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Issue of Freedom

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." (Genesis 2:15-17)
One of the most asked questions, by both Christians and non-Christians, doubting the goodness and the wisdom of God, is this—“Why did God put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden?” 

Looks like if there is any person who is blamed more than anyone else—He is God. The dilemma about the existence of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil has troubled many, thereby accusing God of being unfair. Some even take this as an excuse to disbelieve in the God of the Holy Bible. By the way, if someone doesn't want to believe in God, he cannot be convinced by any reasons, however reasonable, still finding excuses to disbelieve. But anyone who wants to believe in God, provided that he finds honest answers, such a person is not far from the truth and understanding about God.

Therefore, I urge the reader to give careful thought to the following reasons, guarding oneself from being emotionally judgmental.

Knowing God
Before we go further, I believe it is quite significant to comprehend the nature of God. Most of our misconceptions are the result of our ignorance about the right knowledge of God or our refusal to believe who He is what He claims to be. To share briefly, the following is what the Holy Bible reveals about who God is:
  • The LORD is upright...there is no wickedness in Him. (Ps. 92:15).
  • God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all (1 Jn. 1:5).
  • His [God's] works are perfect, and all His ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He (Deut. 32:4).
  • What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! (Rom. 9:14)
We learn from the Holy Scripture that God’s nature is perfect. He does no wrong. All His ways are upright. As the theologians say—He is impeccable and infallible. Please note that if our foundational knowledge about the nature of God and His attributes is imperfect, we often misconstrue and misinterpret the just works of God.

Questions for Contemplation 
Now coming back to the puzzle about why God put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, let me put some questions before the reader to consider:

1) If God loves man and expects him to respond to Him in love, should He give him the freedom? After all, how can a living being love without being given the freedom to express love? Don't you think that the fact about God creating man as loving and lovable person is by default requires freedom?

2) If God should give man the freedom, should He not give him the freedom of choice to obey Him, which also means a choice to disobey Him? God did not create man as merely a free being; He created man as a morally free being. And what is that moral freedom if there is no choice involved either to obey or disobey?

3) If God must give man the freedom to obey or disobey Him, should He not provide him the opportunities to make such choices?

Freedom of Choice
Imagine I give a word to my son to take him to a restaurant, promising him the freedom to eat his choicest menu. Later I take him to a hotel wherein there is served only one kind of food. Do you think I have actually given him the freedom of choice? My son may be free to eat anything but he has no opportunity to make a choice. There is no scope for him to exercise his freewill.

If God had created man in like manner then he would have been accused as a hypocrite, for He would have created man as a free being without any choice to exercise his moral freedom. There is a difference between freedom and freedom of choice. God created man as a free being, giving him the freedom as well as the freedom of choice.

Just think for a moment - How can I know what light is without understanding about darkness? How can I understand what good is without knowing about bad? How can I explain about obedience without mentioning what it is to disobey? So, if God had created man as a morally free being, should He not set before him the choice either to obey Him or disobey Him?

If this sounds logical, why is God blamed for putting the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, without which it doesn’t make any sense that man is morally a free being to choose that which is right or wrong? The Holy Bible reveals that God created man with an ability to make moral choices, which implies the potentiality to choose good or evil. This is the primary difference between animals and human beings.

Risky Gift of Free Will
Now I can hear someone raising this question—when God already knew that man would disobey Him, why should He still put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?” Good question! Let us give a careful thought to this point.

Just because of the negative consequences that man would face due to the abuse of His free-will, should it stop God from creating him as a morally free being, especially if He truly loves us and expects us to wholeheartedly love Him and one another?

Let me pose few more questions. Is it fair to stop manufacturing vehicles just because of the accidents? Is it wise to cease using fire just because of the fire accidents? Is it reasonable to end using electricity just because of electrocutions? We all well understand that it is unwise to completely discard something which is good just because of the possibility of bad. Someone rightly said, “The remedy for misuse is not disuse but right use.”

Likewise, God did not stop to create man as a free being because of the potentiality to abuse his freewill. If man can do bad because of the abuse of free will, He cannot even do good without the right exercise of his freedom. Despite the risk involved in misusing the freedom, God had still created man as a free being. C.S. Lewis made a thoughtful statement, “If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will...then we may take it is worth paying.”[1]

The more freedom man has to obey means the more freedom he has even to disobey. God did not give man freedom just for the sake of freedom—it is to love, to obey and to do good. Paul E. Little wonderfully describes the necessity of freedom to love in the following way:
How would you like to be married to a chatty doll? Every morning and every night you could pull the string and get the beautiful words, “I love you”. There would never be any hot words, never any conflict, never anything said or done that would make you sad! But who would want that? There would never be any love, either. Love is voluntary. God could have made us like robots, but we would have ceased to be men. God apparently thought it worth the risk of creating us as we are.[2]
Allow me to give you another illustration to clarify the dilemma. We hear a lot of crime reports on the news. There are times I have read and heard how people murder others for money. Not even once did I hear anyone grumbling and accusing the person who had invented knife. The natural accusation was on the murderer who was greedy and inhuman. I wonder why many accuse God for keeping the tree of the knowledge of good and evil when it is man who should be blamed for abusing his will!

Moreover, is it fair to blame the educational institutions for having grading system just because of some folks committing suicide due to failing in exams? And what about sex? How many people are dying because of HIV/AIDS! Shall we stop having sex because of these deadly and incurable diseases? Think—is the problem truly with sex itself or with the misuse of sex?

Therefore, why is God held responsible for evil when it is man who abuses his freewill to do evil? Does the real problem lie with freewill or with the abuse of freewill? Sin is nothing but the abuse of freewill. J. B. Phillips put it so well, "Evil is inherent in the risky gift of free will."[3] And God created us in such a way that we can rightly exercise our freedom of choice and become like Mother Teresa or abuse our freewill and become like Adolf Hitler.

Final Words
I have nothing but appreciation for God’s marvelous creation. He didn’t create us as robots nor did He manipulate our freedom. He created us in His own image, i.e. as volitional, relational, rational and moral beings, so that we would reflect His glory. God made man as a free being, i.e. with an ability to make moral choices. After all, what is obedience if it is not dependent upon the choice to obey voluntarily! Norman Geisler rightly pointed out that "forced love is rape; and God is not a divine rapist. He will not do anything to coerce their decision."[4]

Finally, the goodness of God is that, though man disobeyed God and sinned against Him, He didn't give up on man to face his own eternal destruction. Here is the good news: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life" (Jn. 3:16). However, man is still trying to blame God for putting the tree of the knowledge of good and evil instead of repenting of his sins and accepting the gift of forgiveness given through Christ Jesus, the one and the only in the history of the world who died on the cross and rose again from the dead to give hope to the perishing world.

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Notes:
[1] Quotes by C.S. Lewis
[2] Paul E. Little, Know Why You Believe (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1975), p. 81
[3] Paul E. Little, Know Why You Believe (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1975), p. 87 
[4] Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, When Skeptics Ask (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1990), p. 73
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Comments

  1. Restaurant menu cannot be equated to moral freedom but to freedom. God has not given the first human couple such single choice menu, but gave him a full menu and asked him to choose.

    That is God determined Adam and eve's menu, and also said what should not be chosen. The restriction was a single point and the choice was numerous. This freedom to choose multiple options and a single point of restriction was determined by God, and the consequence (death) for choosing the prohibited was also determined by God.

    Humans left on their own and to the counsel of the devil, fell.

    Could it have been other then the fall? I don't think so.

    So human freedom was determined by the will of God, because man could not and cannot create his own menu and choose from it. But has to choose from the menu given by God, and the good human also fell, when left to exercise freedom on their own.

    Why did God leave humans to exercise freedom on their own? It is to show what man will be without God? and it is for His Glory?

    Ephesians 1:11 puts it like this: “[God] works all things according to the counsel of his will.” Romans 9:16 puts it like this: “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” Proverbs 16:33 puts it like this, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” All things are from him and through him”

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