After the fiasco with Satan, God became more cautious. He knew he’d found something incredible – a created being with the ability to think for itself. But how much intelligence does it take to make free will? And how much freedom could he give before his creatures turned against him?
Satan’s rebellion had swept like a virus through heaven, igniting the desire for freedom in many other angels. To contain the epidemic, God put them all in quarantine, forever. Then he set up a world, completely isolated, to continue his experiments. He knew the critical ingredients that had given rise to a free creature, and used them to form Adam – the first man.
He had two new strategies to test out. The first was walking with Adam in the garden as an equal – treating him like a friend. He knew that being a detached tyrant wouldn’t win him respect from a free subject, no matter how great or powerful he was. He knew that power alone never wins allegiance. But he was still a little paranoid. He needed to be sure that Adam still knew who was in charge. So he put the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the center of paradise and said “You can eat from any other tree in the garden, but don’t eat from this one. If you do, you will die.”
This time, foreseeing the possibility of his creatures turning against him, he gives fair warning. Like angels, humans were created immortal. But God tells them – eat from this tree and I will unmake you. A harsh punishment indeed, but God wanted his threat to be taken seriously.
Things seemed to be going pretty well, perhaps the “testing phase” was complete and God was ready to mass-produce. And so: God creates Eve. But somehow the formula got tainted, perhaps by the meddling of Satan who’d come to muck things up, still angry over his abandonment, or perhaps by Eve’s natural curiosity and charm. At any rate – we know what happened next. They ate from the tree and God kicked them out of the Garden to begin a life of toil and hardship.
This single, very short episode, is given an enormous amount of attention in Christian theology: This is the Fall of Man, the beginning of sin and death. However, it seems fair to place far more blame on God than on his creation. God is pretty much like a glorified parent, so it’s worthwhile to examine his parenting skills: what kind of parent would leave candy out on the table and tell a child not to eat it? What kind of parent would feign surprise after they found the little culprit and then give them a spanking to remember? It seems cruel somehow, doesn’t it? And don’t forget God’s motive: he needed to be sure that his creatures loved him and obeyed him. He wanted them to be absolutely free but also to recognize him as their master.
Picture an insecure, emotionally volatile mother who makes up tests for her children to see if they love her, spouting ultimatums and threats and devising punishments for when they fail; this is the god of the Old Testament. That ‘God is Love’ is plainly a ridiculous idea if we take the Eden story at face value.
At any rate, He’d screwed up for the 2nd time, but now it was too late. The machines were reproducing themselves. Without the presence of God, humans beings began to explore the world, to take care of themselves, and even create their own gods to fulfill their spiritual aspirations.
A Machiavellian display of Manipulation?
There is another way to read Genesis. What if (and this is already obvious) God never intended Adam and Eve NOT to eat the fruit? The problem is Satan, is that since he hadn’t broken any rule and was in fact acting naturally and justly, he will never feel guilty. Satan will always know that God screwed up, that he’s not to blame. And God isn’t about to apologize, so Satan is simply ruined goods. But with Adam and Eve, he wants to make them obey him. The point of the garden is not to obey; they were meant to disobey. But they had been warned. Only Satan, they knew that they’d screwed up. Never mind if it was a stupid rule, if God was being a price… they’d been warned and they got caught. It is precisely their sin, and guilt, which God can now hold over humanity for all time – the Garden was necessary to create Sin so that humans would obey.