Then the Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east, and there he placed the man he had made. The Lord God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground—trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit. In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2:8-9
“If God knew that man would sin, why was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil placed in the garden of Eden?”
This question has led to many deep discussions between my son and I. I think it is a great question. I also think it is a question that fills many of our hearts. I have wrestled with it attempting to arrive at an explanation that makes sense both to me, as a man of faith, AND to those who are struggling to define their faith. Two interchanges in my home in the past week have given me some insights that just might bring light to this important inquiry.
Interchange 1. Our new neighbor delivered to our home a pan of cupcakes and a Christmas card. My son asked if he could have one of the treats. When I didn’t immediately say, “yes”, he responded with something like, “Now Dad, if you can’t give the cupcake cheerfully, then I don’t want it.” My son, whom I lovingly call, “Hoover” for his efficient capacity to suck up whatever food is in our home, was willing to forgo his favorite meal – dessert – because he desired it to be given freely and joyfully, rather than grudgingly.
Interchange 2. Several times in the past few weeks, my children have asked me what I wanted for Christmas. My simple and steadfast reply has been, “Nothing. If there is something that I really want, I will get it for myself.” What has been interesting to me is how hard it has been for them to grasp this concept. I think they struggle with it because our culture has instilled in us some sense of seasonal obligation to be nice and to give gifts – whether we really want or can afford to do so.
The concept that connects these two exchanges is freedom. For my son, the thought that I did not want to share with him the cupcakes, made the treat distasteful. For me, the idea that I need to tell you how to show me love or a holiday to prompt you to do so, is rather distasteful. On the other hand, love freely given is deliciously sweet. There is something amazingly satisfying about a gift given out of the overflow of a loving relationship as opposed to the measured response of duty; out of “want to” rather than “have to”; out of “get to” rather than “supposed to.”
Even for God, love freely given is deliciously sweet. God desires from us relationship over religion, desire over duty, passion over performance. For this reason, though he is fully aware of the inherent risks in freedom, he still permits us to operate with a free will. We have the freedom to choose or reject Him; to embrace or ignore Him; to love or to hate Him; to leave or return to Him.
Like a “wet paint” sign, God knew that the presence of forbidden fruit in the garden would serve as a tempting attraction. But instead of restricting man’s (meaning, “mankind”) freedom to choose (and thus insure loyalty), God chose to give him a significantly more appealing offer that should make the choice much easier. God chose to be recklessly extravagant – prodigal – in the expression of his love for Adam and Eve. He chose to give them absolutely everything they needed –
- relationally -“Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.”
- emotionally -“Now the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame.”
- creatively – “So the Lord God formed from the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would call them, and the man chose a name for each one.”
- authoritatively – “The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it.”
- physically/aesthetically – “The Lord God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground—trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit.”
It may be difficult to personally grasp this level of perfect love expressed through perfect provision, so let me see if I can put it in a modern parable that illustrates it more clearly.
Michael Jordan owns a 56,000 square foot home in Chicago. Among its features are 9 bedrooms, 15 full bathrooms, a pool, a full basketball court, a 15-car garage, an in house beauty salon and a man cave. Imagine that he hands you the keys and gives you unrestricted access to this home and all of its contents and amenities. Additionally, he will be responsible for any household and personal expenses. He even promises to come by and visit daily. All he asks in return is that you maintain the home and never open a door marked “Off Limits”. If you violate his request, you will be asked to leave the house. Considering all that he has given you, is that an unreasonable request? If you open the door and bad things happen, do you blame MJ for allowing the “off limits” door to exist?
In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul asks a similar question of us: “And so, dear brothers, I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living sacrifice, holy—the kind He can accept. When you think of what He has done for you, is this too much to ask” (12:1 LB)?
God knows the delicious sweetness of freely given love, because that is all He offers. Adam and Eve were perfectly provided for in the garden of Eden, not because of any merit of their own, but because God wanted human beings upon whom He could lavish His love. Because they were made to be like Him, not only could they experience that joy of being loved, they could also experience the joy of loving others – including God himself.
In a sense, God is giving us permission to re-gift his gift of love.
As a father, I understand God’s heart on this. I give to my family, not because I am obligated to do so, but because I love them dearly. I don’t want them to love and appreciate me because they are “s’posed to”, but because they are filled with gratitude for the way that I love them. I want them to delight in the delicious sweetness of freely-given love.
What is your attitude toward God? Are you resentful for what you think He is keeping from you or grateful because of what you realize He has given you? Are you motivated to serve Him out of fear of the law and adherence to religion or out of the sweetness of love and the acceptance of offered relationship?
What is your attitude towards others? Are you appreciative of the relationships that you have or are you resentful of the burdens that they represent? Do you see people as problems to be managed, irritants to be tolerated or as opportunities to freely re-gift the recklessly extravagant love that has been freely gifted to you?
We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in His love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them… We love each other because He loved us first ( I John 4:16 & 19).
As you move into the new year, I pray that you would fully embrace the freedom that God has given you to be loved and to love in return. It is deliciously (and calorie-free) sweet!