In our Old Testament lesson, we find a test case for free will in the Garden of Eden. We humans usually have good excuses to offer for the bad choices we make. Like Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s novel “Les Misérables” who steals bread to feed his sister’s family. Or we can look to someone who kills in self-defense finding justified an action he or she would usually condemn. But the Garden of Eden is paradise and the only two human occupants have everything they need. All excuses are removed.
They don’t want for food. They don’t need clothes, as they don’t even realize they are naked. No animal will harm them. Adam and Eve were created as perfect companions for each other. The Hebrew describes Eve as equal and corresponding to Adam, the King James Bible translated that the closest by calling her his “Helpmeet,” meaning a helper who was meet, or equivalent to him. God even walks in the Garden with them. What need could they have?
Into this perfect situation comes a single choice. In the middle of the Garden is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eve tells us that it is a nice-looking tree, with very tasty-looking fruit. On one level, the only choice in Eden was to decide whether to avoid eating from that one tree or not. But at another level, the real choice in the Garden of Eden was to decide whether or not you can trust God.
Looking more closely at the text, the conversation with the serpent proves interesting. Eve tells the talking serpent that they could eat of any tree in the Garden but one. Then Eve herself expands God’s prohibition. Eve says that not only can they not eat of that tree, they can’t even touch it. This is more than God told Adam. Now in Eve’s words, they can’t even touch the tree or they will die.
The serpent goes on to tell Eve that they won’t die, and we should note here that the snake is right on this point. Neither Eve nor Adam dies. In fact, the snake is right in telling her that what will happen is that they will know the difference between good and evil. The snake says that eating of the tree will make them like God, and on this point God agrees later on, in the section past our reading for today.
The snake uses the truth to lure Eve into checking out the fruit, much as Satan will quote scripture to Jesus in seeking tempt him away from God’s will. Eve gets a nice piece of fruit, examines it closely and finds that it is a delight to the eyes, and, knowing that it can make one wise, she takes the fruit and eats. Then Eve gives some to her husband. Notice that Eve does not go track Adam down to bring him up to speed on everything. Adam was there all along, going along with everything first by not speaking up, then by eating. Adam was together with Eve in desiring the forbidden fruit. They both chose not to trust God.
The fruit did give them knowledge. Now Adam and Eve knew that they were naked. That cheap knowledge is all Adam and Eve got for their disobedience, and they go from eating forbidden fruit to wearing fig leaves in nothing flat. Adam and Eve were given one choice to make. They chose not to trust God and to eat of the fruit of the one tree God said could kill them.
While the fruit did not kill them that day, through disobeying God, Adam and Eve became mortal. They were destined to die for their wrong choice. But that is not the end of the story. When our Old Testament reading for today ends, Adam and Eve are hiding in the Garden, fearful God will find them, cowering behind their fig leaves.
God will make Adam and Eve own up to their wrong choice. They will confess and be punished for their disobedience. The cost is mortality and expulsion from the Garden. But God does not leave them alone. God fashioned clothes for Adam and Eve, and caused them to settle East of Eden. Innocence was gone. Paradise was lost. The way back into the Garden was barred forever, and yet with all that said and done; God did not abandon his first two humans. Even in expelling them from Eden, God provided a future for Adam and Eve.
As a test case, Eve and her quietly consenting husband Adam show that, given everything they could ever need, humans would still choose to disobey. Some claim that this proves that Adam and Eve were teenagers. While funny, that claim is neither fair to teenagers nor honest to adults. All of us can be given every chance in the world and still make bad choices.
Unlike Adam and Eve, we already have the knowledge of good and evil. With that knowledge, most of our choices, the ones that matter, boil down to either trusting God or not trusting God. God warned you not to murder, steal or commit adultery, among other things. Just look back through the Ten Commandments. God says that if you do those things you will die. Do you trust God or not? If you trust God, you will try to keep his commandments. If you do not trust God, you will ignore them as you go through life.
Know that you have a real choice. You can decide not to trust God. You can live your life as if God does not exist, make your decisions without ever putting God in the picture. However, that choice will come with a cost. Just as Adam and Eve made the wrong choice and found death, you too will one day find death further down the road of not-trusting-God.
But notice that even in your wrong choices, God will not abandon you. The grace in Eden was that even when Adam and Eve did the one thing they were told not to do, God still cared for them. In God’s story, wrong choices have bad consequences, but God still offers us a chance to make the right choice. The way God tells the story, you can go your own way and choose to lose paradise, or you can trust God and live.
During this season of Lent, you are called to examine your life. Do you trust God? Are you willing to live your life as if God’s promises in scripture are true? God offers you a chance to give your whole trust. God is still holding out hope that you will one day come home to the Garden.