In my last study I examined how God gives us laws so that we may receive blessings and grow spiritually. But then we require a Savior to save us, because inevitably we end up breaking those laws instead. It frankly seems like a very roundabout way of doing things, which would suggest that there is more to the story.
Our problem, of course, comes from the fact that there is a good part to our nature (the spiritual), and a bad part (the carnal). If we just didn’t have this carnal side, then it seems like everything would be solved! We wouldn’t be swayed by temptation, we could effortlessly keep all of God’s laws, and we wouldn’t require saving.
So a few questions naturally arise. Why do we have this carnal side to us then? What is God’s reasoning behind raising imperfect children who require a Savior to rescue them? How does this all fit into His plan?
Genesis 2:8-9, 16-17; 3:6-7, 22
And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.
And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
And the eyes of them both were opened.
And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.
And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow…the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
I personally cannot accept the notion that the Fall of mankind was somehow an accident, or in any way contrary to God’s plan for us. If God did not want Adam and Eve to ever leave the Garden of Eden the solution would be simple: just don’t plant the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the first place!
But God did plant it. And I think that’s an important detail as well. God planted it. It was not a tree created by Satan, its fruit was the creation of the ultimate source of good in the universe.
However God did not stop with planting this tree either, He also planted the idea. By calling it out directly and placing a stipulation that whoever eats of it will become mortal, He is laying the law for Adam and Eve’s eventual fall.
A tree to be desired to make one wise
And the eyes of them both were opened
The man is become as one of us, to know good and evil
Did Adam and Eve bring mortality, sickness, and sorrow upon the human race through their decision? Yes. But there was a blessing mingled with that curse: Adam and Eve and all their posterity gained understanding, the ability to discern between right and wrong. And as we will see in later passages this study, this knowledge was something God always intended for us to obtain.
I’m going to go ahead and give my own opinions right now. This is my personal reasoning, and you are free to disagree with it. But to me this sequence is confusing so long as I view it as God making a commandment, and them breaking it. What makes more sense to me is God giving them a choice, and them deciding which path they wish to follow.
Could it be that God was saying to them: “This tree will give you knowledge of good and evil, a truly wonderful gift. But to be able to comprehend evil would make you susceptible to it as well. As such you would not be able to stay in this pristine and sterile garden. You would have to leave, and you would have to die. You can stay here in perfection but never have knowledge, or you can persevere through anguish to find true joy. The choice is yours.”
Could it be that God was proud of their choice, even as His own rules required banishing them to this world? Personally, I think so.
2 Nephi 2:11
For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.
For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things
Life without contrast would be meaningless. If there were not two separate states then one would not require any action to reach the desired state, they would already be there. If there were two separate states, but no medium of resistance between them, then one would not require any effort to reach the desired state, they would transition freely.
Doing good would be meaningless, if good was the only option. Doing good would also meaningless, if evil existed, but there was no temptation to perform it. We call someone’s actions good because of how they overcome the opposition to do that good.
Having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility
Adam and Eve may have had the perfect paradise in Eden, but could they possibly have realized such? Could they be grateful for health and comfort having never experienced sickness or pain? Could they be happy having never felt sorrowful? Was giving birth to children even an option when there wasn’t a possibility for death at the other end of the spectrum?
God does want us to be innocent, but can we say He wants us to be ignorant?
In the Garden of Eden everything was clean, but it meant nothing because filthiness wasn’t an option. Again, if all God wanted was cleanliness, all He had to do was not plant a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. But He did, and through that filthiness entered the world, and now being restored to cleanliness requires a difficult path of repentance on our part and the sacrifice of God’s Son. Wouldn’t this suggest that the difficult path was His intention for us? That the value is in the struggle?
2 Nephi 2:22-25
And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.
And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.
But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.
Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.
Having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin
It is true that one cannot see in pitch darkness. But also one cannot see in blinding light. Vision only works by varying degrees of contrast between the two. Damnation can be living in a state of suffering, but it can also be living in a state of complete numbness. At its root damnation means simply to never progress, and one cannot progress if there do not exist both forces and opposite forces. It is only in the interplay of these contrasting forces that an entity is able to move, to turn, to reach a destination.
Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy
All things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things
If Adam fell to allow our existence, and our existence is to come to God and find everlasting joy, then Adam fell for our everlasting joy. This suggests that this world of good and evil was always part of the plan. Personally that brings me a great deal of comfort. It means that the path of humanity never wandered outside of God’s agenda.
It also means that my being born with flaws was not a flaw in the system. I was intended to be imperfect, so that I could grow from wrestling with those imperfections. It is a struggle, to be sure, but it is made a little bit lighter by knowing that it is supposed to be a struggle.
And the Lord spake unto Adam, saying: Inasmuch as thy children are conceived in sin, even so when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts, and they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good.
And it is given unto them to know good from evil; wherefore they are agents unto themselves, and I have given unto you another law and commandment.
They taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good
How do you know that you want to go to heaven? Because you have been told it is a place of peace and love. How do you know that you do not want to go to hell? Because you have been told it is a place of suffering and sorrow. But how do you know that you want peace and love, rather than suffering and sorrow? Because you have experience both, and therefore know which experience is pleasurable and which is painful. Even before you committed your first sin, you were educated on the differences between the two so thoroughly that you cannot mistake one for the other.
If you had never received that education, words like peace, love, pleasure, good, suffering, sorrow, pain, and evil would merely be words. Meaningless, and impossible to judge one against the other.
Wherefore they are agents unto themselves
So what is our purpose here on Earth? To gain knowledge, to learn the difference between good and evil, and to choose the better part. Because of our awareness we are able to choose a path. Not only that, but we can also turn to another path if we later change our choice. We are free to be our own agent, to steer ourselves to our own destination. We are not be some dumb entity that is puppeteered into its destiny, we choose it for ourselves.
And that is truly something worthy. For this, a God would die.
Ether 12:27, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
I give unto men weakness that they may be humble
One thing about the garden of Eden is that once there, Adam and Eve really didn’t need God in their lives. They needed Him to create them and to plant a garden that would cater to their every need, but after that they lacked for nothing and could have continued forever with no further involvement from Him again.
But that isn’t how humanity was designed to live. We come from God, and so we have a hole in us that only He can fill. Each one of us is born with flaws, things that undermine our attempt to be entirely self-sufficient. No matter how firmly we deny it, we have weakness that are just too big for us to handle on our own. We need help.
Then will I make weak things become strong unto them
For when I am weak, then am I strong
But if there were no weakness, there could not be any strength. There is no value in a victory that was gained without opposition. No muscle grows without resistance. The man who has been beset by lust, but with God’s help has mastered his passions is strong in his fidelity because it takes strength to maintain it. The woman who is weighed down by shame but has embraced God’s message of inherent worth is powerful in her self-love because she puts effort into sustaining it.
The notion of a dual nature has long existed in many different cultures and religious beliefs. One side is generally considered to be good, while the other is not. The way that “bad half” is viewed varies greatly, though. Is it something to be ashamed of and to wish we could be rid of? Is it something to give in to by letting go of all our inhibitions? Is there some sort of balance that has to be maintained between the two, neither allowing ourselves to become “too” good or “too” bad?
Alongside of these questions is the one of basic human nature. Evidently we have a good and a bad part, but which represents the real us. Are humans fundamentally good or evil?
I hope this study has been helpful to any seeking answers to these questions. I have been touched in this research to find that God’s opinion of our good-but-flawed selves is one of care, patience, and understanding. He wants us to embrace our best selves, but He also knows it is beyond us to do on our own.
Imperfection is Necessary for the Pursuit of Perfection
The existence of both good and evil is essential, so that we may define ourselves in relation to those two. Each of them presents certain pros and cons. On the one hand we have to exercise patience but will receive eternal joy, on the other we receive instantaneous gratification but will suffer for it afterwards.
Though to the rational mind the correct decision may seem obvious, our mortal shell’s are deeply swayed by the promises of carnal pleasure. This sets the stage for inherent conflict. There is no way to progress down a path of good without being beset by attacks from our own body. There is no way to progress down a path of evil without being panged by the pleadings of our own conscience. We are locked in the most difficult war possible: the war with ourselves. To reach either potential destiny requires overcoming one side of our nature or the other.
2 Nephi 2:11- For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.
Moses 6:55- They taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good
The Struggle Protects Our Freedom
This natural opposition that exists down each path ensures that each step is made consciously and intentionally. Not a one of us will accidentally fall into our own salvation, not a one of us will be forced into damnation against our will. When we stand at judgment we will be able to appreciate that what we have become was our own decision.
To remove the struggle would be to remove our agency. It would mean our destiny would be the result of either random chance or another’s will being imposed upon us. God’s desire is not for His children to be good, it is for them to choose to be good, for them to want to be good, for them to prioritize being good over all other ways.
Moses 6:66- And it is given unto them to know good from evil; wherefore they are agents unto themselves
Free Will Comes at a Cost
Necessarily our freedom comes with terrible pain. Not a one of us fights against our evil nature except through great effort, and also moments of defeat. By our struggle we are all made intimately familiar with failure, shame, unworthiness, and isolation. The weight on us is heavy, indeed, but we are not the ones taxed most heavily by it.
If we were left to our own devices, we would indeed gain the knowledge we required, we would learn the value of virtue and the foolishness of sin, and we would ultimately decide that happiness was the path we wished to pursue…only to now find that that way was closed to us forever. Having paid the price to understand, that understanding would be futile if not for an atoning sacrifice to make up for the mistakes we made during our learning experience.
Though at times our lot is hard, God has given the greater sacrifice by far: the life of His perfect Son. The atonement of Jesus Christ not only makes succeeding in this earthly trial possible, it even allows us to hold a miraculous peace and joy while in the midst of it.
Psalm 23:4-6- Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.