Of course we know that the story of that very first Garden is marked by sorrow. Placed in paradise, and given purpose with the command to care for it and enjoy the gift of creation, humanity instead chose sin and rejection.
I remember the first time I began to understand the impact of the choices humanity made then and continues to make now. As I read and re-read the story of Eden, I began to wonder, “Why did God give us a choice at all? Why didn’t He just make us obey Him?”
It took some time, but I realised the question I was truly asking was, “Why did God give humanity such power?”
When we look at the suffering in the world, the pain and injustice, and the way that humans treat one another, we do find ourselves with brokenness in our hearts and blood on our hands as humanity.
But more than that, when we personally look at the years of our lives, we almost certainly find moment after moment when we hurt another person, or found ourselves wounded… when we chose money or things or power over loving another… when our selfishness drove us to choices that ended up breaking the heart of someone or scarring their lives… or perhaps we find ourselves living with the pain from indifference or abuse from someone else.
All of that pain and suffering stems from the choices that we have made. Choices that we were able to make because God gave humanity such power: the power to choose to love or to choose to reject God and His love.
But the reality is that without choice, there can be no love. Love only exists when we can choose to give it away or withhold it. If we cannot choose, we don’t truly love and in fact, can never truly love.
Love exists only where the choice to not love is also possible.
The wonderful thing about my relationship with my wife is that she gives her love to me freely. The way that we interact with one another impacts the nature of that love, and she is always free to withhold love from me.
But she doesn’t withhold her love.
Instead she loves me through every circumstance we face together, even when she could choose not to do so, and that is what makes her love so beautiful.
If she were a robot, programmed to act like she loves me, no matter the circumstances, then it wouldn’t be love and it wouldn’t be treasured. We wouldn’t share a relationship, we’d simply share a working agreement.
In the same way, we were created to be powerful, complex, and connected beings. And our connections were meant to be marked by love… love that we choose to give… love that we want to give… love that we delight in giving.
If we are required to love, it’s no longer love at all.
Of course this means that the most powerful Being in all of the universe, God, opened Himself up to rejection by giving us choice. It’s astounding to realise that God’s heart was big enough in Creation to make room for us to choose to love Him or not.
God designed us to be loved and to love… and in that first Garden, He gave us the power of choice to love Him in response. Sadly, we chose not to love Him, rejecting His blessings, and soon found our world in a heart-breaking state of sorrow.
But the story of Easter is that He chose to love us still. In fact, in that first garden He began to set in place a pathway for us to be restored through such an extraordinary act of love that all of humanity’s story would hinge upon its marvellous arc.