The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is one of the most intriguing symbols in the Bible. God placed this tree in the middle of the Garden of Eden, and He forbid Adam and Eve from eating its fruit. Yet the presence of this mysterious tree raises some profound questions. Why would a good God put a potentially dangerous tree in the perfection of Eden? What was its purpose? And what can this tree teach us about human nature and our relationship with God?
The Gift of Free Will
Most fundamentally, the tree of knowledge gave Adam and Eve free will. By placing the tree in the garden and asking them not to eat of it, God gave humans the ability to choose obedience or disobedience. This distinguished humanity from the rest of creation which operates based on instinct or on God’s command. As beings made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27), humans were endowed with the faculty of choice. God likely wanted a creation which would choose to love and obey Him freely rather than programming them like robots. The tree provided the option of obedience or disobedience, of trusting God’s way over their own.
Free will also allows for the possibility of a genuine relationship. Relationships based on love must involve the ability to choose. The tree gave Adam and Eve the chance to demonstrate trust in their Creator. While God foresaw their eventual disobedience, He deemed it worth the risk based on the greater good of preparing humanity for redemption through Christ. As an all-knowing, sovereign God, He incorporated even human failing into His grand plan of salvation.
Appreciation Through Contrast
In addition to free will, the tree of knowledge also provided a point of contrast that would enable humankind to appreciate goodness and perfection rightly. Adam and Eve had only known the delight of Eden. With no suffering, pain, or death, the first couple had never experienced anything negative or evil. The tree presented the option of disobeying God’s command, introducing sin and suffering into the human experience. While tragic, perhaps God understood that experiencing evil would heighten human appreciation for the good. As the saying goes, we do not know what we have until we lose it. By encountering darkness, humans could cherish the light.
Eating the forbidden fruit shattered the bliss of Eden and left Adam and Eve lacking. Only then did they realize what they had lost in disobeying God. Their eyes were opened to the difference between good and evil, as God had warned (Genesis 3:22). Through their disobedience, humankind gained an experiential knowledge of evil to contrast divine good. The tree provided a foil which made God’s original design for flawless human fellowship and harmony stand out in stark relief.
A Test of Stewardship
Furthermore, God entrusted Adam and Eve with stewardship over the garden, commanding them to cultivate it and enjoy its delights (Genesis 2:15). The single prohibition from eating of the tree of knowledge tested their ability to steward God’s creation properly. Would they govern the garden according to divine wisdom, or would they choose autonomy over faithful stewardship? Tragically, they failed the test in grasping for godlike knowledge. This first sin displayed humankind’s tendency to rebel against God’s design.
Nonetheless, God did not abandon His creation. He went on to establish the nation of Israel as stewards of His covenant. The Mosaic Law provided principles to guide them in caring for God’s world. Eventually, Christ came as the perfect steward and second Adam to redeem humanity from sin. Through Him, God renews the call for all believers to steward life well in grateful worship. The tree remains a sobering reminder that vigilance against temptation is essential in answering this call.
Purpose in an Imperfect World
Though God’s creation was originally perfect, He sovereignly allowed imperfection to enter through human choice. The tree’s presence and the ensuing Fall serve God’s overarching purpose of bringing glory to Himself through redeeming a people who willingly love Him. God remains in control even amid earthly trouble and heartache. As the apostle Paul declared, “God works all things together for the good of those who love Him” (Romans 8:28). Though the tree brought hardship, God incorporated its consequences into His providential plan.
For humanity’s benefit, God limited access to the tree of life immediately after the Fall (Genesis 3:22-24). Living forever in bodies corrupted by sin would be disastrous. Instead, separation from the tree kept humankind from eternal misery, pointing toward hope of eternal life through the second Adam, Jesus Christ. The tree of knowledge of good and evil was a crucial part of God’s purpose, even in allowing for the possibility of evil.
Understanding Human Nature
The tree’s presence reveals something about human nature. Even in idyllic Eden, the heart of man harbored the capacity for great evil. Adam and Eve enjoyed an untarnished relationship with their Creator and one another. All their needs were abundantly satisfied. Still their hearts grew restless, coveting the one prohibited fruit. This desire kindled humankind’s first self-willed rebellion against the Maker. It unleashed horrendous loss on the human race and all creation.
The tree exposes the darkness latent in humanity. While God declared His finished creation “very good” (Genesis 1:31), the potential for great evil lurked in the heart of man. Our first parents unlocked wickedness in grasping for greater knowledge and godlike autonomy. Sadly, Scripture testifies that “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21). Through the centuries, the forbidden tree’s fruit has spawned countless evils perpetrated through human hands.
Nonetheless, the tree reveals not only human depravity but also the extravagance of God’s grace. Despite knowing the calamity disobedience would unleash, God allowed the tree in His garden. He went on to remedy mankind’s wickedness by coming to earth Himself. The Word took on flesh to redeem us from sin’s curse through His sacrificial death on a tree (1 Peter 2:24). The tree of life lost through Adam is restored to us through Christ (Revelation 22:2).
Learning Moral Discernment
Another key lesson from the tree is that moral choices have consequences. God’s command not to eat of the tree was an act of love, designed for human thriving. When Adam and Eve violated this command, their eyes were opened to experience evil firsthand through the consequences. Their valuable moral discernment developed from encountering the disastrous results of disobeying God’s wisdom.
Similarly, the tree of knowledge teaches that we cannot understand good and evil abstractly. We must experience their concrete results. Evil does not remain a theoretical concept; it brings sorrow and ruin. Mere intellectual knowledge of right and wrong proves shallow until tested in moral choices. Our understanding matures when we internalize the bitter fruits of foolish actions.
Through the tree, humankind gained true appreciation for how violating God’s design breeds disaster. Moral discernment grows through wrestling with the effects of sin. God does not shield us from these effects but intends them to instill wisdom and reliance on Him. Though painful, encountering evil refines moral character if we respond rightly.
The tree offers another sobering lesson in humility. It represents the limit God placed on human ability. Seeking to transcend that limit in grasping for divine knowledge led to a downfall. Humans are not autonomous, needing nothing outside themselves. We are created beings meant for total dependence on our Creator. Straining against the bounds of our creatureliness ends in ruin.
Nonetheless, pride drives mankind to rebel against limitations. Something in human nature abhors restraint and seeks control, glory, and godlike autonomy. The desire lurking in Eden spurs all manner of human striving to dethrone God and enthrone self. Scripture exposes the arrogance of unbelievers who “suppress the truth” about God and spurn His authority (Romans 1:18-23). Salvation requires the humbling work of the Spirit (John 3:5-8).
Believers, too, contend with stubborn pride. We may proudly cling to personal knowledge, abilities, or morality rather than relying fully on divine grace. But God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5, James 4:6). The forbidden tree warns against deadly pride and calls us to Christlike humility.
The tree of the knowledge of good and evil remains a multifaceted symbol of the human condition. Its presence and purpose reveal key truths about free will, moral discernment, pride, and human limits. It represents the possibility of corruption even in perfect Eden. This ominous tree also magnifies God’s wise providence in working all things for good. Through the tree, humankind tragically grasped for autonomy and brought calamity. Nonetheless, God incorporated its consequences into a grand plan of redemption leading to eternal life in Christ.