Question: What was really going on in the Garden of Eden? I can’t believe God would actually condemn Adam and Eve just for eating an apple from a forbidden tree!
Answer: Your instincts are correct. There was more going on in this story than meets the eye. First, let’s look at what God created: He created Paradise – a perfect world, and he basically told Adam and Eve that it would remain perfect as long as they followed what was true, in other words, to do what God told them: “Follow me, and you’ll be fine!” What was the name of the tree they could not eat from or even touch lest they die? It was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Whether or not it was an actual tree or simply a metaphor really doesn’t matter. What matters is what God was telling them. In effect, he was saying, “Don’t try to decide for yourself what is right and what is wrong. You can be wrong; I cannot! I am all Goodness, all Beauty, all Truth. I am perfect; you are not. Listen to me and do what I tell you and everything will be perfect.” But Satan, in his war against God, decided to try to get back at God by harming us. He knew that it would hurt God tremendously to see his children suffer. Any parent will know that feeling. It is far worse for a parent to watch their child suffer pain than to suffer that pain themselves. So Satan starts with a lie: “Did God really tell you not to eat the fruit of any of the trees in the garden?” Eve answers correctly: “We may eat the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ’you shall not eat of it or even touch it, lest you die.’” God was not forbidding them pleasures. Some people like to think that if we are enjoying something it must be sinful. (Harold Camping used to say that.) There are many legitimate pleasures that God gives us to enjoy. He is not trying to make our lives miserable.
Satan then drops the big temptation: “You surely will not die! No, God knows fully well that the moment you eat of it you will be like God yourself, knowing right from wrong!” In effect he was telling Eve that God was the one being deceptive. The only way God could keep them under his control – so said Satan – was by telling them not to follow their own hearts and minds. If they did, they would no longer need God. He successfully convinced them that God was the liar, that he was merely trying to control them and keep them from breaking free from under his power. So they ate the fruit – they listened to their own minds and hearts and not to God. And with that “their eyes were opened” and did they discover that they knew right from wrong on their own? No! They saw that they were naked! They saw their shame. And Satan didn’t respond by saying, “Gee! I thought they’d know right from wrong! I guess I was wrong!” Of course not! He knew very well what the result would be. By disobeying God they gave Satan his entrance into the world – and that’s why we have all the evil we do in this world! Original Sin brought it in!
Now, how many times do we hear people say, “Why do you think you have to listen to everything the Church teaches or parrot every word the Pope says? You have a brain; think it out for yourself!” (I actually had someone ask me that very question once at a wedding!) What are they telling us to do? They are telling us to commit Original Sin all over again! Our hearts and minds are not infallible. You and I can be mistaken, and just because we feel it or think it doesn’t make it right. Only God’s word is truth. Therefore, those who tell us that God’s teaching through the Church is wrong because “they don’t feel there’s anything wrong with it” are committing Original Sin all over again! They are buying the devil’s lie; they sucked it in hook, line, and sinker!
What we see from this is that God’s law is not subjecting us to him; that was Satan’s lie. Rather, God’s law is freeing us from error. It is the truth that we can follow with confidence. God’s way is not always the easy way, but it is always the right way. So, by following God’s law, we are not so much subjecting ourselves to him as sharing in his power! Sin enslaves; God frees! When we follow God completely, we are free from the errors of sin – we are truly free!
Jesus, the New Adam, reversed Original Sin by His total obedience to God. He showed us that obedience to God brings salvation, just as Adam showed us that disobedience to God brings suffering and death.
So the lesson we learn is simple: don’t try to decide for yourself what is right and wrong. Don’t merely follow what you think or feel because you can be wrong. Follow what God tells you at all times and you will truly be free!