Really, the Christian Story is a fairly simple one. God created a world that was good—beautiful, well-suited for its purpose. Humanity, created in God’s image, was the pinnacle of creation, and was given the vocation of ruling over, tending, and cultivating what God had made.
But something went wrong. Rather than living according to the standard that God had set up, Adam and Eve determine to go their own way, and in choosing to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree, grasp for moral autonomy. The results are disastrous as sin enters into the world, damaging the relationship between humanity and God, damaging the relationship between humans, damaging the way we view ourselves, and actively placing a curse on the good creation that God had made.
The rest of the Christian Story is basically the account of God working to redeem and undo the damage that was done in Eden (and continues to be done) when men and women seek moral autonomy for themselves. That redemption and undoing was definitely accomplished in the work of Jesus on the cross, but will ultimately come when death dies, God establishes the New Heavens and New Earth, and dwells with His people forever (1 Corinthians 15, Revelation 21).
Not too long ago, I was summarizing this story to a group of teenagers at a weekend retreat that I was speaking at, and after I finished, a young man came up and asked me a great question: “If Adam and Eve’s sin caused so much damage, and God knew that they were going to do it, why did He create them with free will in the first place?”
This is a common enough question, but it’s a great question. It’s a thinking question, and I was proud of the young man for asking it (Incidentally, the question presumes that God has exhaustive foreknowledge of the future. I am fine with that, but not all Christians agree with that presupposition. See these posts.).
How would you answer the question? The typical answer that is given is that God created out of love, wants His creation to love Him in return, and the only way for that to truly happen is if humans were created with the power to choose: love is only real if it is chosen, not forced. Typically, this is illustrated with the example of parents: parents want their kids to obey them, but they don’t want programmed robots; they want their children to lovingly obey them. And it is the same with God.
But this isn’t the metaphor I used with this young man, since I have found that parental metaphors are not particularly relatable to people who haven’t yet been parents. Instead, I said this: “Imagine there was a girl you really really liked. Everything about her was perfect. You are 100% convinced that this is the girl that you want to spend the rest of your life with. Now let’s also say that you had a magic love potion that you could give this girl that would make her love you forever. She would never know about it, but as soon as she took it, she would always love you faithfully. Would you give her the potion?”
Pretty quickly, the young man responded that he wouldn’t. When I asked him why not, he said, “Because it wouldn’t be real love.” And then, he got it.
Real love is at the heart of the Christian Story. Not coercive love. Not programmed love. Not love-potion love.
With all the freedom in the world, God chose to create us, and chose to redeem us through His Incarnate Son. And in response to the love that God has first shown us, He invites us to freely love Him in return.