A few weeks ago, our church’s 3rd-5th graders were learning about the creation story from Genesis, and I was brought in to the planning process to help address common science misconceptions that the kids will encounter as they get older. (i.e. “Science can disprove God,” “Natural processes alone can produce design,” or “Science uses facts, religion uses faith.”) After completing the unit, the kids were given the opportunity to submit questions about the creation story, so today I went back to answer them. Some questions were simple like, “Why did God create animals and not just people?” Other questions were more theologically gritty, and required longer explanations. One in particular was, “Why did God create the tree in the first place?” (Another student asked “Why couldn’t Adam and Eve eat the fruit,” so I lumped them together in one answer.)
A great mystery for kids is why God created a way for Adam and Eve to sin. (Frankly, many adults are stumped as well!) From our shallow understanding, it may seem like God is to blame for all the evil in the world. If He hadn’t put the tree there and given Adam and Eve the rule to not eat from it, they wouldn’t have disobeyed, and our world wouldn’t be in the mess it’s in today. And Christ wouldn’t have had to come and die! So wouldn’t it be a net-win for God as well? Couldn't Christ have been spared suffering if God had just nixed the tree? Click To Tweet
If this question has plagued you, you are not alone. This question falls under the broader category of “How could a good God allow so much evil in the world?” This is what apologists and skeptics refer to as, “The problem of evil.” Clay Jones has written an excellent book discussing why God would allow evil. For today, I will take some of his arguments and condense them into a kid-friendly version, with lots of concrete examples.
This is an uber-important question to answer well, because if we (adults) do not have a firm grasp on why God created the option for Adam and Eve to sin, then how can we expect our kids to understand the reasons for Christ’s death, resurrection and the plan for redemption? It reminds me of what my friend Tommy used to do to me in high school. We’d be standing in the bleachers at a football game and he’d push me just enough to make me lose my balance a little, but then grab me at the same time (so I wouldn’t actually fall) and say, “I just saved your life! Now you owe me your life!”
When we teach original sin and God’s plan for salvation without understanding why God created the tree, it can sound a lot like the game my friend would play; God tricks us into sinning (or caused us to sin), but then says, “Here’s a Savior to save you from your sins! Now you owe me your life!” I have heard adult atheists profess this kind of understanding of the redemption plan, and it is better to nip this line of thinking in the bud because it reflects a poorly-informed understanding of the nature of love. What's love got to do with it? Click To Tweet
1.) Love requires free-will
This is fairly intuitive to most people, regardless of age. I asked the kids today, “Can you force someone to love you?” I didn’t get a single confused look, or accidental head nod. They all knew the answer was no. God gave me a silly little illustration last night. I was feeling down, and fluffy things are like opium for me. I wanted to snuggle with my cat. She did not. I could overpower her for a little while, but she was obviously not into our little “snuggle session,” and the moment I let up, she squirmed her way out of my arms. Even in the animal kingdom, love cannot be forced. How much more so with people? God did not want robots, and he will not force His love on us. Click To Tweet
God could have created us like robots, without the ability to reject him or disobey. Growing up, I had a little stuffed dog named Chuck. I still pull him out of the closet occasionally on insecure nights. As much as I love Chuck, he will never love me back. There is no relationship. God creating creatures that can’t disobey is like us holding on to a stuffed animal; the most you can expect to receive is comfort, but not love. Not to mention, the “relationship” is very one-sided. God is love. He did not want robots, and he didn’t want dolls to play with.
God also has no interest in forcing us to “act” like we love him. I can pick my cat up and force her to snuggle with me like I did last night. I can hold her tightly, and prohibit her from using her free-will to escape, but it doesn’t facilitate a very loving relationship, and it’s not very satisfying. It is most satisfying when she comes to me of her free-will and wants to sit on my lap, be petted by me, and engage in whatever level of relationship in which cats are capable.
2.) Free-will requires choice
Do you realize that there was literally no way to disobey God aside from the tree in the garden? You cannot disobey someone if there are no rules. A good way to illustrate this concept for kids is by using the windowless-doorless house analogy. Let’s say that we don’t want our kids to go outside. If we put them in a house that had no windows and no doors, and then said, “You can go anywhere you want,” have we given them free-will? No. What if there were all sorts of cool things in the house? Let’s pretend that we made it the perfect environment where they didn’t want to leave. Are they still free? No. If there is no way to leave, then they aren’t really free. There was literally NO way to disobey God without the tree. Is there obedience without choice? Click To Tweet
The tree was the proverbial door in the perfect house that God created for us. God placed Adam and Eve in as perfect an environment as you can get, and he made it theoretically easy to stay. There was only one door. God said, “I would love for you to stay with me here forever. However, if you want to leave, that is the door.” Adam and Eve were told not to eat of the fruit. They were told that bad things would happen if they did (Gen 2:17). God could have prevented Adam and Eve from ever having the choice to rebel against Him, but again that’s not love, and God IS love. Love is the very essence of God, much like some abstract quality of “Hillary-ness” is to me. I had the kids repeat a sentence with me multiple times. “God is love. Love can only be given freely. Freedom means that there is both choice, and responsibility.” God’s very nature mandated that He give Adam and Eve both choice and responsibility if his end-goal was a loving relationship!
3.) The tree in the garden was basically the easiest test to pass… and we still failed
I honestly don’t know how God could have made it easier to choose Him. It’s not like he built a staircase that they had to use every single day and said, “Thou shalt not step on the 4th step. The day you do, you shall surely die,” and then just waited for them to accidentally step on it. It’s not like he said, “All your days, you shall eat brussel sprouts and asparagus, but the chocolate pudding in the middle of the garden, you shall not eat.” No. They had everything they could possibly want.
God didn’t trick Adam and Eve. He didn’t force them to sin. He didn’t hide the consequences of eating the fruit. He was very upfront about the whole Death thing.
He didn’t deny them food, and then punish them for eating. We were not starving men, thrown into jail for stealing a loaf of bread. He didn’t even create multiple trees, and make them remember where they were! It was one tree, right smack in the middle. How big was the garden of Eden? We don’t really know, but we can be sure that it didn’t have a 10-foot diameter. There was no reason for Adam and Eve to be hanging around the tree. The only reason is that it was the one forbidden fruit, so of course that’s where the party’s at. It's not like God said, 'Thou shall only eat broccoli, but the the chocolate, you may not eat.' Click To Tweet
The answer to the question, “Why did God create the tree in the first place,” is simple. Like I had the kids repeat: God is love. Love can only be given freely. Freedom means there is both choice, and responsibility. God wanted a relationship with us! He didn’t want to create robots. He could not force His love on us without it exterminating any hope for a loving relationship. He gave Adam and Eve every reason to trust Him, but they chose to doubt His goodness, and ultimately believed the lie that they were better judges as to what was good for them. He created the tree because it was a manifestation of his character, of his love. He didn’t force Himself on Adam and Eve, and He doesn’t force Himself on us.
Now, some might object to God’s method’s by asking, “Did God give Adam and Even enough information to make an informed decision? They wouldn’t have eaten the fruit If they really knew what that would do to the rest of humanity, right?” Can’t we still fault God for their decision because He didn’t give them enough information? I’ll answer that question in the next post!
Hillary Morgan Ferrer is the founder of Mama Bear Apologetics. She is the chief author and editor of Mama Bear Apologetics: Empowering Your Kids to Challenge Cultural Lies and Mama Bear Apologetics Guide to Sexuality: Empowering Your Kids to Understand and Live Out God’s Design. Hillary has her masters in Biology and has been married to her husband, Dr. John D. Ferrer, for 15 years. Don’t let her cook for you. She’ll burn your house straight to the ground.
“The tree in the garden was basically the easiest test to pass… and we still failed”
How could Adam and Eve have failed? They had the moral maturity of a one-year-old. You might as well have given them a calculus test.
[“The tree in the garden was basically the easiest test to pass… and we still failed”
How could Adam and Eve have failed? They had the moral maturity of a one-year-old. You might as well have given them a calculus test.]
I’d have to disagree. It really is as simple as “I’m the boss, and I say X. If you choose Y, you’re suggesting that your choice is superior to mine.”
It’s a reality that every Daddy has to face DAILY. Even though the kid KNOWS who Daddy is, in the kid’s mind, his way is better. That’s the very essence of the challenge to authority that Adam’s sin presents. If Adam and Eve were smart enough to merely COMMUNICATE with God, they’re smart enough to follow IF to its inevitable THEN.
Hi, Hillary. I’m an ex-Christian, but not necessarily because of the subject of evil. Let’s assume, however, that the Christian God is the one true god and that he is both omnipotent and omniscient. He chose the world that we currently reside in. That makes him responsible for both the good and the evil. Consider the child that has been subjected to unspeakable evil. God chose for it to be that way. Stating that God didn’t want a bunch of robots or that he won’t force you to love him or force his love on you does nothing to quell this cognitive dissonance. Thus, can we really say that God is love and worthy of a trusting relationship?
Thank you so much for your comment. We have to remember that this is not the world that he created us to live in, and as believers in Jesus, it is not the eventual world in which we will live forever. This is basically the crap in the middle where we get to experience what a world full of sin looks like. There is unspeakable evil. Rampant evil. It often feels like too much to bear, and I would give up if I thought this was the end of the story. A lot of people think of evil like it’s just God’s divine judgment for not doing what he says. We sin, he opens up his box of evil and lets a little more into the world to “teach us a lesson.” That is not the way scripture describes it. Think of it more like contaminating a sterile environment, or decay. If I leave the door open on my freezer, things will start to go bad. It’s not punishment. That’s just the nature of nature. The spiritual world is similar. God created the perfect world in which nothing would ever go bad. It was a morally sterile environment, and it would remain that way, unless another being used their “free will” to open the door. Once the door was opened, it was no longer a sterile environment, and anyone who has done science experiments knows that the longer you leave something contaminated, the worse it gets.
The fact that you realize that there is so much wrong in the world tells me that you understand that we were not created for this. While it may seem that God created it like this, that’s only a symptom of not knowing our history. And the good news, is that He doesn’t plan on leaving it like this forever. He plans on creating a new proverbial “sterile” environment in the future. Now, people often ask if there will be choices in heaven, or the possibility of sinning in heaven. I think there will be, but nobody is going to take that door. Why? Because they’ve seen where that door leads.
I would love to hear your thoughts on how you think would be a better way to achieve the goal. If God’s goal (as mentioned in the very first book of the Bible, and the very last) is to be with us (free-beings) forever, and not have us contaminate a perfect environment (i.e. not use our free-will to sin), how might you go about accomplishing that while maintaining a loving relationship, and without infringing upon free-will?
Again, thank you for engaging here!
Apologies for the double response! It didn’t initially appear as if the first one went through. No need to read both. 🙂
Hillary, thank you for your thoughtful response. As a Christian, I don’t think I would have disagreed with any of your points. As an atheist, I’ll attempt to share my thoughts on your question. You and I are engaged in a conversation. It’s real. Were we ever to meet, I’d shake your hand, maybe even give you a hug. Should a friendship ensue, I would support you, and you would support me. If you were in danger, I would intervene for you, as you would for me. That is a real, trusting relationship. The truth, however, is that regardless of the scenario, God will always get a pass. Something great happens? God did it. Something horrible happens? Well, we live in a fallen world, and God works in mysterious ways. I think the freewill argument fills the gap because we started with the endpoint that the Christian God is the one true God and worked our way backwards to the freewill premise. The presumption that God was real was always there. Very few of us reasoned our way into Christianity. My question is how can you be so certain that what you believe in is true? Thank you for the dialog.
Apologies for putting my own thoughts on the matter, but I did recognize something and wanted to contribute. I could be mistaken here, so please correct me if I am, but it seems as if the objection you raised really does not offer any sort of defeater towards the defense made by Hillary. If I’ve read your 2nd response correctly, it seems that your argument is that we presuppose that the God of Christianity is true, and that we don’t have basis for that presupposition. But the thing is, the argument of evil is supposed to address exactly that, and presupposes it on its own. The argument is that if 1. there was a omnibenevolent God like the Bible teaches, then 2. evil shouldn’t exist, and 3. since evil does exist, 4. God doesn’t. The argument about not knowing which God exists isn’t relevant here, since sentence 1 is required for the rest of the argument to work. Now, since you haven’t offered any other reasons to doubt part 1 rather than any other argument, you’d need to either try a different approach or refute Hillary’s argument allowing for the existence of God and the presence of evil to coexist. As for knowing if the Christian God exists, there are numerous other arguments, such as the Kalam Cosmological Argument, the Fine Tuning Argument, the Moral Argument (which also causes atheists to have the Problem of Good), and the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I hope that made sense, since I have difficulties explaining matters in a concise manner. If that was too long or didn’t make sense, here’s the short version: The problem of evil only works if we’re talking about an omnibenevolent and all-powerful God, hence the necessity of his inclusion in it. As for knowing if that God exists, there’s lots of good argumentation. Hence, your objection would make this problem useless for the purpose it serves or irrelevant to the questions you have. I hope this helps answer your question.
Hillary, thank you for your thoughtful reply to my comment. As a Christian, I think I would have agreed with you on all of your points. Now, approaching the subject as an atheist, I’ll attempt to share my thoughts on your final question.
You and I are engaged in a discussion. It is real. Were we ever to meet, I could shake your hand, maybe even give you a hug. If a friendship ensued, I would support you and you would support me. Should you find yourself in trouble, I would intervene on your behalf, as you would for me. That is the nature of a loving, trusting relationship. However, I feel like regardless of the scenario, God will always get a pass. Something wonderful happens? Give God the credit. Something horrible happens? Well, we live in a fallen world, and God’s ways are a mystery.
The freewill argument is a puzzle piece that fits simply because the endpoint was already established for most of us, that the Christian God is the one true God. Very few of us reasoned our way into Christianity. Thus, from that endpoint, we worked our way backwards to the freewill premise. That’s the mental gymnastics required to make sense of things. I guess the question I would ask you is how you can be so certain that what you believe in is true? Thank you for the opportunity of dialog.
The even more puzzling question I’ve often asked: Why didn’t they eat from the Tree of Life which was ALSO in the Garden? Ahhh … and there it is. “And love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10)” It won’t be until we are fully restored and given our incorruptible bodies, raised by the love and grace of the Father, the resurrecting power of the Holy Spirit, and the atoning blood and victorious name of Jesus, that we will FINALLY love God as He first loved us: perfectly! Only then will we be given the right to eternal life with Him. What a blessed gift!
One disagreement….Adam and Eve could not have children in the garden of Eden.
I don’t think they failed by not choosing love for God. They chose to leave so that they could obey God’s other commandment.