“The Power of choosing good and evil is within the reach of all.”
The Tree of Good & Evil
by Mark Karapetyan
A few weeks ago, while I was teaching an apologetics class in a small Maryland town, a pregnant skeptic woman (expecting her first child) was present as a guest with her Christian friend. Halfway through the class, she interrupted me and politely challenged: “If this God you talk about is so powerful and all knowing, why did he put the tree of good and evil in the garden of Eden, knowing that Adam and Eve would eventually eat from it? What kind of “merciful” God plays a cruel joke like that? Were Adam and Eve his social experiment?”
Without hesitation, “a loving one” I replied.
“EXCUSE ME! What do you mean loving? Tricking people and playing wicked games with them is evil, not loving,” she insisted.
“God didn’t trick or play games with Adam and Eve. On the contrary, He put the tree in the midst of the garden because He loved them,” I explained.
The guest was outraged and offended by my answer, but it was time to take a fifteen- minute break from class. I promised the guest that I would answer her later on. She agreed, but demanded that I answer her question and not avoid it. With that, we went on to our short break…
So, before I tell you what I eventually told her, I would like to discuss this topic further, to clarify the point I am trying to make.
It is important to remember that the tree God put in the garden was NOT the tree of good and evil; but the tree of the KNOWLEDGE of good and evil. Huge difference!
“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)
Another widespread misconception especially among Christians, is that the fruit Adam and Eve ate from was an apple. However, the Bible does not specify the type of fruit Adam and Eve ate (read the passage above).
Having said that, let’s go back to our main topic and posit the question again: Why did God put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden, knowing that Adam and Eve would eventually eat from it?
This is a valid question that skeptics, as well as many Christians struggle with. It is a question that baffles the thinking mind and torments the believing soul. It is a question that bothered me personally for years because I didn’t know how to explain the tree’s purpose logically, or coherently. The problem was that my approach to understanding this conundrum was backwards to begin with. I wanted an answer that explained the reason why God put the tree there, without understanding his reasoning and motives. Big mistake!
Let me explain:
Logically speaking, when God created Adam and Eve, he could have chosen to put them in only four different gardens to live in. His options included:
1. A garden where there was no tree of the knowledge of good or evil.
2. A garden where there was a tree of the knowledge of good only.
3. A garden where there was a tree of the knowledge of evil only.
4. A garden where there was a tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Before I begin, it is important to understand that “the knowledge of good and evil” did not signify this was some magical tree Adam could eat from and have informational knowledge automatically implanted. The temptation was not to achieve omniscience. The name instead represents moral judgment and the freedom of choosing.
The first garden would have meant that Adam and Eve would not have been free to make moral choices on their own. The second garden would have meant that Adam and Eve would have been able to make good choices only. The third garden would have meant that Adam and Eve would have been able to make evil choices only. Lastly, the fourth garden would have meant that Adam and Eve would have had the choice of making both good and evil moral decisions as they freely wished.
Out of these four different options, which garden do you think God chose? If you answered number four, you are correct. Do you know why? Let’s dissect each one of these possibilities.
1. A garden where there was no tree of the knowledge of good or evil:
The reason God chose not to put Adam and Eve in this garden is simple: He created human beings, not robots!
God created Adam and Eve, in His own image as humans, who were capable of making their own moral decisions. It is practically impossible for humans to live in a world where they have no choices at all; otherwise, they become nothing but programmed machines. Think about it this way: how can any human being live in a place where he or she can’t freely make a choice? If humans do not have the capacity to freely make moral choices, how are they any different from animals, rocks or trees?
Life without free, personal decisions is impossible. For those of you who deny the fact that humans have free will, I ask you this: were you free to ask that question, or were you programmed? In fact, life without the freedom of choice is prison. What kind of life would you have if you lived your entire life, 24 hours a day, in a small room where you couldn’t make a single decision on your own? What kind of life would you have if you lived your entire life, 24 hours a day, in a house where you couldn’t make a single moral decision on your own? Even if the place was an opulent mansion, would it be any different if you still couldn’t choose for yourself? Would that even be life if there were no choices possible?
What if you lived in a town, a city, or even a large country where you couldn’t freely choose between good and evil. Would life be worth living? You see, the location or size of where you lived would not matter at all if you couldn’t live freely. To live freely, you must first have the freedom to choose. In a world where a person does not have the freedom of choice, life becomes confinement. What do you think jails are for?
Obviously, when God created Adam and Eve, He wanted them to live as free humans and not as prisoners. That’s why He didn’t choose to put them in this type of garden/penitentiary.
2. A garden where there was a tree of the knowledge of good only:
On paper, this type of garden seems the ideal place for humans to live. How could it not be when every decision people make is morally good? How could it not be the perfect place to live when humans make ONLY good decisions and everyone lives in harmony together?
As sweet, loving, and hopeful as this garden seems to be, in reality, it would be an impossible place for humans to live. Before you scratch your head and wonder why, think about this for a second:
Imagine living in a world where evil doesn’t exist at all, and the only decisions you can make are morally good. Do you think that would be a good place to live? I beg to differ!
For you to make good moral decisions, you must first know what’s “not good.” In other words, how can you choose to love your enemies, help the needy, or feed the hungry, if there are no principles such as hatred, neediness, and hunger in this “good only” world that you live in? It’s logically impossible!
As a human being, you wouldn’t know “good” unless you knew it’s opposite, evil. Good ethical values are dependent on their opposites. You couldn’t make a courageous choice unless you lived in a world where the opportunity for cowardice was possible in the first place. You couldn’t sacrifice yourself for someone else unless you lived in a world where it was possible for death to occur. To believe that life in a garden where only goodness exists is equal to saying that you live in a world where only far, high, and large exist…how could you know what far, high, and large are unless you knew of close, low, and small first? Similarly, how could you know to make good moral decisions only unless you were familiar with evil decisions too?
To make humans live in a world where only goodness exists is impossible. To force humans to make only good moral decisions is actually forcing them against their will. What if they want to lie? If God forces them to tell only the truth all the time, He is actually forcing them to choose what He wants them to do, not what they want to do. You can’t force people to freely choose. That’s a contradiction.
Now you understand why God chose not to put Adam and Eve in a garden where only one decision was possible?
3. A garden where there was a tree of the knowledge of evil only:
Imagine living in a world where people do evil deeds all day long? It pretty much sums up our world today doesn’t it? Picture yourself living in a world where every decision humans make is evil, wicked, and corrupt. What kind of world do you think that would be? Furthermore, would you want your children to live in it?
Such a world could not possibly exist because evil cannot exist on its own. In fact, evil is not a thing, it is the perversion of a thing. Think of a tooth cavity: without the tooth, a cavity cannot exist. You must first have a good tooth that went bad before it is possible for a cavity to appear. As long as the tooth is healthy and good, a cavity cannot exist. Similarly, as long as a thing is good, evil cannot exist. For an evil world to exist, there must first be a good world that went bad. Only then, is it possible for evil to exist.
That’s why one cannot make morally evil decisions unless morally good decisions existed first. If people choose to do good or evil, this garden would become a contradiction. If they were forced to choose evil only, then they are being forced to choose one thing (evil) when another option (good) is also possible to choose.
To live in a world where people only make evil moral choices is not possible. How long do you think human civilization would last in such a world? Which of you wants to live in a war-zone country much less go there on vacations? No one! You all value goodness and appreciate what it brings to you and to this world. You value goodness because you live in a world where you are free to choose.
The Bible actually tells us of a time when people chose to do evil only. We know what happened next. It was a sad, tragic period in human history that broke God’s heart. Much like how we break God’s heart in today’s world.
“And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repented me that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:5-7).
No normal parent tolerates a house where their children choose to commit evil deeds only. That becomes not a house, but Hell. That’s why God didn’t chose to put Adam and Eve in this evil only Hell/garden.
4. A garden where there was a tree of the knowledge of good and evil:
Of all the gardens God could have chosen for Adam and Eve to live in, he chose this one because this is the only place where love is possible. Love couldn’t have existed in the first three gardens since Adam and Eve could not have freely made moral decisions (they would not have been free to exercise good or evil). The basic foundation upon which mankind’s existence has always been anchored is freewill. Without the freedom of the will, love cannot exist, and you know it. Ask those who have been stalked by their exes, and hear for yourself!
If people cannot choose freely for themselves, then they are either being forced or programmed to do something, which in either case is unloving. If you love someone, you give them freedom to decide things for themselves. If you truly love someone, you don’t force them to decide what you want them to decide. You allow them to make their own decisions regardless of the outcome, including the decision to fully reject you. When God put the tree in the garden and asked Adam and Eve not to eat from it, He didn’t do it because He is a ruthless control-freak dictator who wanted to control His created humans. God put the tree in the garden and asked them not to eat from it because He wanted them to learn a valuable lesson they hadn’t learned yet- moral choices have consequences, and only in a world where choices exist is love possible.
There were perhaps millions of other trees that bore delicious fruits in the garden they could have eaten from. This one tree was not any different. Except that God, as the creator of the universe, commanded Adam and Eve not to eat from it, in order to reveal to them that He is the sovereign Creator, the ultimate law-giver, and not Adam or Eve. God wanted them to understand that they were created creatures, who despite of having free will, should not disobey God because there would be consequences for those decisions.
As a loving parent, you send your children off to school and warn them of things they should and should not do. You give them instructions and demands to let them know that you are the parent, and they are not. You teach them moral values and leave it up to them to obey or disobey them. You lovingly instruct them and inform them of life’s moral principles and warn them of the consequences. If they mess up, you punish and discipline them not because you hate them, but because you care for them even if they still don’t understand the reason for your punishment. Interestingly, the older your children get, the less involved you are in their life-making decisions. You no longer decide what they will wear, when they will eat, which shows they will watch, or how late they can stay up. They are no longer ten. When they are thirty, they decide for themselves what to wear, when to eat, or which shows to watch. You have taught them well, and raised these boys and girls to become fine men and women. You no longer interfere in their decisions. They choose where to work, who to marry, and where to live. You give them that total freedom, and remind them that should they ever need advice or help, they know where to find you. You are that loving parent who loves your children more than life itself. Such is God with us…If you owned robots, you wouldn’t love them that much would you?
The same is true for God. He took His created human, and like a loving father, gave him instructions on how to live, but at the same time warned him of the consequences of his moral decisions. When his creation eventually fell, out of love for them, God willingly took the punishment upon himself. That my friends, is true love!
The more I think about it the more I am convinced that free will is a precious gift that humbles me and leaves me in awe before the creator of this universe. I often think: why don’t rocks, trees, and dirt have free will? Furthermore, how can an unguided, uncontrolled, blind process like evolution produce free will? If evolution gave us free will, did it do it freely or not? If so, where did it get that freedom from? Why do only humans have free will? Is it perhaps because the giver of life himself loved humans so much that he bestowed this valuable gift upon each and every one of us to demonstrate how much he loves mankind?
If you are jumping up and down in protest to remind me that animals also have free will, allow me to object: No, they don’t! Animals do not make moral choices, which is what I mean by free will. They act on instinct, not on whether or not they should or should not do, say, or think something. My cat, fat boy, for example, will never feel bad or apologize to me for “murdering” a mouse. After all, what is the difference between a man and fat boy? Fat boy has no restrictions on its behavior beyond whatever its instincts may supply. Man is able to deny himself immediate gratification in order to experience long-term fulfillment no animal is capable of.
The crux of the matter is this: we humans are odd creatures. We think just because we have invented cars, smart-phones, and the internet, that we have achieved something. We question, doubt, and even dismiss God’s decisions and commands thinking that we know better. We freely criticize the source of free will itself, God. Oh, how prideful have we foolish humans become. We whine, complain and point fingers at the everlasting, powerful, creator of this universe, screaming at the top of our lungs: “WHY DID YOU PUT THE TREE IN THE MIDST OF THE GARDEN?” without realizing that no matter where God had chosen to put the tree in any of the other gardens; we would still be complaining that we don’t like the garden he chose. If God had chosen to put no tree in the garden (OPTION 1), we would be enraged: “HOW DARE YOU CREATE US LIKE ROBOTS AND NOT GIVE US FREE WILL TO CHOOSE FOR OURSELVES?”
If God had chosen to put the tree in the garden where only the knowledge of good exists (option 2), we all would scream: “HOW DARE YOU FORCE US TO CHOOSE GOOD ONLY, WHAT IF WE WANT TO CHOOSE EVIL?”
If God had chosen to put the tree of the knowledge of evil only in the garden (option 3), we would erupt like a raging volcano: “HOW WICKED OF YOU TO INTRODUCE US TO EVIL. WHY NOT GIVE US THE FREEDOM TO CHOOSE GOOD INSTEAD?
But then, when God picks the perfect garden (option 4), where the knowledge of both evil and good exists, we also complain; we pick evil, and then freely choose to crucify him!
How quick we forget our roles as humans, as nothing but creatures from dirt. How dare we question the everlasting, powerful, creator of this universe? How dare we defy and disobey the almighty God of everything? How dare an infected bug defy the infinite?
So it is today; we can reject God and even hate Him. But God, in his abundant mercy and infinite wisdom, already foresees our decisions. God knows beforehand we will freely choose evil over good. So, he makes redemption possible for you and me. You see dear friends, where there is a human being; there is the possibility of choice. Where there is choice, there is the possibility of evil. Where there is evil, there is sin. Where there is sin, there is the possibility redemption. Where there is redemption, there must be a redeemer first-Jesus Christ.
Before I end this, I promised you I was going to tell you my response to the pregnant skeptic woman who asked me the question of “why did God put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden knowing that Adam and Eve would eventually eat from it?”
After we returned from our fifteen-minute break, I looked at her and asked: “Why did you decide to have a baby, knowing for sure that your child one day will disobey and rebel against you?”
“LOVE” she replied…
“One should see the world, and see himself as a scale with an equal balance of good and evil. When he does one good deed the scale is tipped to the good – he and the world is saved. When he does one evil deed the scale is tipped to the bad – he and the world is destroyed.”
Fat Boy after “murdering” a mouse!
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I totally agree with this. This is the best way anyone could have explained free will, love, and the Fall.
In my opinion, free will is impossible without knowledge. God warns about what is going to happen IF Adam eats but He never explains why death is a bad thing.