“If God knew that Adam would fail the test and eat from the Tree, then wasn’t it unfair of him to set the test in the first place?”
This is one of the questions we often get asked. The simple and short answer is “ He didn’t set a test” at least not in the way that we have grown accustomed to thinking about tests, trials and tempting.
We are conditioned by living in a world blighted by sin and so we know that we get tempted and fail. If someone tells you not to think about something, say something or do something then you can’t help yourself. So, we assume that in the garden, that there was this tree and every day, Adam saw it and the tree subliminally shouted out to him “come, take a closer look, eat from me” until eventually, Adam gave in.
Now, let’s go back and revisit pre-fall Eden. Adam and Eve have been given a garden to live in. They have been provided with every fruit tree to eat from. God, himself, wisdom itself walked and talked with them every evening. They had everything they needed.
In that garden, God put not one but two trees at the centre. We talk mainly about the Tree they were forbidden to eat from. However, we forget the other one, the Tree of Life. This was not forbidden. I have said before that I think the trees function sacramentally. They don’t have magic or medicinal properties. Rather, just as when someone gets baptised or when we take communion, it is a way of acting out the reality in our hearts, that we are dependent on Christ for cleaning, forgiveness, new life and spiritual food. So, with the trees, both together. Those trees physically represented and reminded that Adam and Eve were completely dependent on God for life and that he was all sufficient. They were a reminder that outside of God, there was only death. The Tree of Knowledge represented the decision to live outside of God’s wisdom, love and provision and to seek wisdom, love and provision for themselves.
The temptation in the garden was not merely to discover knowledge and wisdom to make them equal with God because of the extent of Knowledge and wisdom they had. After all, they were already “like God” in that they were made in His image and they were already “like God” in that he had made them to live for ever. Moreover, they were finite and the knowledge they might have discovered would still be finite so they could never be as God. They had life and wisdom but only through their relationship to the source of Life and wisdom. Satan’s temptation is that they will become as God because they will no longer be dependent upon him for knowledge. They will know for themselves. They will become autonomous, self-existent, independent. That’s the being “like God” that we crave.
The problem is that we cannot live independently from God. We owe our existence to him. Only God has life in himself. Outside of our relationship with God is death.
The trees provided a constant reminder to Adam and to depend fully on God. God did not set a test which they had to pass before he would love them. God’s love and provision was provided unconditionally. God did not set a test for them to fail. God did not set a trap to trip them up. Rather, through the two trees he gave them an invitation to trust Him and depend upon him alone.