(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)
Obedience to God’s command ensured that they would worship Him in freedom and not presume to be His equal. The reward of this obedience was simple as well. Do not disobey God and you will live and be happy with Him. Had the first parents obeyed, they and their descendents would have enjoyed the perfect happiness of Eden. Not a bad deal.
The devil, on the other hand, knows how to incite us to break covenants with his diabolical charm. He seduced Eve with a lie. On the surface, it seemed very pleasant, because the devil is a gentleman.
“You certainly will not die!” he insisted, if she ate from the tree of life. Then the devil argued that by eating from the tree of life, Adam and Eve “will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil.” What could be the harm in that?
To “know good and evil,” in the language of the Bible, means to be the master of good and evil. This has a certain appeal. Think of it. To be like gods, deciding what is good and evil! Wouldn’t we all enjoy that? No boundaries! No rules, just right! Have it your way! Be the master of your destiny!
Man has always been enthralled with the temptation to be “like gods.” Whenever it is attempted, like the fall of Adam and Eve, it always leads to tragedy. We become beasts instead of gods. In claiming to be the “master race,” some have presumed to be the master of good and evil. The extermination of “inferior” races was said to be necessary and “good.” Claiming to be masters of the inevitable progress of history, others have professed that the “ends justify the means.” The intentional killing of innocents is “good” if it advances “progress” or is “necessary to win the war.”
Today the devil is still a gentlemen. God gives us the intelligence to advance modern science in marvelous ways; the devil tempts us to use science without restraint. God gives us labor-saving technology that increases our leisure time; the devil entices us to use this time not for the Lord, but for debauchery. God gives us the miracle of medical science in the service of life; the devil persuades us that we ourselves are the masters — not the ministers — of human life.
One of the reasons the Lord allowed the devil to tempt Him in the desert was to teach us how to resist the temptation to be like gods. It comes with a simple declaration, repeating the words of the Lord: “Be gone, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord your God shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’” We are not gods. Only God is God. And only God is good.
True greatness is measured by our participation in God’s goodness. God wants us to freely choose him in love. When we choose God and recognize His dominion, we discover not only what it means to be good, but also the great love God has for us. And when we discover God’s love, we learn to love others in the same way. This is our true dignity. It is a dignity that even the devil is unable to imitate or destroy.