I’ve been thinking lately about the odd view we have of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
First, let me say that I understand that many here believe there was no literal tree, but that it represented a larger idea of the choice to sin or obey, or some other allegory. I’m not really speaking of that view, although my thoughts may pertain in some way to it, because the reasons they give for the question I’m about to ask are often similar. I’m speaking instead of people who view thew tree as a literal object in the garden that Adam and Eve were forbidden from eating.
Many people have asked some variation of the question, “Why did God create the tree of knowledge, anyway? Why didn’t he just not create it, so man would have not been able to sin?” There are other related forms of that question, I’m sure you can think of some you’ve heard over the years.
The general answer that is given is something like this: “God placed the tree in the garden to give us free will, so we could choose to love him and obey him, or to go our own way. He is a loving creator and didn’t want to create us as robotic slaves.”
John Piper, a Calvinist, approaches it from a different perspective but with, I think, the same basic idea. He says: “So what was God saying in prohibiting the eating of one tree out of a million trees? He was saying, “I have given you life. I have given you a world full of pleasure, pleasures of taste and sight and sound and smell and feel and nourishment. Only one tree is forbidden to you. And the point of that prohibition is to preserve the pleasures of the world, because if you eat of that one you will be saying to me, ‘I’m smarter than you. I am more authoritative that you. I am wiser than you are. I think I can care for myself better than you care for me. You are not a very good Father. And so I am going to reject you.’ So don’t eat from the tree, because you will be rejecting me and all my good gifts and all my wisdom and all my care. Instead, keep on submitting to my will.”
Both of these answers seem nonsensical to me. Both of them have, at their core, the idea that God placed the tree in the garden to give man the opportunity to sin if he chose to.
The reason this doesn’t make sense is because this wasn’t the first or only breakable commandment that God had given Adam. The first breakable commandment God gave Adam was “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” and “And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.”
Are we forgetting that sins of omission are just as sinful as sins of commission? Adam could have chosen to disobey God by:
- Not multiplying (selfishness)
- Not subduing the earth (laziness)
- Not dressing and keeping the garden (irresponsibility)
My point is, the tree was not needed to give Adam the choice to sin. He was free and had opportunity to disobey God without its existence.
So, the question remains then, why did God create the tree if he knew if would kill them?
We don’t know why he created it. He didn’t tell us.
Let me illustrate. Let’s say a mom creates a batch of cookies and places them on the counter, and tells the kids, “I’m going to the store, don’t eat these cookies.” The kids, of course, eat them. The mom comes home and punishes the kids. Later, the kids debate amongst themselves as to why the mom even made the cookies if she didn’t want the kids to eat them! Was she trying to test their obedience or give them freedom to choose? Was she trying to maximize their pleasure in the things they WERE allowed to eat (as John Piper might say)?
No, the simple answer that the kids, because they’re immature and don’t understand everything yet, didn’t get, was that they were made for after dinner, and eating them first would ruin their appetite which was ultimately bad for their health. So they were made for a different TIME. Another answer might be that they were made to be brought to the neighbors, not for the kids. So they were made for different PEOPLE.
The example above shows that we, as immature humans, cannot understand the myriad reasons why God might have created the tree. Maybe he would have let us eat off it later, at an appropriate TIME. Maybe the tree was necessary for different CREATURES in the ecosystem (food for gods, as the serpent suggested?). I’m just spitballing ideas but my main point is that God didn’t tell us, just like a parent doesn’t always tell a child, usually because they just wouldn’t be capable of understanding it.
Maybe the fruit of the tree was a vital part of the ecosystem, but was just poisonous to humans. Aren’t there lots of things in the creation that fall into this category: necessary, but dangerous?
If Adam had continued to live, and visited the edge of a cliff, wouldn’t God warn him: “Adam, thou mayest walk all over the earth, but thou mayest not walk off that cliff, for in the day thou walkest off the cliff, thou shalt die.” If Adam had walked off a cliff, would we be asking, “Why did God even create that cliff? Maybe God created the cliff to show Adam he had free will, or to emphasize all the places Adam COULD walk.”
Why do we have to make the story so weird and mystical (and, by the way, so human-centric), when it makes much more sense to take it at its practical, face value?