Did God Set Us Up to Fail in the Garden of Eden?

qb_garden-of-edenQuestion: What kind of father leaves his innocent children (Adam and Eve) in a place (Garden of Eden) with incredible dangers to them (tree of knowledge of good and evil, serpent, etc.) and only a warning to “protect” them? After the mistake (eating of the tree, disobeying God), they are cast out of the garden. A real father with real children knows they make mistakes even when forewarned. What kind of loving father throws away his children like that? It seems like we’ve been set up to fail from the beginning.

The biblical story of Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden helps us understand something about the human condition on a grand level: What human beings are like, how we make choices, and what the results are of these choices. It can help explain us to ourselves.

We live in a world that is not perfect, in which evil is a reality. Danger exists in our world. God tries to protect us from evil, but/and God has given us free will. We have the freedom to choose good or evil and God does not overpower our freedom to choose. We sometimes choose badly. Others are implicated in our wrong decisions. We suffer as a result of evil and our own choices.

Rather than reading the story as one in which God sets us up for failure, we can read it as a description of how life happens. Just as a human parent tries to protect a child from evil, he or she will never be able to guarantee the child’s safety. Parents cannot overpower the child’s will (at least for long). Ultimately, a parent has to allow the child independence, and sadly, then grieves when the child makes a bad choice, or encounters evil that is outside of the parents’ control. Parents can’t “fix” the mistake or undo the results of the evil, and the child can never return to the state of previous innocence. However, a good parent will continue to provide for, love, forgive, and even sacrifice for the child. If we continue reading on in the Bible, we see that God does the same for us, and even more so, sends Jesus to overcome evil with good.

Originally published October 2, 2015.
Ann Naffziger

Ann Naffziger is a scripture instructor and spiritual director in the San Francisco Bay area. She has has written articles on spirituality and theology for various national magazines and edited several books on the Hebrew Scriptures.