In the very first verse of scripture, Genesis 1:1, Moses wrote that God created the heavens and the earth. As the creation story unfolds, God calls forth light and darkness; day and night; the sun, moon and stars; the earth and the seas; the plants, and all the living creatures that swim, walk and fly; and he brought forth the first man and first woman.
“God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31a ESV).
In the paradise he made for human beings to occupy, God’s creation was only good.
“And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:9 ESV).
“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying ‘You may surely eat of every tree in the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat…” (2:16-17a).
When God gave Adam the first rule, he also gave him the first “choice” – to obey or not to obey. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was just like any other tree in the garden, as long as Adam obeyed God’s only commandment, and did not taste its fruit. As long as Adam’s choice was to obey God, the creation surrounding Adam remained very good.
But when Eve and then Adam chose to disregard God’s commandment and partake of the only thing in the garden that was forbidden them, the paradise that God created for them was lost and they fell into another world. They could no longer live in a reality where everything was only good, because suddenly, within them now resided not only the knowledge of good, but also of evil.
As soon as Adam and Eve had eaten the fruit, they realized that they were naked, and for the first time they experienced shame, and hurried to cover themselves.
Then they heard God walking in the garden, and for the first time they experienced guilt, and rushed to hide.
When God asked them what they had done, for the first time, they pointed fingers of blame.
Scripture says that the tree from which God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat was called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It wasn’t that the tree bore “evil fruit,” but that eating the fruit from that tree would give the eater a specific kind of knowledge.
Can you see that once Adam and Eve made the choice to disobey God, the knowledge of evil entered their hearts and sin itself immediately began to multiply?
As they moved further into sin, they moved further away from intimacy with God until it became necessary for God to remove them from their original location.
Paul wrote about his personal struggle with sin in Romans chapter 7, and The Message translation puts it this way:
“Don’t you remember how it was? I do, perfectly well. The law code started out as an excellent piece of work. What happened, though, was that sin found a way to pervert the command into a temptation, making a piece of ‘forbidden fruit’ out of it. The law code, instead of being used to guide me, was used to seduce me. Without all the paraphernalia of the law code, sin looked pretty dull and lifeless, and I went along without paying much attention to it. But once sin got its hands on the law code and decked itself out in all that finery, I was fooled, and fell for it. The very command that was supposed to guide me into life was cleverly used to trip me up, throwing me headlong. So sin was plenty alive, and I was stone dead. But the law code itself is God’s good and common sense, each command sane and holy counsel” (Romans 7:8-11).
God specifically cautioned Adam that on the day he ate of the forbidden fruit he would surely die in Genesis 2:17, and Romans 6:23 confirms that the result of sin is death.
When satan, the enemy of our souls, deceived Adam and Eve into breaking God’s only commandment, he seduced them and all the generations after them into a condition of “sin-death” that has corrupted everything around us. As a result of their choice to disobey God, Adam and Eve were banished from paradise into a world that was ruined and broken by sin.
That is the world that we occupy today.
It is not the world that God originally designed to house his creation. However, it has been allowed to continue by God, in order that we would have a classroom within which to learn the knowledge of both good and evil and the struggle that exists between them as two opposing principles.
Shortly after the fall, Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel. In the course of time, both sons of Adam brought offerings to the Lord. God accepted Abel’s offering but rejected the offering of Cain, and Cain was very angry (Genesis 4).
God said to Cain, “…’Why are you angry…? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it’” (4:6-7 ESV).
Soon afterward, jealous Cain murdered his innocent brother Abel.
This pattern of God presenting mankind with a choice between good and evil and the tendency of human beings to reject God’s will and choose evil has repeated itself since the time of the fall.
Over the years I have heard people respond to the question of why God allows sin and suffering with the answer that when God created human beings, he created us with free will so that ultimately we could make the choice to love and obey God of our own volition and not as automatons. God endowed us with free will, so that we would use our free will to choose God’s way over satan’s way. And this answer is true. God did endow us with the power to choose, and his desire is for us to choose him out of a pure heart.
However, we must put that understanding in context.
Because of the choice made by Adam and Eve and their subsequent fall, every human being since then has been born into a world that is designed to highlight the struggle between good and evil.
Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit because they wanted something that they did not have, and that something was knowledge. The knowledge not just of unpolluted good, but the knowledge of both good and evil. Therefore, in response to their desire for that knowledge, God created this world to be a classroom and in this classroom the knowledge we gain is not just an idea or a concept. In it we come to understand the interplay of the forces of good and evil through hard-won experience. Because the knowledge that Adam and Eve chose to pursue was real, the experience required to gain it must also be real and therefore we experience the effects of sin directly.
But please keep in mind that even though the world we occupy is broken and the lessons are difficult, God has not left us alone and he hasn’t left us as orphans. He knows that in this world we will have tribulation, but he has already given us his plan to overcome the world and he helps us to endure through trials and suffering.
“No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it” (1 Corinthians 10:13 MSG).
We will continue in Part Three.