What Are We Missing in the Story of the Garden of Eden?

Why did God place the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden and forbid Adam to eat it?

Once again, I am reading the epic of Eden by Sandra Richter. She takes the orthodox, traditional position that Eden was perfect, man fell, bringing God’s creation down with him, and God is redeeming man with creation so that man will live forever in perfection, again, after redemption is complete.

I write recently, poising the question, Was the Garden of Eden Really Perfect? I am leaning in the direction of no, the garden of Eden wasn’t perfect, as I explained in the the article linked in this paragraph, and something is missing from the traditional narrative.

Today, I am posing some other questions that occur to me as I continue to read through Sandra Richter’s fine book. Why did God place the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden? Did God know men would eat from it? What is the point of the fall and the long road back to redemption?

I don’t claim to have all the answers, or at least not all the right answers. We may not know, and may never know, the answers. Maybe they aren’t for us to know.

Yet, I think God wants us to seek to understand. “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.” (Proverbs 25:2) My article today is an attempt at better understanding of God’s redemption story.

Surely, God had purpose in placing that tree in the garden, right? God is sovereign and all-knowing, right? Thus, I think the questions I pose today are good for us to consider.

As I think about these questions, it seems like an awful big risk for God to take in putting that forbidden tree in the garden. That tree was a real temptation for Adam and Eve to rebel. It was a real choice God gave them.

Indeed, that risk cost God’s crowning creation, the one creature made in God’s own image, its very life! We cannot possibly count all the people who have died since then. That risk also cost all of the God’s creation and all of God’s creatures pain, suffering, and difficulty for many thousands of years.

Did God not see that coming? Don’t we need to understand that God did know. He not only knew the risk, but He must have known the risk was more than a mere potentiality. If God “stands outside” of time, if He can see the beginning from the end, if He is all-knowing, He could see the choice Adam and Eve would make.

We have to assume God knew exactly how the history of man would unfold, but God’s purpose for putting that tree in the garden must have been greater than all the suffering and all the pain and all the evil that has existed since men fell after eating from the fruit of it.

For that reason, I am coming to see that Eden was not perfect, because it contained a forbidden tree that would catapult Adam and the creation into a spiral of sin and death if Adam ate of it.

The existence of that tree that posed a choice to Adam that he was free to make, and the exercise of that choice carried with it the direst of consequences. This means to me that Eden was not perfect. It was not complete. Not yet.

Adam and Eve were innocent, but naïve, in the garden. They knew God, and the goodness of God. They did not know evil. They didn’t even know the difference between good and evil. The had nothing to which to compare good.

Indeed, how could they have even defined what it good?

They had no opportunity for doing anything bad, but for the that one choice that I believe they were bound to make. In making that one choice, Adam and Eve knew, for the very first time, the difference between good and evil. They knew rebellion in making that choice, and that changed everything.

The question that begs asking is this: Why did God give Adam and Eve that choice? Surely, God knew that they would exercise it. If God is omniscient, and He is not bound by time or matter, He knew the choice Adam and Eve would make.

For that reason, I believe Adam and Eve making that choice was part of God’s plan. Perhaps, they could have chosen otherwise. After all, it wouldn’t have been a real choice if they could not have chosen otherwise, but God, who is the Alpha and Omega, must have known they would make that choice.

Likewise, God must have been ready for them to make that choice. Even if He didn’t truly know, He certainly know it was a distinct risk. He he must have anticipated the risk, and He must have known that there was something to be gained out of that awful choice with its horrendous consequences that was central to God’s plan – or He wouldn’t have put that tree in the garden to begin with.

Having eaten of that fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve were forever changed. They lost their innocence. They would forever know the consequences of their rebellion and of living with evil.

Only then, however, would they truly be able to choose good for its own sake. Only after knowing evil, were Adam and Eve truly able to reject evil, to reject rebellion, and to submit to God willingly and knowingly, to choose good over evil.

Ironically, Adam and Eve were tempted by the lure of knowing what God knows and becoming like God, as if that, itself, was the forbidden fruit. This was how the serpent tempted Eve: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:5)

I believe this was God’s plan all along. He wanted Adam and Eve to know what God knows and to become like God in all ways, including in the knowledge of the difference between good and evil. Only then could Adam and Eve choose good.

Before that, they had no real choice. They knew it was forbidden, but they had no idea why. They knew nothing of evil and, therefore, were unable to choose good over evil. Now that mankind knows evil and all of its consequences, only now are we able to choose good, to choose God’s way, to choose trust and submission to God because we know the alternative.

I believe this was God’s plan all along, and the risk was worth the reward. The risk was an inevitability. In the eons of time, it was inevitable that Adam would choose to eat from that fruit at some point, but God was ready for it. He had a plan.

God already knew that He was going to empty himself of His glory to become a man, He and to insert Himself into the process of redeeming His own creation. God was long ago, from before the foundation of the earth, prepared to humble Himself in submission to His own plan, and to die at the hands of His own creation on a cross to complete the perfecting of His creation, redeeming mankind in the process, and all of creation with us.

The risk was not just for Adam and Eve. The risk was for God also. God knew well the risk, even better then anyone, and He was willing to do what needed to to be done to accomplish His purpose.

The purpose is this: that man, the crowning glory of God’s creation, the only creature made in God’s own image, would become like God in every way – willingly. Knowing evil, all people are in the position to choose good, to choose God’s way and submit to God, to take on God’s own character, to reflect God’s love back to him, because we want to. Because we know and trust that God loves us, and we desire to love Him back!

Romans 8 says that the creation groans as if in the pains of childbirth, awaiting the adoption of men as children of God. This adoption of men as God’s children will complete creation and bring all of God’s creation into right relationship with God, perfecting what God created.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:18-23)

The garden of Eden was not perfect, but it was a perfect plan to achieve God’s purposes of creating a being that would someday be elevated to eternal life in loving relationship with God of our own free choice – perfectly reflecting God’s love back to Him.

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