we wearied him?’ you ask. By saying, ‘All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them’ or ‘Where is the God of justice?’” (Malachi 2:17, NIV84).

Isaiah has a similar view when he writes, “You are doomed! You call evil good and call good evil. You turn darkness into light and light into darkness. You make what is bitter sweet, and what is sweet you make bitter.” (Isaiah 5:20, GNB)

Isaiah wrote these words around 700 B.C. Malachi wrote his around 430 B.C., 270 years after Isaiah. Was he borrowing from Isaiah’s writing? I don’t think so. I think what we see here is the same pattern of behavior in different centuries.

Now, some 2,400 years later we find in America the same problem still being repeated. Sadly, our entertainment industry and the very laws of our nation are such that we are desperately trying to make what is immoral appear moral and what is moral appear immoral.

Not only this, we are trying to export our immorality to other places, threatening boycotts if a sovereign nation refuses to support the distortion.

What we see in this pattern is that though cultures and time change, the heart of man remains unchanged. Every time I read my Bible I discover the relevance of what many consider irrelevant and antiquated.

Throughout the centuries many have thought that they could break the word of God only to find themselves broken by it. Jeremiah, another Old Testament prophet, records God as saying, “My message is like a fire that purges dross! It is like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces! I, the Lord, so affirm it!” (Jeremiah 23:29, NET).

The New Testament writer of Hebrews wrote, “For whatever God says to us is full of living power: it is sharper than the sharpest dagger, cutting swift and deep into our innermost thoughts and desires with all their parts, exposing us for what we really are.” (Hebrews 4:12, The Living Bible).

Many things have changed since the ancient manuscripts that comprise our modern Bible were recorded, but men remain the same, in every culture and in every time. So in 700 B.C. men were trying to define — or better re-define — what we saw as good and evil and mankind today continues that pursuit.

Whether or not you accept the story of the first man and woman literally, the narrative is instructive.

God makes man and woman, places them in a perfect environment and tells them basically, “You can do anything you want, as long as you will trust me and submit to my direction for your life. Do that and we will build a wonderful world; but, should you choose to disobey, there will be serious and deadly consequences.”

We call that test, “the tree of good and evil.” Did the tree have magical qualities? Probably not; the test was in Adam’s and Eve’s willingness to trust God in his instructions, not in some magical fruit.

There are many views of what this tree represented. If you hold that before they ate of the tree, Adam and Eve couldn’t know good from evil, the test is flawed. If they could only discover right from wrong after they ate, they really couldn’t have been disobedient.

Others hold that it represents the difference between perceived knowledge and experienced knowledge. Perhaps.

Personally, I think the tree represented the decision of whether they would trust God to define good from evil or whether they would try to be like God and define it for themselves.

Mankind chose poorly in Eden and mankind continues to choose poorly today. The Message puts Malachi 2:17 this way, “You make GOD tired with all your talk. ‘How do we tire him out?’ you ask. By saying, ‘GOD loves sinners and sin alike. GOD loves all.’ And also by saying, ‘Judgment? GOD’s too nice to judge.’” (Malachi 2:17, The Message).

Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway Web site at www.gatewaycommunity.org or email john.pearrell@gatewaycommunity.org.