The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. 16 But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden— except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” (NLT)
If we tell a child they are free to do what they like except for just one thing, chances are they will try to do that one thing. Such is the allure of forbidden fruit. Such a tendency is described in this ancient creation story.
Those first humans had great freedom. The world was theirs to enjoy and nurture. But their freedom was not absolute. They were creatures of God and he had the final say in their destinies. The story speaks of a tree and its fruit, but it could just as easily been a prohibition on crossing a river or picking a flower. The point is that God wanted them to obey his command. To enjoy their freedom they had to recognise its limits.
We can misunderstand just what is forbidden here. The “tree” is not actually the source of knowledge of good and evil despite the way it is described. We can assume the man was aware of good and evil as he decided to pluck the forbidden fruit. He had some knowledge of right and wrong, otherwise he could not be blamed for his choice.
The real issue was that he was warned against becoming the one who decides what is right and wrong. Only God can ultimately do that. Once the man determined to decide for himself how to live, he was lost. He aimed at being godlike, at being independent of God. And ever since, we have been learning the painful lesson that independence is not the same as freedom.