Many readers may have already had the revelation I am going to describe in this post, and for some of you this may be an obvious point, but this experience was new to me. We were discussing the scriptures as part of “Come Follow Me” this week and I finally began to understand the story of Adam and Eve.
This revelation came after more than 200 endowment sessions and dozens of times reading Genesis and the Book of Moses. My wife, in comments during “Come Follow Me” and in talks she has since sent me, was the one who created the spark that helped me comprehend a bit more.
Here is the issue. As most readers know, Adam and Eve are in the Garden of Eden and are given two commandments: 1)be fruitful and multiply and 2)don’t eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Note that the tree is in the “midst” (or exact center) of the Garden of Eden, so the tree is central to the story. Satan “beguiles” Eve, and she figures out that Adam and Eve cannot do 1) without doing 2). So, she eats of the tree, explains it to Adam and Adam agrees and they both eat of the tree. Eve is the heroine of the story because she figures it out and tells Adam: “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.” (Moses 5:11).
Bottom line: without eating of the tree, Adam and Eve would still be in the Garden of Eden and would never have been able to keep the first commandment, which was to be fruitful and multiply.
I had always seen this story as showing that the Lord gave Adam and Eve a puzzle of sorts. What I did not understand until literally this week is *why* the Lord did things this way. I was always confused by the question: why?
It always seemed to me a very strange way of doing things. Wasn’t the Lord tricking Adam and Eve? Why give them one commandment that they cannot fulfill without breaking the second commandment? Why not give them the second commandment first and then once they broke that commandment introduce the first commandment? Why did the Lord not say: “Adam and Eve, now that you have transgressed my law, I give you another law, which is to be fruitful and multiply.”
Or, one must ask: why not just create a world that already had sin and then allow Adam and Eve to overcome that sin in the world? Of course, we know why God did not create a world where Adam and Eve would not have had the choice to sin — that was part of Satan’s evil plan. But many secular people often ask themselves: “why does the Lord (if there is such a thing as God) allow bad things to happen to good people? Why does a good God allow bad things to happen?”
Here is what I am finally beginning to understand: the Lord’s plan really was “the only way.” All of the other possibilities are problematic, whereas the Lord’s plan was perfect.
1 Nephi 3:7 states ‘… the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” This gives us a hint as to why the Lord’s plan works.
The Lord’s commandment not to eat of the tree was not a “trick.” It was a way for Adam and Eve to faithfully fulfill the first commandment, which was to be fruitful and multiply. The process was extremely important because it deeply emphasized free will. Adam and Eve had to make the decision of their own choice, which meant committing a transgression so they could fulfill the first commandment. Eve figured out that committing the transgression was the only way.
Elder Oaks explains that there is a big difference between a sin and a transgression, and this is key to the entire plan:
Some acts, like murder, are crimes because they are inherently wrong. Other acts, like operating without a license, are crimes only because they are legally prohibited. Under these distinctions, the act that produced the Fall was not a sin—inherently wrong—but a transgression—wrong because it was formally prohibited. These words are not always used to denote something different, but this distinction seems meaningful in the circumstances of the Fall. (Dallin H. Oaks, “The Great Plan of Happiness,” Ensign, November 1993)
The entire process of course created the need for a Savior who would suffer Himself for Adam and Eve’s transgressions — and for all of the sins and transgressions of the children of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve suffered two things after the Fall: a spiritual death and a separation from God. The Savior’s Atonement brings us immortality (ending spiritual death) and brings us the possibility of being united with God forever (eternal life).
And of course another possible alternate plan — that Adam and Eve come to a world that already had sin in it would mean that sin would be created by the Lord, not by Adam and Eve. And the Lord cannot be responsible for sin.
So, why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? It all stems back to Adam and Eve’s choice. The only way the Plan of Salvation could progress was for our first parents to make a decision that was not necessarily good for them personally but was necessary for all mankind.
Elder John A. Widtsoe said:
“In life all must choose at times. Sometimes, two possibilities are good; neither is evil. Usually, however, one is of greater import than the other. When in doubt, each must choose that which concerns the good of others—the greater law—rather than that which chiefly benefits ourselves—the lesser law. The greater must be balanced against the lesser. The greater must be chosen whether it be law or thing. That was the choice made in Eden.” (John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1943))
If Adam and Eve had only cared about themselves, they could have stayed in the Garden of Eden forever. But Eve correctly discerned that this would not allow them to have children and grandchildren and on an on, and therefore the billions of people sent to Earth would have no place to go.
The greater good was to commit a transgression so that billions could come to Earth and eventually have immortality and a chance at eternal life. This is the greatest gift of all, the chance at being with Heavenly Father forever. So, the suffering in life — all of the tragedies we go through from earthquakes to floods to famine to war to crime and death — all of this suffering is necessary so that we can get a chance at joy forever. Our time on this Earth is short compared to the eternities. Eve figured that out and convinced Adam. That was one of humanity’s greatest moments.
Geoff, you have some good thoughts. Although I do not think we really will know all of the answers in this life, there are many good ideas that apply to us that we can glean from the temple and creation stories. I fully agree that God did not set up a “trick” and that agency was at the heart of the situation in The Garden. And I really like your thoughts in the final two paragraphs.
I do not think that any of the following is inappropriate, but if you think so, feel free to delete.
I think, though, that we sometimes get too linear in thinking that what happened in The Garden is the only way that it could have happened. Remember that deception (or beguiling) was involved by someone who is a known liar. We can easily surmise that there are other worlds where something similar played out, yet must also have been different somehow. That perhaps someone tried to change the timing or order of events by taking authority unto himself.
Additionally, God sometimes gives mankind “temporary” commandments. Certain things that we are to do until something else is fulfilled. There are sometimes certain things that we should not do until certain covenants are made. There is occasionally the institution of some programs or procedures for certain circumstances that cause some people consternation as things change. (And we do this with our children all of the time as well as they learn, grow, and circumstances change.)
I am not saying that there definitively was another way or that things did not play out in exactly the way that Heavenly Father wanted. I have no idea. But because He does allow us agency, we should be open to the idea that He planned for various possibilities. There had to be a reason why He was coming back to visit Adam and Eve. In my opinion, it was probably not just to say hi. I am pretty sure it was more than that if one ponders what one hears.
I am grateful for an omniscient Father in Heaven that has a true eternal plan that covers all of the variables and all of our needs in order to do what is truly best for His children, regardless of who might try to interfere with (or unwittingly progress) the real plan. And just as grateful for a Savior that was willing to be the key part of His plan.
We discussed this today in our family CFM lesson. God did not make a fallen world, as you said A&E had to make the choice. But we learn in the scriptures and thru worship in the temple that the Plan of Salvation, and everything that is part of this plan was created, accounted for and set up before the earth was created. The Fall was one more way, as well, for the Lord to show his power, his love and his mercy to us, in that our Savor was provided for us in the beginning. And as Eve says in the Book of Moses, because of our transgression we knew joy thru our children. And we *are* that we might have joy.
A side consideration I often end up mentioning in any conversation about this: we don’t know how long A&E spent in the garden figuring this out. It may well have been many years. After all, somehow they were able to leave the garden and not immediately die of starvation, disease, or exposure.
What’s that got to do with anything? Good question. But it feels like a relevant detail in some way.
Lattertarian, I had a similar realization a while back. Adam & Eve could have been living in the garden for 100 million years before they decided to go the “knowledge of good & evil” route. God’s plan and individual accountability don’t work if God takes agency away from us. The Fall (physical & spiritual death) had to be the result of a choice they made freely, and interestingly, together.
Ben Wilcox (who does the ‘Teaching With Power’ very good study and teaching help series) also presented the option that Mike did here.
Although the understanding that God set things up so that Adam and Eve could make the choice themselves is really good to get to, I’ve also felt unsure or uncomfortable about the idea that God knew they would have to commit a transgression in order to do that, and set it up so that was the only way they could set the Plan in motion.
So considering that yes, they did have to Fall, as we know, but didn’t have to do that through disobedience, solves that concern. Satan’s tempting of Eve sounds similar to his tempting of Cain (although the person being tempted was in a very different spot motivationally/spiritually, etc.): he directed them to do something that needed to happen anyway, or that God commanded. The problem was that they would do it because of that, and not because God commanded it. Of course, Eve thought about it and came to the conclusion that she should – the part that Satan played was to jolt her into that, in his own way.
How else might it have happened? Would God have come to teach them about the Plan later? That would have been like anyone else hearing the Gospel and then making their decision. Otherwise, you have to think of Satan as being ‘necessary’ to the Fall – that there was a part he was destined to play, and God waited for that to happen. Perhaps he was. But it seems weird, I think.
In this view, the transgression wasn’t actually partaking of the fruit, but doing it without consulting God/before He had taught them/because of Satan’s half-truths. That seems more right to me.