In the Garden
Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”
Many people have the impression that God is an authoritarian. They are told about the ten commandments and the many additional rules added by humans not by God that seek to promote levels of obedience and holiness. Human rules about alcohol, dancing, certain types of music, certain types of food are associated with God even though they didn’t come from Him.
God is love. God loves liberty. Liberty is love.
The truth is that God is not an authoritarian. He is the author of liberty. One might ask ‘if God did not want man to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil why did He put the tree in the garden of Eden?’
God knew the risk He was taking by putting that tree in place. He subjected His whole creation to the choices of two people. He valued their liberty so much that He gave them authority over the earth and over the decision whether to obey His instruction or not.
The Christian scriptures are clear in the writings of the Apostle, Paul, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” Romans 8:20, 22
Nevertheless, many people wish that temptation did not exist. Everyone has been tempted through their lives and surrendered to that temptation periodically. Due to the feelings of defeat and even calamity that can come from choices made for destructive things, the many people wish that the subject of their temptation did not exist, that they did not have the opportunity to choose it. Worse still they begin to believe that love means removing the objects of temptation from others so that they would not fall to those choices. This is not God’s way.
If you were asked the question, “what is the greatest gift God gave us?”, what would your response be? Many will respond that the greatest gift is life. Others may say that the greatest gift is Jesus as He gave His life for us. Consider, though, what value those would be if we did not have the liberty to choose. A slave has life but cannot choose freely. The benefits of Jesus’ sacrifice of His life are received by choice. We must choose to believe in Him and His sacrifice for us to enter the Kingdom of God. Without liberty this would not be possible. Without liberty we could not be responsible for our sin. Jesus’ sacrifice would have been in vain.
SO, YOU WANT TO GO BACK TO EGYPT?
Few Christians can imagine that they would be like the people of Israel who grumbled against Moses even after he had led them out of extremely oppressive slavery and hardship. However, this story is repeated with the people of God where they will reject God and the liberty that He provides and voluntarily choose slavery to a human king who abuses them. Somehow the unknown or uncertainty of trusting in God is more to be feared than the certainty of familiar slavery.
The whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The sons of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the LORD’S hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Exodus 16:2-3
NO KING IN ISRAEL
Twice in the book of Judges the author says, “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” Judges 17:6 and 21:25.
Many Christians who do not understand how God values liberty look at this verse and see it as a description of something shameful and awful, a rejection of God. How terrible that every man should be able to do what is right in his own eyes. After all, we know what happened with Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and the generations since. This is a common reaction even to Christians in America. They fear liberty. They fear what their neighbor might do. For them liberty means only anarchy. They refuse to understand that liberty is the condition that God created for humans. God does not regret putting that tree in the garden. God does not regret giving Adam and Eve that choice. He did not make a mistake. It was His design for humans to have such choices and the opportunity to choose right from wrong.
CHOOSING A KING
For over 250 years the people of Israel lived at liberty. Daily they were faced with the same choice as Adam and Eve, to obey God or not. While there were judges to resolve disputes between people, there is no record of law enforcement beyond the family or clan. It was up to each person to obey the laws of the nation and up to their neighbors to carry out any punishment accorded in the law. Over time as compliance with God’s laws declined God withdrew His protection and blessings. This led to war and subjection to the authority of other nations who conquered and abused them.
This cycle repeats many times until the people simply decide that the liberty that God provided was too difficult to live with. They decided that the authority of an earthly King is preferable to the liberty of choice.
“Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; and they said to him, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the LORD. The LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.” - 1 Samuel 8:4-7
They reject God from being King over them with all the liberty that came with that. God pointed out to them what it will be like to have such an earthly King.
“This will be the procedure of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and place them for himself in his chariots and among his horsemen and they will run before his chariots. He will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and of fifties, and some to do his plowing and to reap his harvest and to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will also take your daughters for perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and your vineyards and your olive groves and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your seed and of your vineyards and give to his officers and to his servants. He will also take your male servants and your female servants and your best young men and your donkeys and use them for his work. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his servants. Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”
Nevertheless, the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel, and they said, “No, but there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”
-1 Samuel 8:11-20
From that day, the people of Israel became slaves to their earthly king. God did not make this choice for them. They chose it. God gave them that liberty to choose and honored their choice. He gave them over to the desires of their hearts and the consequences that come with that.
A vast majority of Christians have rejected God and His liberty. Christians have put their trust in human government over God and sought the safety of that not realizing till it is too late that that is an illusion.
It is generally accepted that the original laws given to Moses by God number about 613. This is not absolute in that few can actually clearly identify each one. We can, however, find many in the Torah or Pentateuch, the first 5 books of the Bible. These are the laws that God gave to the people of Israel through Moses to live by.
As noted previously, over time the people grew to ignore many or most of these, leading to cycles of subjection to foreign powers and authorities. They decide that an earthly king would be the right choice to reduce or eliminate these cycles and provide a better, common defense against foreign powers and authorities.
Over a thousand years, the people are slaves either to their own kings or to the kings of foreign powers. The Biblical text reveals the history of this idea as king after king reigns. Some are good and obey God’s Covenant and laws. Others do not. Civil war splits the country into north and south. Their kings have various success defending against foreign powers. The people benefit or suffer from the ambitions and sins of their kings. Even King David, a man after God’s own heart, whom God anointed as king, brought great suffering on the people from his own ambition and sin. He takes another man’s wife and has her husband murdered (2 Samuel 11). Later, he sets about counting the people in a census. This leads to a plague on the people and seventy thousand of the people die (2 Samuel 24).
Finally, the nation is reduced to a shadow of itself through civil war, foreign wars, and captivities. Only a portion of the southern kingdom is restored.
After this time, in an effort to limit the option of breaking God’s laws, religious sects created new laws to govern the people to keep them from breaking God’s given laws. In order to ensure that no one should violate the sabbath by working, they created new laws limiting how many steps one could walk on the sabbath. As we know from the gospels, they even found fault with Jesus healing on the sabbath (Luke 14). These very many laws became an enormous burden on the people.
Jesus reminded the people that the laws were created by God to serve people not to enslave them. He reminded them of what David did when he and his followers were hungry and went into the house of God and ate the consecrated bread which was unlawful (Mark 2). David was not condemned as a law breaker.
When people do not obey His laws, God’s solution is not to create more laws. The apostle, Paul, tells us that God gives people “over” to their own lusts and desires. This means that He does not stop them from making foolish and sinful choices. He allows them to “receive in their own persons the penalty of their error”.
Paul also made a case that laws are ineffective at controlling human behavior.
GOD IS NOT AN AUTHORITARIAN
Authoritarians are constantly seeking to increase laws and rules. Some are canonized into a national register. Some are common laws of a society that change over time. Some are simply the preferences of authoritarians, i.e., “there oughta be a law”, prohibiting what they don’t approve and requiring or forcing what they do. The worst kind are those who seek to create laws and social mores to enforce their own view of morality.
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. “– C.S. Lewis1
The question is whether we are authoritarians. If we are then we are acting contrary to God’s character and purposes. We must walk according to His plan for our lives and leave others to walk likewise. We have no authority from God to remove temptation and choice from anyone’s path.
1 God in the Dock: Essays on Theology (Making of Modern Theology), CS Lewis