The Garden of Eden was a place of unimaginable beauty, prepared by God specifically for humans to enjoy. It had trees that were “pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Genesis 2:9), it was watered well by four rivers, and it abounded in precious metals and stones. All of this was for the humans who God had placed in the garden to enjoy.
God expressed his generosity to Adam in this way: “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden” (verse 16). The only exception was that Adam was not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In fact, there were two special trees in garden: this tree and the tree of life. The tree of life is mentioned elsewhere in the Bible, but its role in the Garden of Eden was minimal; the tree of knowledge is the significant one here.
What was it about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that placed it off-limits to humans? Nothing in the Bible suggests that it was poisonous or that its physical properties were extraordinary. Most likely, it was simply an arbitrary tree designated by God to be the tree that would test Adam and Eve’s obedience.
Schlors have long debated the significance of this tree. One theory is that the tree represents moral autonomy—that is, the human desire to live apart from God. Humans were created in God’s image, and he provided for all their needs. They were meant to live in close relationship with him. Sadly, when Adam and Eve sinned this relationship was broken, and they hid themselves from God.
When God prohibited Adam and Eve from eating of this tree, he was underscoring the fact that he wanted to be their God and their provider. When they violated his command, they became in a sense “like God” knowing of good and evil (Genesis 3:5); but this was a burden they could not handle, since their created purpose was to live in total dependence on him, not independently of him. For this denial of their dependence on God, Adam and Eve were driven out of the garden that was in Eden, never to return.