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Was it fair for God to punish Adam and Eve with death for disobeying Him?

To listen to Nancy's answer recorded live on Moody radio, click here

When God created the first man and first woman, He placed them in the Garden of Eden where they lived with God in an environment that was perfect with streams, trees, bushes, flowers and animals. They were designed to live there forever with God in perfect harmony with love and obedience. They were not robots; from the very beginning. God gave them the ability to choose and He put them to the test. He told them both that the only tree not to eat from was the tree of good and evil. "Do not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die" (Genesis 2:17). Some think that Adam and Eve's punishment for disobedience was cruel, because, before they ate the forbidden fruit, they could not have known good and evil.

Adam and Eve were very much aware of what was right and wrong. All mankind is born with a conscience. Romans 2:14-15 Paul wrote, "Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them." It is true that Adam and Eve had no personal experience with evil, but they didn't have to; it was a matter of obedience.

Adam and Eve knew the difference between right and wrong, because they were created with that understanding; it's just that they just hadn't experienced it personally until they sinned. Given their lack of experience, their being deceived by the serpent may be understandable, but it is not excusable. They both had the understanding and the ability to obey, but they disobeyed anyway.

"Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'?" And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'" But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:1-5).

Death exists in the world today because of sin. God did not punish Adam and Eve with death for simply "not knowing" something but for acting against what they already knew to be right. Death was a consequence of their disobedience and their heart choice to be like God, not their ignorance.

The mystery of this incidence is that God had made Himself known to them on a personal level. He loved and blessed them and enjoyed spending time together. They were well taken care of and had never been lied to or betrayed by God. Yet, in spite of all of their blessings, Adam and Eve listened instead to the serpent, whom they had just met. He caused them to doubt and contradicted what God had told them by making God out to be a liar. The serpent had done nothing to provide for Adam and Eve or to love or care for them. Eve had no reason at all, as far as we know, to trust what the serpent said. The serpent was convincing and promised them they could be "like God," which is exactly what got Satan kicked out of Heaven. Adam and Eve chose to sin and became like Satan in their disobedience and were then ushered out of the garden that God had prepared for them. The penalty was death. It did not come instantly, but eternal life was no longer available to them. They, and all who followed them, would die.

The beautiful thing about God is that He did not stop loving them, but immediately made provisions for all of humankind with the promise of a savior who would die for the sins of all humans. God said, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel" Genesis 3:15. This is the gospel! Despite Adam and Eve's sin as well as the sin that all humans have displayed ever since God continues to reach out to us in love. This is very good news, indeed!

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