A friend of mine recently asked me this question:
I’m often asked questions like this: why did God put the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden if he knew that Adam and Eve would disobey him? I’d be interested to know how you answer that question.
Here is how I responded:
You ask an important question, a question theologians, philosophers, and believers have been puzzling over for hundreds–if not thousands–of years. There is much we do not know about that time, so whatever we say about it must be held humbly. People of good faith debate whether we are to read Genesis 1-3 as literal history or as a metaphor broadly of who created us, why, who were are as human beings, and what has gone so terribly wrong. Regardless of how you read it, there is a looming question: why did God put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden if he knew that Adam and Eve would disobey him?
I don’t know if there is AN answer to that question, but I do have some thoughts which may be helpful. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that God’s ways are not our ways, his thoughts are not our thoughts. He said that God’s thoughts are as high above our thoughts as the stars in the heaven. So whatever God had in mind when he did it is not available to us, unless God’s chooses to reveal it to us plainly. Genesis 3 tells us what God did but not why.
Of all God’s creatures human beings are made in his image. This means, among other things, that we have a will of our own and make choices. Animals cannot choose. A species of bird driven by instinct to build a nest in the trees cannot decide to burrow beneath the ground for its home. Human beings, though, uniquely fashioned from the earth are not only able to make decisions, they must. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was there, in part, to provide humans with a choice: to obey the Voice of God or not. Had there been no choice, there could be no obedience. The ongoing question for us is whether we will choose to follow, love and obey the One True God. Yes, I think God knew that some people would choose to follow. Others would choose to follow their own designs. That is not a failure in God but in us. Had God made us so that we could only love him, then it would be no love at all. Love is at the heart of creation.
Another matter which comes to mind. The knowledge of good and evil seems like a good thing to have, but the question is: where should this come from? The “sin” of Adam and Eve is that they want to be “like God.” This means that they do not want to depend on God for the guidance of what is good and evil. They want to know it for themselves, which makes them the judge. They want the option in the future to say what is good and what is evil. In fact, God is the only judge in these matters. The Hebrew word translated “knowledge” may imply “knowledge by experience” rather than theoretical knowledge. God did not want young Adam and Eve to know evil by experience. As a parent, I can understand that. I want my adult son to “know” that adultery is evil and will harm him and his family, but I don’t want him to have to experience it to know it. Adam and Eve, however, chose disobedience; they apparently wanted to experience for themselves good and evil. That experience changed them and the world in profound ways.
Now it is your turn. How would you answer?