BY EDWIN R. CATACUTAN
LET ME start with the Bible first, then I go to President Duterte.
Genesis 2:16-17 says that: “16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (ESV)
In a summit in Davao City on June 22, 2018, President Duterte was reported to have said: “Kinain ni Adam (Adam ate it) then malice was born. Who is this stupid God? Istupido talaga itong putang ina kung ganoon (That son of a bitch is stupid if that’s the case),” and “You created something perfect and then you think of an event that would tempt and destroy the quality of your work,” he continued.
Everyone then from all corners went on to respond to the President — as such statement from the gentleman who holds the highest political position of the country — ought to be responded to.
The responses, however, missed the deep theological questions generated by the statement of the President which are also in the heart of every Christian (I mean those who believe in the God of the Bible who is also the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) and of the unbelievers alike.
Embedded in the statement of the President are the following serious questions: Is it rational for God to pronounce death on Adam for eating the wrong fruit? Is He a loving God to allow the possibility of imposition of such a penalty? Couldn’t the world and the universe go on without the prohibition and the penalty pronounced in Genesis 2:16-17?
The true essence of the question(s) of the President is shadowed or colored by his style and the position that he holds, but they still remain unanswered. I am a lawyer, not a theologian, but I believe that law and theology are, in a sense, continuum. Let me hazard an answer by quoting from Chapters 3 and 4 of my book, Creation, Fall and Redemption (first published in 2010):
“It was only at this stage of completion that God said of His entire creation that “it was very good”. He said that not to man, but to the whole creation — the creation that has man at its apex, behaving with the empowerment and relatedness to the other creatures on earth that God had prescribed. As God rules the entire cosmic universe, so man in God’s “likeness” also governs earth. And in the process, man relates to the entire universe as he moves and behaves in accordance with the purpose that God had created him for.
So, at the end of the creation chapter of Genesis, God never commented on man alone, as man is never a standalone creature. Man would lose his purpose if he stands apart from the entire creation, or when he abuses it or exploits it. In fact, in Genesis 2:15,
“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to take care of it.” God’s mandate for man in his relation to nature is stewardship; not destruction.
For a while then, the entire creation was “very good”. With all the vastness of the universe and the complexities of the life forms on Earth (and the uniqueness of man), it took God just the thirty verses of Chapter 1 of Genesis to describe His creative process. This is so, for Verse 31, the last verse, is not a creation verse but simply God’s statement of appreciation of His finished work.
The book of Genesis which started with a verse, “In the beginning …” ended with a mighty declaration in Verse 31 that “it was very good”.
To God, the unfallen man is not a separated creature, but the crowning glory of His entire creation, making the entire creation complete and “very good”.
There was just, however, one commandment from God for Adam to follow so that the state of being “very good” of the entire creation will be maintained. That was, the command for him not to eat from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” for in the “day” he eats of it he “shall surely die,” as stated in Genesis 2:17.
Did this state of being “very good” for the entire universe last forever? Of course we know the answer from the Bible that it did not.
What took God thirty verses to create, took only one verse for man to spoil everything. For in Genesis 3:6, man ate of the forbidden fruit. In this verse, man exercised his free will to disobey and morally rebel against God. Man violated God’s command in Genesis 2:17.
The choice to eat or not to eat the prohibited fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was an occasion for man to use his moral free will. It was the single chance for man then to exercise his free choice to obey or to disobey God. It was above all the necessary window of opportunity to God to comply with His word that, like Him, man too has a free moral choice.
Of course, there could have been no penalty of death for eating the fruit of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” had there been no law imposing it. The jurists have a Latin maxim for the situation, Nulum cremin, nulla poena, sine lege (“There is no crime if there is no law punishing it.”). But if there had been no such law, what would that have made out of God who wanted to keep his His word? His word that man was created in His own “image” and “likeness” and therefore has free moral choice. Shouldn’t He rather allow man an occasion to exercise that freedom of choice?
Without at least that one possibility and opportunity for man to exercise such choice occasioned by the Genesis 2:17 prohibition, God would end up contradicting Himself. For then, man’s freedom to choose would just be an illusion and therefore non-existent as it could never be exercised at all.”
God has intended to create a moral world — a moral universe for that matter. Freedom of choice is a basic assumption for morality. The rocks and stones can sing praises to God, if He wills it, but we all know that that is not what He wants. He desires the worship of man who is free to disobey or obey Him. Is it rational then for God to give Adam at least one chance or window of opportunity to exercise the choice? What happens if man makes the wrong choice? Then, He designed a redemption process, by grace, through Jesus to cover that possibility.
Read your Bible./PN