Imagine a different scenario for our first parents: What if Adam and Eve had come away from the temptation angry with God for withholding the knowledge of good and evil from them, but with none of the forbidden fruit’s after taste in their mouth?
Imagine instead that, after talking to the Devil, they even agreed to obey the don’t-eat-from-this-tree-rule to give themselves more time to figure out how they could move out of the Garden and live on their own.
Would anger and a desire to move out on their own have been less fatal than eating the fruit? For the sake of discussion, I’ll take a guess. I’m thinking that doubting God and even being angry with Him to the point of not wanting to be around Him would not have been fatal. Even if they had tried to avoid God—without eating the fruit– God could have found them and talked them through their anger and doubts.
Later, the Lord confronted the anger of Cain, their oldest son, before he killed his younger brother. In that instance, God asked Cain why he was so angry and suggested that what he did with his anger would determine the outcome (Gen 4:5-7). Once again the Lord emphasized the importance of what Cain did or did not do while wanting Cain to look at why he was so angry. To everyone’s loss, Cain didn’t accept the Lord’s counsel and expressed his anger toward God by killing Abel (Gen 4:1-4).
What is the common factor? In both cases, parents and son apparently doubted whether they could trust their Creator enough to gratefully enjoy what he had given them– without distrusting him because of what he had withheld.
God had withheld from Adam and Eve the knowledge of good and evil. He had withheld from Cain approval of a sacrifice that he had made from his profession as a “cultivator of the ground.” (By contrast, the Lord approved of the animal sacrifice his brother had made, as a “keeper of flocks”).
What both parents and son did and didn’t do was important. Eating forbidden fruit might not seem that terrible to us. But Cain’s murder of his younger brother shows us the real nature and costs of what his parents had done. Even though he would bear responsibility for his own actions, he was born to fallen parents, which meant that he would have to struggle with a lack of innocence and fallen inclinations.
So what are we supposed to see in these early events? On a scale of 1 to 10, how important were the actions (the whats) of eating the fruit, and the killing of Abel? And on a scale of 1 to 10 how important were the heart issues (the whys) that preceded both wrongs?
Going back to where we started, where should our focus be? Was God mainly concerned about “not eating forbidden fruit”? How do the “whats” of our lives compare with the “whys” in God’s eyes?
PS Seems that the reason to think about this together is not just to figure out moral answers but rather to deepen our understanding of where we need to focus in our desire and prayers for God’s help…