“The LORD God commanded the man, saying “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.””
One thing the book of Genesis does not do well is explain itself. And being the beginning of a very large and well-known work, there is no shortage of opinions on just about every verse, especially on the first few chapters. One of the themes that is developed early on is obedience.
In these verses, God explains Adam’s freedom of choices about what to eat from, with one rule not to break. Often non-believers ask about why, if God was truly all-powerful, He didn’t just stop Adam and Eve from eating the fruit – or why He even tested them in the first place. Generally the answer is explained in terms of love and obedience. That is, God had to give us free choice (with the option to love or not love Him), because if He just forced us to love Him, then it would not be love because we would be like robots. And the command not to eat of the tree was given so God could test us to see if we would listen to Him.
As I read and re-read the story, I do not doubt that love is involved, though I think the prevailing themes are that of obedience and consequence. For instance, when we tell our three-year old child that they can play anywhere in the yard, but not in the street, we are telling them that because we love them, and are trying to protect them from dire consequences. We are not so much concerned about testing their love for us. And their obedience, or lack thereof, is not necessarily a good measure of their love for us – it is a measure of just that – their obedience.
Questions arise of course. Am I suggesting that God’s dealings with Adam was the equivalent of a parent with a three-year old? Well, yes and no. We know Adam had some degree of intelligence initially (he named all the animals, and spoke poetry to Eve as his first words to her), and the ability to understand, at least on a fundamental level. However, we look to God as “Father” in more ways than one, and often we count on Him to protect us, even from ourselves. One could argue that obedience is a sign of love – that if we truly love, we will obey. This is a difficult concept because we know that, in this case, there was some degree of ignorance before the fruit was eaten. Were Adam and Eve truly in a state of ignorant bliss about all things moral until that moment they knew they were naked? Did they know or comprehend that obeying God was, in a way, showing their love for Him? Or was it more a case of them just deciding to play in traffic regardless of what they were told, with the concept of love still maturing in their minds?
Ultimately, obedience can be either a form of love, or a way of showing love, but it takes a level of maturity to comprehend that, and to demonstrate the ability to reciprocate.
So we may not know for certain if the test from God in the garden was solely one of obedience, or of love too. We can be sure at least though, that we know God loves us enough to tell us not to play in traffic, even if we don’t understand why just yet.