“And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.’” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Did you ever have one of those experiences where someone told you not to do something and immediately it was the only thing in the world you wanted to do? Maybe your parent told you not to touch something and it was like your hand was suddenly magnetized to it. Maybe a boss told you something was entirely off limits and you immediately started looking for ways to figure out how to do it. This seems like it’s a natural reaction. So, why on earth did God put a tree in the garden and tell us not to eat from it?
Well, I’m going to let you in on a little secret here, but if anybody asks—especially a professional theologian—you didn’t hear it from me. There are actually two answers to this question. One is company approved. One is more of an in-house secret that we’d prefer to not have let out all things considered. I’ll start with that second one because it doesn’t require as much explanation as the first.
Are you ready for this? You’re sitting down, right? Here goes: Why did God put a tree in the garden and then tell us not to eat from it? We don’t know. That’s it. We don’t know. That’s the secret. We. Don’t. Know. And here’s why we don’t know: Moses didn’t tell us. Moses didn’t tell us most likely because the Holy Spirit didn’t tell him when he was writing this stuff down for the first time.
Now, if you read a commentary on Genesis or a theology book that talks about the creation narrative, you probably are not going to find something as simple and as direct as this. You might find a hint of “I don’t know,” but you’ll find a lot more than that because the simple answer probably wouldn’t sell many books. People go to a commentary looking for answers that run a bit deeper than “I don’t know.” As a case in point, I have six commentaries on Genesis in my office and not a single one of them even touches this issue.
And, let’s be clear on something here: Writing down more than “I don’t know” is not being arrogant or dishonest. It may be mostly speculative, but it’s not inherently wrong. There is something in us that longs for answers to big questions like this. As a matter of fact, you’re probably not going to be satisfied if I stop writing now (and not just because I promised you two answers to the question and I’ve only given you one so far). But, you will have to wait until this afternoon for more.