How Might the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil Frame our Understanding of Freedom and God’s Government Style?

The existence of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden is generally understood to indicate that humans have a basic right to free will in some form or other. It also demonstrates that our choices have consequences. We can frame the concept of choices having consequences to be a subset of the deeper principle of cause/effect which exists in the universe.

In Genesis 2:16-17, in whichever translation one chooses to read, God explained that humankind was free to eat of any tree in the garden. God’s first intention for humanity was freedom, and Jesus emphasised the centrality of freedom when discussing discipleship with the Jews (John 8:32-36).

There is a simple question we need to ask when we explore what God meant when He added the statement that Adam and Eve were not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil because death would be the certain result. But was God saying that He would destroy humankind the moment they ate the fruit, or sometime later? Or, was God simply saying that the end result of eating the fruit would lead to the inevitable — death?

Then we need to decide: Was this an arbitrary decision; or was it the inevitable consequences from ignoring that the universe functions in response to the principle of cause/effect.

How we choose to interpret this passage informs the way we interpret the rest of Scripture. Either God operates a dictator government — benevolent or otherwise; or He operates a government of freedom within the boundaries and meaning of cause/effect. Because God does not change (Psalm 33:11, Malachi 3:6, James 1:17) He can only operate in one of these two forms of government, not both.

Because a dictatorship, of any form, is arbitrary and denies any form of real freedom, it appears that God operates a government functioning through the principle of cause/effect explicitly for our freedom.

So how does acknowledging this interpretation of God’s government style then inform the way we read the rest of the Bible?

In Genesis 3, God explained the consequences of Adam and Eve’s fall to the serpent, Eve, and Adam. He began His explanation to the serpent with a ‘because’ (Genesis 3:14). The use of the word ‘because’ indicates that God’s explanation was set in terms of cause/effect.

God also used the word ‘because’ when He told Adam that the consequences of his eating the fruit would mean that humankind would have to work hard to earn a livelihood from the land (Genesis 3:17). Because God is consistent and does not change, God’s statement to Eve about experiencing sorrow in childbirth and being subject to her husband needs to be interpreted as a prediction of consequences rather than as an arbitrary dictum of what God determined should happen.

Down through history, the interpretation of this passage by various groups has often meant that men find in this passage an arbitrary dictum for their power over women. Does God change from being a God who gives freedom to all His creation to an arbitrary dictator in the space of one chapter of the Bible — does He? Is it possible for us to understand the words and completely misinterpret the meaning?

The prelude to the Ten Commandments explains that God explicitly rescued Israel out of slavery so they could be free and then gave the Ten Commandments as an explanation of how to best live that life of freedom (Exodus 20:1-2, Deuteronomy 5:6). Jesus’ own brother, James, understood that the law was about giving freedom (James 1:25).

Is it important for us, as Christians to understand how God governs? Then, how might understanding the implications of these two diametrically opposed types of government inform how we as Christians develop governing styles, policies, and procedures?

Glenda Jackson is an educator currently working with disadvantaged young people in lower socioeconomic areas of Melbourne, Victoria Australia. While completing a PhD in Education at Monash University, she became keenly aware of the need to better understand her Christian world view in a way that explained the existence and operation of free will. Her book ‘Origin of the Centred Self?’ was written to explain to secular academics and others the results of that search.

Photo by Victoria Chen on Unsplash

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Respect, devotion, love can not exist in the absence of choice.


Very thoughtful consideration of Genesis 3. It is always worth returning to Genesis. Many thanks for bringing us back.

So, what if the notice was not a test, but was an honest and open notice not so much regarding the fruit, but rather the symbolic danger of aspiring to come to understand good and evil? It is not to be overlooked that the Tree of Life was without danger, while the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was described as deadly.

Now, how this brief passage may be useful in understanding how God governs remains inferential, of course. Governance is challenging to extract from scripture that introduces monotheism to people living in a culture of many gods a concept like human freedom.

When there is only one God, who causes abundance and famine both, what possible choice does a human have?

And if choice depends on knowledge, the last five chapters of Job make it clear that there is no knowing of God. We can hope, but we cannot know. And it is Job’s admission that God is too full of wonder to understand or to know. And it this declaration of the impossibility of coming to know God that causes God to offer to Job’s friends, “My wrath is kindled against you because you have not spoken of me the thing that is right, like my servant Job.”

And where is there choice in Revelation 14:6-12. The first Angel universally clarifies the truth about God, leaving humanity with nothing but instinctual responses, including fear, glorification, and worship. This rescues humanity from Babylon who had ‘made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornications’. No choice here, as well. The First Angel universally clarifies God as powerful judge of the universe, and thus rescues the saints from having been beguiled (made to believe) that they had status with God, perhaps on the basis of their free will? In any event, the saints are testifying to God’s power and their weakness while now waiting patiently for the judgement of God, as the Third Angel points favorably toward them in calling after the remnant of Babylon still trudging toward what they imagine to be God under a hail of brimstone, and still deluded in their belief that salvation is effected by their own mental and physical determined choice … or as Ellen White explain the message of the Third Angel is ‘in verity’ confirmation of Justification by Faith.

And finally, Jesus declares that we do not choose him but he chooses us. (John 15)

Perhaps we do well to explore the possibility of a universe that does not even allow for human free will, whether now or in the future. Ellen White has does just this, at lease for the future universe, with the last six sentences in her book, The Great Controversy: “The great controversy is ended. Sin and sinners are no more. The entire universe is clean. One pulse of harmony and gladness beats through the vast creation. From Him who created all, flow life and light and gladness, throughout the realms of illimitable space. From the minutest atom to the greatest world, all things, animate and inanimate, in their unshadowed beauty and perfect joy, declare that God is love.”

One pulse across animate and inanimate … Amazing!


I appreciate your efforts.
Perhaps there is a third option…that is “elements” of Both. Perhaps God is indeed a “benevolent dictator”/King of Kings who granted true “free will” to the first parents. Their “free will” apart from His Spirit failed them. May, I suggest, as Satan.
Now they/we have “limited free will” because we are in the bondage of sin. There is definitely within His choice a “cause and effect.” Sin brings death.
But this gracious “dictator” provided a way to his wayward creation. Eph.2:1-10.
Left on our own “our free will” chooses sin. Guided by His Spirit in Christ we begin the journey of life. You see , only His Spirit gives life. Apart from that the effect is death. There you have the cause and effect.
PS. Benevolent dictator/King. We place our own nuances. The God of scripture is like no other. He has absolute power and authority and is subject only to His own character.

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Withdrawn. Withdrawn. Withdrawn. Withdrawn.

I hope I misunderstand, Patrick. Benevolent dictator/king? I don’t find that in scripture anywhere. I do find that the word “obey, Obedience” from the Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology is defined as a verb that means "give ear; pay attention to; listen; hear. Never in the Bible is the word used as force. In fact there very few places in scripture were the word suggests force. Hebrews 13:17 and James 3:3 are just two of them. “Christ came to theis earth to show the human race how to obey God” (Signs of the Times, January 25, 1899) I don’t believe Christ obeyed the will of the Father because he was a "benevolent Dictator/King.

Thanks for your comment Leroy. Sorry for the delay but I played softball this morning.
A careful review of Glenda’s article should reveal that she used those terminologies and gave us two views to accept. I simply responded using her chosen vocabuIary. I agree benevolent dictator is not in scripture. I also note neither is the god of “free will” as worshiped by Pelagius and Erasmus/Humanism. I don’t recall her speaking of the atonement.
So, I guess that leaves nothing to be replied to? You might find Ps. 136 to be of interest regarding the hesed/ stedfast love of our God as to your thoughts.

Glenda, you raise important and timely issues. My one question concerns the use of “cause/effect” language, as in “a government of freedom within the boundaries and meaning of cause/effect.”

I am not aware that either science, philosophy or theology needs to define universal operations in this way. Since Hume’s critique of cause/effect language, and a century later by Einstein, Bohr and others, the Newtonian language of cause and effect has been replaced in almost all scientific discourse by probability theory and quantum understandings of physical operations.

So, why did you use this language, rather than, say, universal laws or field theory? A divine government of human freedom operating within universal laws makes more sense to me.

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