A few hours ago, I was at a weekly Bible study I attend at my church, and we were looking at the readings for this Sunday, the first Sunday in Lent. We covered the temptation of Adam and Eve in Eden, the temptation of Jesus in the desert just after his baptism, and Paul's explanation about how Adam's sin brought death to all people but Jesus's sacrifice brought the free gift of redemption to all people. In the course of the discussion, a very interesting question came up.
"Why was the tree of good and evil even in the garden?" Why did God put something there and then ask Adam and Eve not to touch it? Why was the temptation to fall there in the first place? Later we remarked upon the fact that it was the Holy Spirit that led Jesus out into the desert where he was tempted by the devil. There was the question again: why? Why does God let us be tempted?
I think the answer is that God wants us to choose Him, and without temptation there is no choice to be made. God made us all in His image and endowed us with free will. Then He set us free to choose good or evil, and He's been working hard ever since to convince us to choose good, to choose Him. God could have made Eden without the tree of good and evil. He could have made a robotic Adam and Eve who only smiled and did exactly as He asked. But how can one truly love a machine with no independent thought? How could a person with no freedom to choose otherwise truly love God?
So choices are introduced. We have the chance to fail—to disobey, to eat the apple, to believe the devil's crafty lies. But then, through the free gift of Jesus Christ, we also have the choice to accept forgiveness and be reconciled to God. I find it heartening that when God threw Adam and Eve out of Eden, he did not destroy it—to me that symbolizes the hope that one day, thanks to Jesus, we can return.
Not one character in the Bible except Jesus chose God and righteousness every single time. Many of them made mistakes. But how glorious it was when they chose to follow God! Miraculous things happened. Difficult and tragic situations were turned around. Hope was restored. That is the power we have in our choices.
Temptation is real, and God is not the only being who wants us to choose Him. Satan is also trying to win us over to his side, and we have to be aware of the reality and impact of our choices. Both God and Satan are trying to convince us that theirs is the best way, and God is not going to make us deaf to the devil's cajoling. There aren't "good" people who always do good or "bad" people who always choose sin.
Every one of us has the chance—and the God-given right—to choose. We make thousands of these little choices every day, some for righteousness and some for sin. But there is a larger choice that transcends all of that, that defines who we are and where we are going. Do we choose to follow Jesus and to belong to God, or do we choose to follow Satan in an attempt to belong only to ourselves? That's a big choice, and it will guide everything we do in this life and beyond. We need to make sure that we are informed and that we are making the right choice. It's a big responsibility.