The first act of evil in history was not what you’d expect. It came about in a peaceful, verdant garden. It came soothingly. Surreptitiously. Seemingly innocently.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 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.
We are prone to think of evil in extremes. We think of hatred and violence, corruption and killing. Maybe we think of deception and dehumanization. Maybe we think war and injustice.
The first evil act this world ever knew, however, was none of those things.
The first evil this world ever knew was the slyly sown seed of confusion.
How Evil Crept In
The fall of humankind did not happen because the devil came crashing in with a sword. It did not come spewing aggressions or offending our ears. It did not even come meanly or in anger.
Instead, evil came quietly, craftily, cunningly.
The first words evil ever spoke were in the form of a simple question. It was a question that seemed, by all appearances, unthreatening.
“Did God really say?”
Those four simple words were the seed of all future rottenness—of all wickedness and brokenness and injustice. They were not evil because of the words themselves. They were evil because they introduced confusion into the world, which proved the seed of destruction.
It was not sinful for Adam and Eve to be confused. But it was the evil of the Evil One to sow confusion.
“Did God really say?”
Until this question was asked, Adam and Eve saw clearly. They walked with God and viewed him face to face. Even then, there was such a thing as mystery—for even perfect mortals could not comprehend all the ways of God—but mystery does not equal confusion.
The human state of not knowing everything was suddenly replaced by the quandary of knowing wrongly. A doubting of God’s words. A lack of perception was suddenly threatened with misperception.
And as mystery turned into muddled bewilderment, it did not take long for wandering human minds to become tangled.
The Cognitive Dissonance of the Sinner Who Knows God
The serpent’s effort to confuse actually, at first, prompted a proper remembrance of God’s words. But it came with second-guessing, for the snake watered his confusion with trickery and temptation. It was as though Eve and Adam could no longer tell which way was up. They recalled God’s words, but seemed unable to recollect their meaning. So the snake offered a new meaning: “You will not certainly die.”
Here, confusion becomes utter cognitive dissonance. Adam and Eve are holding in their minds two contradictory beliefs. “When you eat from it you will certainly die.” And, “You will not certainly die.”
They could not both be true. But confusion killed both trust and reason.
And so humanity fell.
In the long-term, this confusion led to disbelief and disobedience. This led to death. Death for all.
But in the short-term, the confusion only goes deeper. When it looks like clarity returns—“The eyes of both of them were opened”—they are actually more confused than ever, and irrevocably so. For they became confused by the very recognition of their nakedness. They became confused in their own nature.
It is only in God and his good words that we find true clarity. The Fall happened not because of obvious cruelty or contempt, but because of the chaos of confusion that prompted disbelief and disobedience. Redemption can only happen by undoing this confusion and its effects. Such work is accomplished by the clear-sighted Christ and our faith in him. Faith is a remedy for the devil’s confusion. It is “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
In this life, we will face confusion because there are billions of voices competing with God’s.
“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror.”
But by grace through faith in the powerful work of Jesus, we will find clarity.
“Then we shall see face to face.”