The prior post in this series may be found here.
Having argued that the word know in the phrase “knowing good and evil” could mean choose, Kuyper now returns to the Genesis to consider whether taking “know” (Hebrew ydh) as “choose” would make sense of the passage:
22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—”
Genesis 3:22 (ESV) Change the word “know” to “choose”, “man has become like one of us in choosing good and evil”. Kuyper contends that the understanding makes good sense of the passage. He asserts that it does and he bases that conclusion upon this contention, “The distinction between God as Creator and man as moral creature consists precisely therein, that God assesses and determines what is good and what is evil and that man must not do this but must accept it from God.”
Kuyper does not prove that point, but I think it can be derived from the remainder of Scripture, particularly Romans 1:18-3: we humans run absolutely independently of the law.
Here is the key issue: God alone has the right to determine what is good or evil. By taking upon himself the power to make that determination –I, Adam, will decide for myself what is good and evil—Adam rebels against the Creator-Creature distinction. Adam seeks to usurp a position which belongs to God alone.
He then develops this thesis throughout the narration between Adam’s creation to the Fall. Prior to the Serpent’s intrusion, Adam what was good. There was a correspondence between what God required of Adam as good and what was objectively good. I think at this point, Kuyper’s argument may have a wrinkle: If Adam was doing what was God commanded (which was good) because it was objectively good, doesn’t that mean that Adam was making a choice prior to the Fall.
I think the way to avoid Adam choosing the good does not result in an autonomous choice is that there was no countervailing pull. It seems to be sort of an attraction, it wasn’t a choice it was so “obvious” to Adam that it was not a choice. If I look at a ball and realize it is a ball, I’m not making a choice to decide that it is a ball: it just is; I can’t conceive of it otherwise. So, Adam is not really deciding to choose the good; he simply can’t conceive of it as anything other than good and attractive. It is no more a choice than my inability to conceive of the sun as anything other than the sun.
How then will God put Adam to the choice: Will you live by the evaluation of God alone as to what is good or evil? Merely telling Adam to do good would prove nothing more than telling Adam he must breath air and drink water. Therefore, God set a task which was not good or evil except for the fact that God commanded it. Eating from the Tree was wrong because God forbade Adam from eating from the Tree. This put Adam to a choice: Will I accept God’s evaluation of this Tree, or will I make my own?
Adam decided that he could determine what was good or evil. That power to make my own decision spread to all moral concerns.
This leaves human beings the conflict of having two laws, two judgments competing for our decision. Conscience is the struggle of the competition of judgment: our own judgment and God’s judgment seeking to establish a final judgment which leads to some action.
I elaborate this proposition a bit more to make plain that our evaluations are not baldly cognitive rational considerations but are messy and involve desire. The conflicting judgments are, in more Augustinian terms, conflicting loves.
He ends the chapter by introducing what is meant by you shall surely die. He distinguishes die from exist. A plant can cease to exist. Satan is not in the least alive, but unquestionably exists. Rational beings having come into existence cannot cease to exist. So death and existence are not the same.