Satan and the Garden of Eden

erWhen considering whether God is truly “good,” some begin with the situation of the first couple. Why, they ask, did God allow Satan to have access to the Garden when he knew that the man and woman he had placed there would undergo, and succumb to, temptation? One skeptic used an analogy to further his point: a parent might set rules for her child, and might punish him for breaking those rules, but she would never allow a criminal – a consummate deceiver such as Satan – into her home to prey upon that child. The skeptic then concludes that no moral justification could support God’s knowing choice to create people whom he foreknew would end up in Hell.

An apt analogy can not only convey a rational point, but it can do so with an emotional impact that is as substantial as it is disguised. The listener feels the injustice captured by the analogy and begins to shy away from his position. But analogies can be misplaced; when the thing compared is not like the thing at issue, it may be that the analogy simply has emotional power, and doesn’t really advance the position of the one who raised it.

On an emotional level, comparing God to a parent who allows a predatory criminal to have access to his innocent children is a masterstroke. Parents who would deliberately expose their children to such danger would be worthy of censure, if not criminal prosecution. How can we love, and serve, a God who is “guilty” of such horrendous behavior?

A parent’s job in raising young children is to shield them from harm, and from inappropriate temptation and danger, until they are old enough and sufficiently trained to properly handle the situation. Children lack wisdom and maturity, and have poorly developed capabilities to detect deception and to foresee the long term consequences of their choices. Moreover, the specter of a predator in one’s home is doubly horrific, as a parent cannot help but envision even greater – perhaps physical – harm that the criminal might inflict. But a parent’s role is of limited duration – a fully grown and properly educated person should eventually be capable of recognizing and resisting the evildoer’s deceptions.

We do not, of course, have a full picture of what transpired in Eden. But we do know that Adam and Eve were not children who were invited to play with the neighborhood serial killer. They were fully grown and were instructed by God as to how things work – in short, that He was God and that they were not. He told them that they were not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and that the consequence would be quite unfavorable. And what deception did Satan play on them? Did he trick them into thinking that they were eating of a different tree? Or that they were not eating at all? No. He simply contradicted God – he told Eve that God was afraid that they too would become Gods.

This is not the account of a criminal luring a child into a car with the promise of candy. This is instead the essential story of man – the struggle between two competing desires. On the one hand, will we submit to the God who breathed life into us, and respect his kingship as God? Or, on the other, will we shake off the shackles of God’s authority and insist that we are each our own God, capable of charting our own course, of knowing good and evil, unwilling to let God be God?

No, God is not a sadistic parent hoping to harm as many of his children as He can, and not caring about the consequences. He has something quite different in mind.  God could have created beings that he shielded from temptation; or he could create free-will beings that could enter relationship with him in a meaningfully loving way. But he could not do both. To assert that he should have is to hold, whether knowingly or not, to a contradiction.

In my next post, I will attempt to explain why this is so.

Posted by Al Serrato

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