Understanding God’s Love and the Sin that changed the World
ATTENTION: You are reading the 2nd chapter in a blog to book series about Genesis (God in the Garden). I recommend starting with the introduction if you haven’t read it yet. If you are interested in learning when the book will be released or discussing anything said in these posts, please reach out through the contact page.
There is one huge difference between the Christian’s and the skeptic’s perspective of Genesis. The skeptic believes the God in Genesis is selfish. They put all sorts of other attributes on him, but basically, they see God’s actions in Genesis as selfish. Whereas Christians believe the intent of God is one of love. He is for our good in all things.
This perspective can be frustrating to the nonbeliever. The punishment in Genesis is extreme for what seems like such a small act of disobedience. All they did was take a piece of fruit. They didn’t murder anyone. It wasn’t even tax evasion or grand larceny. It was just a piece of fruit. One that God put well within their grasp. How can Christians not see this was a setup? Are they in denial, or are they really that clueless? How can they point to God’s love anywhere in this story?
It’s in the presence of a choice that Christians point to God’s love in the garden. We argue that God needed to place the tree there to give us free will. While he hates sin (disobedience), he must allow it because not allowing sin would mean the absence of free will. Even though God knew we would disobey Him, He put The Tree of Knowledge in the garden because we needed to have a choice. We needed to be able to defy Him. It was more loving of Him to give us this choice than to withhold it.
Skeptics are probably sick of this argument. God inflicting pain and denying pleasure in Eden appears incredibly cruel. Free will seems like a weak argument. After all, if God is omnipotent. Couldn’t He give us free will without the curses? Couldn’t he have figured something else out or started us on a smaller lesson, you know, like the Tree of Useless Facts? Something that wouldn’t have been so dramatic? Why do Christians see God’s intent so differently? Well, it all comes down to our perspective on one crucial element.
Skeptics don’t believe in eternity. As such, that makes the highest end the enjoyment of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Whereas Christians believe there is a much greater purpose. That isn’t to say that skeptics don’t have morals or believe that serving others isn’t nobler than binge-watching Netflix all day in your underwear. But seeking pleasure and avoiding pain is still the highest end (whether for ourselves or others). Honoring and obeying God doesn’t play a role in it, and to them, it is a silly superstition.
While the mature Christian also wants to avoid painful or unpleasant experiences, they realize suffering is a small price to pay if we are to mature and grow beyond our own selfish will (into greater relationship with God). Growth is more important and higher than avoiding pain or seeking pleasure. It’s all about the growth of the eternal relationship that is highest, not our temporal experiences. Our pain and struggles can even become a blessing as they draw us closer to God (Romans 8:28).
In defense of the skeptic, they don’t deny that growth is valuable either, but it is a temporal, personal growth. In contrast, the Christian’s is eternal and communal (in union with God). In the absence of eternity and a higher authority growing us to be more like Him, then the Christian perspective looks incomprehensible and moronic. The belief that denying pleasure and accepting pain for no other reason than to glorify and draw closer to an unseeable God becomes insane. Without eternity, God’s actions in the garden also become truly sadistic, and the skeptic would be right. God wouldn’t have our best interests in mind.
But for the sake of argument, let us consider for the moment that eternity (heaven/relationship with God) is real. If you don’t believe that, you will have to grant that it’s a possibility. I promise after you’re done reading this, you can go back to thinking whatever you want, but let’s accept it for the time being. If we can consider that there is an eternity and that growing in relationship to God, therefore, is the highest end, then free will becomes essential. You need free will to be able to grow. You need to be able to grow to have a relationship with God (highest end).
It is also in the acknowledgment that a relationship is vital that obedience becomes essential. If we are not obeying God, then how can there be a relationship? How can you work at a job if you don’t listen to your boss? How can you be a productive part of a team if you don’t listen to the coach? That’s why obedience is crucial. We aren’t obedient out of fear of punishment but out of gratitude for His life-giving grace.
Is there sometimes pain that comes our way when we don’t obey? Do we lose out on blessings? Yes, but pain is a part of life. That doesn’t mean God is cruel, but that whatever pain we experience can bring us closer to Him (growing in eternal relationship). It can help us grow in ways we couldn’t imagine previously. Ultimately, obedience is not about, “Do what I say, or you will be punished!” It’s about, “Do what I say because I love you and know what’s best for you.” In gratitude, we honor Him (obey) and fulfill a purpose far better than we could ever achieve through our selfish ambition. We become a blessing to others (pointing them toward eternity).
That’s how Christians view the fall of Adam and Eve. It wasn’t about punishment for the sake of punishment. Nor was it done out of anger. It was necessary so that greater blessings could come (growth and reconciliation). It wasn’t the fact that we learned something that brought about the curses. It was our disobedience. That was what caused all the troubles and pain that came our way. All of it was because of our disobedience. We lost our faith and rejected a close relationship with God.
God didn’t want to banish Adam and Eve. They choose personal ambition over an intimate relationship, rejected God’s will, and in doing so, rejected Him. When there is rejection, the other side has no choice but to let you go (even in omnipotence, forcing someone to maintain a relationship isn’t loving).
God may have sent out Adam and Eve. But it was Adam and Eve that showed they wanted separation. Some argue that they didn’t know what they were doing. They didn’t realize they were separating themselves from God, or the Devil tricked them. I can understand that reasoning, but if you look deeper into the Bible, it’s apparent that isn’t the case. Adam and Eve knew exactly what they were doing and willfully disobeyed God (as we will get more into). They banished themselves.
With all of this said, there is one failure in the whole Christian Eden argument. Ironically it’s born out of our excitement of showing God’s love. As Christians, we focus heavily on the sin (after all, that’s the whole point of the story, right?); we bring attention to the fact that God gave us free will and allowed us to sin even though He knew we would. That before it even happened, there was a plan to reconcile us back to Him (Jesus on the cross). Even in evil, God worked it out for our good, turning something ugly into something beautiful.
It’s a beautiful reminder of God’s love, but it also can create a snare or stumbling block for those outside the faith. Questions arise. If God loves us and He is omnipotent, couldn’t he have done something to stop it? Couldn’t He have avoided all that suffering that came from it and still gave us free will? Or did God want this to happen? Was this Adam and Eve’s destiny? Were they just pawns? It’s in this paradox that almost all of the skeptics’ arguments fall. One can conclude that God needed Adam and Eve to sin. It was their destiny. This then absolves Adam and Eve of blame and places it on God.
How do we correct this misunderstanding? How do we get others to understand that just because something happened doesn’t mean it was destiny? Hitler wasn’t destined to be who he was. John Wilkes Booth wasn’t destined to shoot Abraham Lincoln.
We all have a choice. If our actions were destined, that would mean there was no free will, and none of us are responsible for our behavior. No one believes this, yet the notion Adam and Eve were destined to sin persists. Maybe this notion persists because it’s difficult to fathom a world without sin. What would that world even look like? Where would we even start? Both Christians and skeptics focus on the first sin in the garden, but could we understand more about God’s love if we shift our focus slightly? Could we see more evidence of it? Could we discern what God’s plan might have been if Adam and Eve hadn’t eaten the fruit? Where was he going with all that? Was it for our good? Or is the skeptic, right? Was sin always destined?
Ultimately, we can argue that the Tree of Knowledge was there because of free will. That God’s prohibition was essential to have free will. Yet, some will still get stuck on destiny. How do we get around this? What if, instead of focusing solely on prohibition, we also looked at these passages through the lens of preparation? Could we see a fuller understanding of God’s love, one that doesn’t change our biblical interpretation but addresses destiny on a new front?
God is not sadistic. We do not threaten him. He cares for us and loves us deeply, no matter who we are or what we believe. Eden wasn’t about an idyllic paradise meant only for our pleasure. There is evidence throughout Genesis that God had much more in store for us. He always intended us to grow and mature in our relationship with Him and be more like Him. Preparation was always and still is the plan for us on this earth. It’s been that way since the very beginning. It hasn’t changed.
As we move forward, remember what I mentioned in the previous chapter. Just because you’ve read Genesis before or believe you understand the Bible, that doesn’t mean you do. Just as we can watch a film or read a book and miss a deeper meaning, so can we with the Bible. There is a wealth of information on the surface, but there is also much below the surface. If we are willing to consider God’s intentions are for our good and not for evil (Jeremiah 29:11). If we are ready to concede, our understanding can be fallible. Then I believe God will reveal new things to your heart, as he did to mine.
There are many differences between the Christian’s perspective of Eden and the skeptics. Ultimately it’s all about relationship.
- To a skeptic, the highest end is the enjoyment of pleasure and the avoidance of pain (themself and others). Whereas for mature Christians, the highest end is to grow and mature beyond our selfish will into greater relationship with God. Maturity is more important than avoiding pain or seeking pleasure. It’s all about the growth of the eternal relationship that is highest, not temporal experiences.
- Pain, suffering, and discipline also serve a purpose. Even if we don’t want them, we have to trust God enough that there is a greater purpose than whatever situation we find ourselves in. He will bring about using it for our good (Romans 8:28). This strengthens our faith and helps us to mature.
- Without obedience, one can’t have a full relationship with God. You can’t play the game if you don’t listen to the coach. You can’t work at the office if you don’t do what the boss tells you. Of course, these aren’t as close as our relationship with God, but they prove a point. Obedience is crucial.
- In gratitude, we honor Him and obey and fulfill a purpose far better than we ever could through our ambition. We become a blessing to others, pointing them toward eternity.
- God always intended for Adam and Eve to grow in relationship with Him. It was always about preparation. That’s always been the plan from the very beginning. It still is today. God wants us to grow in relationship with him.