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Free Will, the Tree of Knowledge and the Temptations

The place where I least like to be in a car is in rural China.  I can manage the cities, with their slow moving packs of bicycles, but once you reach the open roads, which are smooth and long and straight, the speeds increase alarmingly and the driver only uses the middle of the road. Whilst this may give some comfort to the occasional peasant, or bullock you might see strolling along the side of the verge, it is perfectly terrifying for me because all the drivers do exactly the same and in both directions you understand!  There follows, if you are unlucky enough to meet an oncoming vehicle, what appears to be a mad game of chicken, where they drive without any perceptible slowing down straight at one another vying to be the last to pull over. I always sit in the back of the car!

The problem is that they have not somehow yet embraced the idea we have, that our freedom to safely drive comes from and indeed depends on, the rule about always driving on the left.

My children by the way are Chinese in this respect too; rules are bad things that Dad invents to spoil their fun.  Bedtime and turning off that computer for example is not seen as a generous, gracious and loving attempt on my part to help them prepare for the rigors of a new day; to be sure that they are refreshed that they can perform at their peak, oh no; no not at all!

“Now the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and to keep it. And the Lord commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree in the garden, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.”

So, here we are at the very beginning of life itself, of the story of God’s relationship with humankind and we have the notions of both freedom and of rules. You are free to eat, but not of this spectacular tree. It is worthwhile pondering, I think, just worrying a little bit, about why this should have been so.  

We can be in no doubt about God’s capabilities, so why I ask, why have this tree? If it was such a bad thing, surely God could have removed it with a puff of wind, or maybe he could have just not put it there in the first place and then the terrible tragedy of Genesis chapter three would never have happened.

But then, of all the gifts that Genesis talks about, the breath of life, the beauty, the food that is good to eat, the living creatures, the greatest of these gifts is the free will we were given. God loved us from the beginning, you notice that we were different, we were not plonked into the ocean like the whale but “put into the garden to till it and keep it”. Even then, right from the start, we were to be a part of creation’s development and with that we were given choice. It would have been easy for God to have created Paradise and be happy with his work, to have seen that it was good and left it at that. But we were specially created, created in God’s image, which gave us the freedom to participate in, and to join in God’s love and love as we all know cannot be prescribed or insisted upon.

Love can only be given freely, and for that to be so, there had to be an opportunity not to give it.  An opportunity that Adam and Eve sadly took.  The story of the tree and of the fall is far from trivial.

Our Gospel reading shows Jesus in the wilderness, although he is hungry he does not accept the Devil's proposal.  He does not turn the stones into bread but rather obeys his father’s command and, more importantly, he continues to love and to trust God his Father. Just as Adam and Eve had a chance to eat the forbidden fruit, so Jesus had and will have further opportunities to not love and to not trust but he does not take them.

As the story of God’s relationship with us develops, there will be some more rules, notably the ten commandments.  These are not for our punishment or for our deprivation, nor were they invented, like William’s curfew for the computer, to spoil our fun.  They are there to protect us, to guide us, to keep us safe and, more importantly, to allow us to make a choice.  To allow us to decide to use our own free will, to decide to obey the rules and, as we do so, to be loving to one another and to be loving to our God our Father and Creator.

Amen

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