How can you say that he is a compassionate God when he banishes Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and tells Eve that because of what she did he will make childbirth very painful and to Adam that because of what he did the ground is now cursed?
There are really two questions at work here in this one. First, the question of God’s compassion in banishing Adam and Eve from the Garden. The second question relates to the punishment/curses handed out to Adam and Eve after their disobedience. We’ll handle each as they come in the story.
Let’s note the facts of the story, as we’ve been given them.
- Among the trees, there is a Tree of Life and a Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (if eaten from this tree, they would certainly die).
- God tells Adam that he is free to eat from any tree in the garden, but the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
- Eve adds to God’s command not to eat when she explains to the serpent that she also cannot touch it.
- The serpent tells her that if she eats from it her eyes will be opened and she will be like God, knowing Good and Evil.
- She eats, then gives to Adam and he eats. They realize they are naked. Something changed.
- They hide from God, and he comes to find them.
- God reveals to the them the results of their disobedience.
- God removes them from the Garden of Eden.
- God keeps them from the Tree of Life.
Whether or not one takes this story as literal or figurative, the bottom line is the same. Humanity disregarded God and believed they knew better than him and things are no longer the way they were intended to be. They failed to trust God’s Word, and went out on their own, seeking to be smarter and wiser (sounds familiar).
When God approaches them, it sounds like a typical conversation between a parent and children caught doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing right? They stumble all upon themselves, blaming each other, then God explains to them what will now happen because they ate from the tree.
Question: Did God do this to them? For us to cry foul for God’s discipline here is a lot like blaming a teacher for failing a student, when the student read from the wrong book. Sure, the teacher could force the student to read from the correct book, but she gave instructions and the student failed to follow the directions.
The serpent represents the reality of evil in our world. He now has no place on food chain, but is subject to all livestock and wild animals and will eventually be totally defeated (“eat dust”). From this point forward the descendants of evil will be at odds with the descendants of the woman. The battle has begun. Eventually evil will only strike the heel of good, but will be crushed by good. This is a reference to Jesus’ work on the cross.
As for the woman, he now increases the pain of childbirth. I believe the pain here is more than just physical. Her children are now going to be born into the enmity between the good and the evil. From the very start children will be difficult for the mother. But this enmity is also going to affect her relationship with her husband – she will desire to please him and he will want to rule over her. This tension will be there because of what she did.
Now, to the man he addresses two issues. First, he listened to his wife rather than to God and he ate from the tree also. Not only did Adam not trust God’s word, but he believed someone else too. Because of this, the ground is now cursed – what used to grow easily would now take work, thorns and thistles will now be a problem. A cursed earth now yields earthquakes, hurricanes, famines, droughts, tornados, etc. He will now have to work for his food instead of having it freely given, and he will do this until the day he dies and returns back to the earth from which he came.
Here is where things get interesting. They are naked, not just physically, but spiritually at this point. They are vulnerable to the evil now that they have been separated from God. God, in his grace and compassion, provides for them a covering (first animal sacrifice). Then God banishes them.
How can a compassionate God banish Adam and Eve from the Garden? I think of it like this: One day, when my son was 3, he threw a ball in the house and knocked a lamp over and the glass shattered all over the floor. I banished him from the room to keep him from being cut by the glass. Was I mean to not let him stay with me? No, I was compassionate because him staying there could have been dangerous. This is what happened here. In Adam and Eve’s current state of separation from God and vulnerability to evil, they were sent away for protection. Protection from what? Remember the tree of life in the garden? If they were to wander over and eat from that tree, they would have sealed their fate forever and we would have never had a way back to the Father. So, “After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life (italics mine).” What an amazing picture of grace and compassion. Father is leaving a way open for us to get back to him. Some have referred to the cross of Christ as the Tree of Life. In Revelation (the end of The Story), the new earth will be filled with banquets of fruit from the Tree of Life (Revelation 22:19) and those who have trusted in Christ’s work on the cross to give them life will be able to freely eat (Revelation 22:14).