One of the most important questions about the two trees is why did God put the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden if it was going to create so many problems? Both trees are actually necessary to have perfect, mature fellowship with God. The two trees together represent free will. Without both trees, almost nothing in our relationship with God will work, especially love.
Think of it like this. Let’s say that you are single, and you meet the perfect mate for your life. But there is a catch—the only way they would be with you is if you could manipulate their heart to want you. You would have them, but the love would not be genuine. Would you want that? Of course not. You want to be loved for who you are, because they value you and chose you of their own free will. Manipulation and control can never produce love. God is the same way. His perfect love had to be given in complete freedom. Put simply, without free will, love does not exist.
But freedom is about more than being loved alone. Giving us freedom is an act of respect. God has given us something that is given only to those you respect, the chance to mature. Parents want to see their children grow up, mature, and become the complete person they were created to be. Giving someone freedom is an act of respect. Yes, God does respect you. You are made that well. Your free will is part of the proof.
Too often, we want God to treat us like children rather than adults. We want a “fix-it daddy” instead of a mature God. We want him to spoil us in ways that we would not do for our own kids. Maturity was God’s idea. He is not going to go against his own creative design. He is going to treat us like adults. We need to remember this in times of difficulty, when life demands maturity from us.
Understanding free will also help us to understand God’s sovereignty, especially when harmful things happen. Contrary to popular belief, God doesn’t either cause or allow bad things to happen, nor is it true that every bad thing is “allowed” for a good reason. That is our view of what it means to be God, not God’s view of what it means for his children to be free. With God, sovereignty is not about power and control. It is about making sure his children are able to love and be loved. We have an enemy in Satan who wants to shut that down and imprison our hearts under his control, just as he did Eve. In no place do we see this better than in the temptation of Jesus.
After trying to seduce Jesus into using his faith for religious works, Satan shows Jesus all of the kingdoms (or people) of the world. In Luke, Satan claims that he can give these people to whomever he wants, implying that he has their hearts captive. He is trying to bribe Jesus. In effect he says, “Jesus, you don’t have to go to the cross. I’ll give you the people you came for. Just make me like the Most High by worshiping me, and they will be yours.” Jesus, of course, refused. He revealed his answer to Satan’s ploy in John 12:31-32, where he showed that Satan’s authority to hold people’s hearts captive is about to be removed:
Now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.
Jesus removed Satan from his place as ruler of the world at the cross. Verse 32 says this made it possible for people to freely come to Jesus and to freely receive his love. This story strongly implies that one purpose of the cross is to restore our free will so that we can know God’s love. That is God’s sovereignty in action. He ensures that our wills are free so that we can come to the tree of life, which is him. God paid a high price to ensure we are free. That means people, like Adam, Eve, and Cain, can make bad choices. Those choices hurt God right along with us.
Once of the best examples of this that I’ve seen happened in a woman’s personal ministry with us. She had put herself through seminary and received her first assignment as a youth pastor. Soon after arrival at her new church, she found out that the head pastor was molesting girls in the youth group. Conflict ensued, and she lost her job.
When she reported this to some elders in the denomination, they wrongly told her that she could not turn the pastor in to the police without condemning herself to hell. They said coming against “God’s anointed” was an unforgivable sin. It was a lie, but it was all she knew at the time, and she didn’t want to go to hell. But it didn’t take long for her to decide that it was worth it. So completely believing that she was condemning herself to hell for eternity, she picked up the phone and called the police. Decades later, she ended up in front of us for healing.
We were right in the middle of dealing with an emotional wound when she said, “Time out. We’re not going one step further until I ask God a question.” I had no idea what was coming.
Why God? All I ever wanted to be was a youth pastor. I never even wanted to marry! I never got back in the ministry. Why did you send me to a church where the head pastor was molesting children?
Immediately, she saw a mental picture of an abandoned, unoccupiable motel, that represented God’s dreams for people that they walked away from. What she reported God saying next was one of the most beautiful insights into the heart of God I’ve ever heard:
I have dreams for people that I have to give up on too, and it hurts me too. But I have to get up and move on, and so do you. And I want you to move on with me.
If you were molested, abused, abandoned, know that God did not want those things to happen! It broke his heart. He didn’t plan it so that he could use it for good. He cries over these things. It happened because people made their own choice to stray from him. If people weren’t free to make those choices, you would never know his love, and he will never remove that chance from you. So instead of removing free will, he steps into our pain and heals. Remember, the purpose Jesus spoke about his coming was to bind up the brokenhearted.
The cross is so much more than a ticket to heaven after we die. It is about here and now. It is about life, love, healing, maturity, and freedom. It is about the tree of life, the one that bring freedom, not performance burdens or legalism.
The Garden of Eden is a symbol of unbroken fellowship with God. It is a picture of the kingdom of God blossoming in a human heart. Both trees are there because he wants his children free. They mean we can be loved for who we are not and what we do, be healed, and mature into everything he made us to be. There is no greater, more mature, more respectful, or more loving gift in all of creation.