I do not believe that the Book of Genesis (or any book or books of the Bible, separately or as a whole) is a divinely-authored historical record. However, for the sake of this discussion, I will argue from the point of view that Genesis – and particularly the Garden of Eden story – is a literal record of an actual event.
A pastor recently tried to explain to me that what transpired in the Garden of Eden was not a test at all, but a moral command. While I disagree that it’s ‘moral’, I will agree that it is a command, but also assert that it is a test.
Let’s use some common sense here: What purpose would a “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil” serve in the created world? I assert that it serves two possible purposes: to be eaten from, or not to be eaten from. If the latter, then what purpose could it possibly serve but to act as a test of obedience? Yahweh himself does not need to create such a tree to replenish his own knowledge of good and evil. While one could argue that Yahweh does not need a reason to create anything, it stands to reason that the whole purpose of the creation narrative is to point out just how everything created interrelates with everything else. A “Tree of Knowledge”, created specifically not to have its fruit utilized, sticks out pretty much like a sore thumb. To place it in the middle of the Garden, where it could hardly be missed – then announce to the only two people existing that it not be eaten from under pain of death, makes no sense at all – not unless the purpose was to test Adam and Eve. This is underscored by the introduction of a talking (!) snake, appearing to freely wander about, introducing temptation into the narrative. (See also the Book of Job, where Satan is introduced as a free-wandering being.) In both the Eden and the Job narratives, Yahweh seems pretty much unconcerned about Satan’s whereabouts or his motives – despite being omniscient and omnipresent. It appears obviously in these two accounts that the serpent/Satan is used by Yahweh to indirectly achieve his results.
Adam and Eve were obviously ignorant of the distinction between good and evil, and Yahweh’s directive not to eat from the tree indicates his desire that they continue in their ignorance – or does it?
Let me employ an example: Say a parent decides to test his child by filling a skillet with oil on the stovetop, turning the burner to high, letting it bubble and boil, leaving the handle facing outwards, and then announcing to a child in the room that they had better not touch that handle over there, that’s right over there, where I’m pointing, right there. And then, standing to rise, walking into the other room, leaving the child alone to ponder the mystery that is the shiny handle. If we were to discover that a child was burned across its body by such an act, we could weep bitterly, and then demand the harshest punishment on the perpetrator. What if the father were to say, “I told him not to touch it! It’s his fault! And he’ll never touch another skillet again, now, will he?” – as he’s being pushed into the back of the police car – his own motives do not absolve him of being a monster, but perhaps of being unspeakably insane. Unlike the skillet burn, which will scar the body permanently, the “Tree of Knowledge” poisons from the inside out, and introduces sin and death into the world. Further, that one act poisons everyone from that moment on – to take the word of those who wrote what we now call The Bible.
Yahweh’s reaction to Adam and Eve’s eating from the tree is not one of empathy or concern. His reaction is to scold, and then to condemn, and then to curse, and then to expel. Despite the fact that an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent god would have seen all of this occurring before any of this took place, he does not take any pity on man for weakness. And why should he? He knew what was going to happen if he put the tree there. He knew that the serpent would then tempt them, and did nothing to dissuade or dispel said serpent. Unlike the human father, who could only presume that his child would disobey and burn himself, Yahweh knew as a fact that this would be the outcome. So for the human creatures, it was indeed a test. For Yahweh, however, it was a fait accompli. I contend that the Garden of Eden story, if taken as an actual historical event, was Yahweh setting up the first two humans for a fall (no pun intended), making all of humanity dependent upon him for a cure – and ultimately, absolutely dependent upon him.
I, of course, believe it all to be ancient mythology, just like every other religion’s creation narrative. So I do not believe that any of it actually happened, and I do not point a finger at a god that does not exist – with the exception of discussions such as this – with someone who does, in fact, believe it to be a literal historic event.
But this is not about taking away a human being’s free will. This is about placing a danger front and center with no apparent purpose except to test – or in the case of an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God – to trap.
The person I mentioned earlier asserted that the Fall would have happened, tree or not. This would seem to counter the Bible, which (that I’m aware of, and I’ve read the Bible extensively, but if someone can correct me with a reference, please do) does not state this presumption anywhere. This must, therefore, be acknowledged as speculation. And if humans would have chosen rebellion over obedience eventually, then Yahweh intended for this to occur before the start of creation. To assert otherwise is to bring Yahweh’s omnipotence into question.
To give a child (or an adult with a child’s self-awareness) a choice of obedience or third-degree burns (either in a kitchen or in hell) and call it “free will” is an absurdity.
To call it “love” is to insult the word.