Monday, December 23, 2019

Anonymous Asks (72)

“How is it fair that God tested Adam in Eden when he knew Adam was destined to fail?”

I am indebted to my co-writer Immanuel Can for the response that follows. He has helped me to see the tree of the knowledge of good and evil a little differently than I used to.

The Meaning of Freedom

So then, if it had been God’s intention to give mankind any sort of meaningful freedom, what would that look like? What would be the minimum standard by which we might say that human beings were really free? What is it that would make us agents rather than automatons?

Can we call someone “free” if he is under compulsion to do what he has been commanded and cannot possibly do otherwise, or if he acts under force or duress? Of course not. The essence of freedom is having at least one option. We cannot speak meaningfully of choosing to obey if there is not even one other possible option open. How can a man choose to do right if he is not permitted to do wrong? Giving him another option does not mean he is obligated to disobey, not even once. There are lots of things I am perfectly free to do that I haven’t done, and will almost surely never do.

But to make freedom a genuine thing, there has to be the choice to do wrong if we decide to. We may not decide to. But a person cannot truly be free if no choice he makes could possibly produce a negative outcome.

Setting Adam Up to Fail

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was never intended to function as a temptation or a snare. “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” God was not taunting man with something he knew would inevitably ruin his creation. He was not setting Adam up to fail. The tree existed to enable genuine human choice — freedom. A Garden of Eden without such a tree would be a paradise without purpose. Sure, there would be no risk of punishment for evil conduct, but equally, no reward would have any meaning, since man could not even be credited for existing, let alone for preferring good to evil. All the glorious things God had created in the world for man’s enjoyment would amount to nothing more than participation ribbons; no-prizes granted to everyone simply because they showed up. “Thanks for coming, folks! Not that you had any choice ...”

Instead, the tree was evidence that mankind was not a prisoner in the Garden, or worse, a non-player character in some kind of cosmic video game programmed by God. Rather, man was a free and volitional agent, one who could choose freely to know and love God — or equally, not to.

So it was not the tree itself that precipitated the fall of mankind. Rather, it was “one man’s disobedience”, as the apostle Paul puts it. The decision not to do what God wanted brought mankind into the lived experience of what it means to act contrary to the divine intention.

Godlike Freedom

This twisted way of exercising “freedom” is still godlike in a sense. God also acts out of his own nature. But knowing good and evil enabled mankind to act out of his own fallen nature, rather than God’s.

The Holy Spirit was given to believers not to force us to be perfect against our wills, but to enable us to please God if we choose to. The Christian is not free from all temptation (though we must confess we could easily be a lot freer from it than we are if only we would take the Lord’s advice and flee it when it shows up). But the Christian is free not to sin if he chooses not to. “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

So is it “fair” that Adam was tested in Eden and failed? I guess it depends whether you view the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as a test designed to fail everyone who takes it, or as an indication of God’s desire to relate to real people with moral agency as opposed to NPCs.

I prefer the latter interpretation.


  1. This then seems like a routine approach when you want to create a free being. The angles as well had a choice (although they probably did not eat apples). The one thing though that generally is mentioned is the Lord's prayer ... and lead us not into temptation but ... and so on. This seems pretty difficult since, once an environment exists for good and evil influences to coexist side by side as on planet earth, you cannot avoid exposure. This suggest a conundrum (which the philosopher might have an answer for) namely, does it not justify evil in order to guarantee the existence of freedom? And would that be fair?

  2. Since no one picked up on that let me be the philosopher.

    It seems to me that it is unnecessary to postulate that freedom requires the need for being able to make an evil choice and therefore requires for evil to exist. After all it is clear that choices are not strictly only binary. Evidently God has allowed for approaching problems, etc., in a multitude of ways many of which are not necessarily optimal but that will still get the job done. And many might be better, more efficient or effective than others but will get the job done. Hence there is the freedom to choose, signifying a free human being, without having to postulate the necessity for having evil in mind and available.

    Now you might want to argue more narrowly that the evil you have in mind is the one choice of not wanting to have anything to do with the idea of a God as he is presented in the Bible, well then there is indeed a majority of evil in the world. But that is not needed for a definition of freedom.

    1. Since no one picked up on that ...

      I have been out of the country, and IC does not have access to the comments unless I email them to him. Mea culpa.