I had never considered this question in depth until I recently read “The problem of Pain” by C.S. Lewis. Lewis is by all accounts, both Christian and secular, brilliant and I am grateful for his contributions on many subjects pertaining to the Christian faith. However, Lewis’s logic seems tenuously propped upon a faulty foundation - - one of pseudo-reliance upon Scripture. It seems that whenever he is able to logically reconcile biblical doctrine he does so with brilliant eloquence. But when he isn’t he seems to defer to his own intellect. As articulate as the man is, this condition ultimately undermines all of his reasoning. If Scripture is inherent than it all is. If only portions are, than how do we determine which portions? And wouldn’t this uncertainty render reliance on any of the sacred text foolish?
Lewis’s chapter entitled “The fall of man” seems to place lesser importance on the historical accuracy of man’s fall in the garden as it does the moral lesson of obedience we are to garner from it. While I cannot speak with certainty to the reasons C.S. Lewis seams so willing to relegate man’s fall in the garden to one of the “myths in Holy Scripture…….which emphasizes the magic apple” (pg. 66) I can speak to the line of reasoning I encounter in unbeliever’s that is used to invalidate this account. The story as retold by the unbeliever goes something like this --
“Okay so….. there’s this all powerful being right? Who also knows all things and absolutely hates sin. He creates this utopia for man to live in. He also creates a tree and then tells man they can do anything except eat the fruit, although He knows full well what happens next. Uh oh, Adam and eve eat the apple! So now, this all powerful, all knowing, benevolent being, who hates sin just allowed the thing He supposedly hates more than anything to corrupt everything He just created including man (even though He totally could have stopped it from happening). So then later, because of this He has to send His perfect, sinless, Son to be crucified so everybody doesn’t go to hell. Am I missing something or could He just have not created the tree?”
Thus represented, this is indeed a fairy tale. Although honestly, this isn’t far off from the way this account is described by most Christians (although they know better than to ask that last question, at least out loud anyways).
The typical Christian response is “God created the tree because He wanted men to choose to worship Him”. Am I the only one who sees the obvious flaw in this? Which is that man didn’t choose to worship God either in the immediate or future tense. If your view of total depravity is such that as a result of Adam’s sin in the garden mankind forever forfeited his free will and cannot reason his way to faith in God without God directly interfering in every single convert after this point, than you must reject this explanation outright. If men are totally depraved as a result of man’s fall in the garden not only did the first people reject God, but because of them so did and does everyone else. As a result the only way a person can come to faith from this point on is if God through Christ imposes upon them a salvation which they do not want. In this case one seemingly cannot reconcile God’s sovereignty, omniscience, and holiness, with His decision to create the tree.
In the event that you do believe that man can choose his own salvation you don’t fare much better. You still must contend with the fact that as a result of the fall the overwhelming majority of mankind since then has not chosen God. In Gen. 6:6 the Lord says “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land”. God then, through Noah’s ark, spares only 8 individuals annihilating unknown throngs of people for their wickedness! In Matt. 7 Jesus declares that the majority of humanity will be judged in hell via the broad path (vs.13). Later in Matt. 24 Jesus cites Noah and the Genesis flood as an example stating “For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah” (vs.37). Therefore if God’s intention was for men to worship Him without contrition, God failed on an epic scale. This scenario seems to leave the love of God intact but renders Him impotent to confer that love upon the majority of humanity.
So all this being said; what are we to do with the Genesis account of Adam and Eve’s sin? Perhaps these issues contribute to great thinkers like C.S. Lewis classifying this as simply a metaphor designed to teach us about obedience. But if Christians deny the historicity of the Genesis account how do we defend the veracity of any of Scripture? Why is Genesis fair game to dismiss but the deity of Christ isn’t?
In general, whenever a discrepancy arises between the plain teaching of Scripture and our understanding of it, the first place we assign error to is the source. Perhaps the source (being an immortal, omniscient God) is intact and instead the conduits (being finite, sinful men) are to blame for the apparent error!
So then without sacrificing the foundation of all Christian reasoning (The Bible) lets attempt to answer the question in a manner consistent with Scripture, that recognizes God as the sole arbiter of truth and not as though man rightfully has partial claim to define God’s truth. In order to answer “Why did God create the tree in the garden” we must first understand why God created man in the garden. The first question in the west minster confession of faith is “What is the chief and highest end of man?” The answer is “….To Glorify God”. When God created all things, man alone was “created in His image” (Gen. 1:27). God made all things to be in subjection to man’s authority stating “fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). All things created were good but man was highly favored above them all.
Simply put – God created the tree because while man was highly favored over all creation God was and ever would be Lord over man.
Without the tree there would have been no prohibition from which man had to abstain and thus no sin. But without the tree man could not redeem his value in creation (either forced or free). The tree then was not some petty “You can look but you can’t touch” rule. The tree was a Divine declaration that man was not created for autonomy from God but for worship of Him. God’s worthiness to be worshipped was established before time was through Him and it was not diminished be the decision of Adam. Although God’s worthiness has not suffered loss; concerning man “All have turned aside together they have become useless” (Rom. 3:12). Useless for what? Useless for the purpose they were created and thus useless for any purpose. When the thing that is made does not fulfill the purpose of the one who made it that thing becomes useless. Handing a master violinist a violin which costs tens of thousands of dollars is an appropriate allocation of resources. I am by trade a carpenter. The best I can do with even the finest violin is to take it by the neck and use the body to pound nails into wood. Figuratively speaking, apart from Christ, humanity has taken the faculties provided to them to be wielded at the disposal of the divine conductor and are using them to pound nails into wood.
God then, has either created the majority of humanity for destruction or knowing they would be destroyed. Doesn’t this contradict a merciful or compassionate God? Define mercy, compassion, or anything else without the triune God of the Bible. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7). When mankind gave up God in the garden he gave up knowledge with Him and now “Every man is stupid and without knowledge” (Jer. 10:14a). No one calls for expert testimony from a person who is deaf, blind and stupid. Yet such is the status of humanity and they not only testify against God they have become His judges and ultimately established themselves as gods.
All roads end with this statement - -“Our God is in the heavens He does whatever He pleases” (Ps. 115:3). “ What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory” (Rom. 9:22-23). Here’s the hard to accept truth which results from the garden - - God is as glorified by His wrath in hell as He is by His mercy in heaven.
On the one hand I do not consider myself close the intellectual ascendency of C.S. Lewis. On the other hand even the smallest child is wiser that he if they can only grasp that “because the bible says so” is not the retreat of people who are too stupid to believe anything else, but the foundation of any and all wisdom. The story line that follows from the garden is totally consistent with its beginnings; God’s will either prevails through men or upon men, but His will always prevails. With respect to C.S. Lewis and the like, “There is a way which seems right to a man but the end thereof is death” (Prov. 14:12). Therefore the wisdom that began with man will end with man but the wisdom that began with God has no end.
Written by Austin Hetsler