So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. [Genesis 1: 27 (NLT)]
But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” [Genesis 2:16-17 (NLT)]
Whenever my grandchildren play house with their dolls, I can’t help but notice that their doll “children” aren’t perfectly behaved. Sometimes, one keeps waking up and getting out of bed, another misbehaves and gets a time out, or the baby gets cranky and needs a nap. The dolls aren’t always naughty; sometimes, they help in the play kitchen or read to the other dolls. In their creative play, why do my grands choose to have such independent doll children? Maybe, without benefit of theological discussion, the children understand the concept of free will and give their dolls the ability to choose.
If God hadn’t given mankind free will, it wouldn’t have been necessary to tell Adam not to eat from the tree. Yet, we wonder why God, knowing man would disobey, put that tree in the garden in the first place. How could a loving God design a world in which man could and would make bad choices? While Genesis tells us what God did, it never really tells us why.
Genesis, however, also tells us that, of all of God’s creatures, mankind is the one made in His image. God has the ability to make choices and, being made in His image, so do we. He gave us the ability to reason and make decisions. Without free will, we’d be more like mindless puppets than distinctive individuals. What kind of god would create intelligent beings who had no willpower—who had no choice but to serve him without question? Certainly not our God of love. He wanted a relationship with mankind, not some version of “Stepford” people or robots. If we could do nothing but love and obey, it wouldn’t be real love or obedience; the love would be obligatory and the obedience meaningless. God wanted man to choose to love and trust him not because he had to, but because he wanted to. So, why the tree? A choice can’t be made without having at least two options—something had to be prohibited. The problem was not in God’s faulty design of the garden; it was in man’s failure to make the right choice. Mankind abused of the gift of free will.
God is good and He designed a good world. In fact, He saw everything in the garden and said it was good, including that tree. The tree itself was not wicked; it was the knowledge of good and evil that was bad. By partaking of the tree, mankind knew what evil was. It wasn’t the tree that introduced death – it was our disobedience.
If we could only make right turns we’d all be going in a circle. Because we live in a world of choices, God gave us the ability to take our own individual journey and turn both left and right. Loving and obeying Him was not the only choice in that garden and it’s not the only option now. It is, however, the only option that will give us joy and an abundant life, both now and forever.
If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. [C.S. Lewis]
Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! [Deuteronomy 30:19 (NLT)]
Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. [Romans 6:16 (NLT)]
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