In the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, as God introduced Adam to his new home, God gave Adam a single command, a Law; it was a dietary command: Of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, thou shalt not eat of it. (Ge 2:16-17) It was very direct, simple and clear, placing a boundary on Adam’s behavior.
We may be accustomed to asking The Big Why, trying to understand the purpose of God’s Law. If we think we understand the purpose, are we more inclined to obey a divine law if we think it’s good for us? Otherwise, do we tend to give it less importance, perhaps even ignore it as irrelevant or unnecessary?
We might do the same with this first command, asking what God’s intent was in giving it to Adam.
Was it to protect Adam? Does a good father leave poison candy out on the counter and tell his son not to eat it? I think not; we keep poison out of reach of children, under lock and key.
Was it to give Adam understanding and instruction in how to live? Again, do we teach young children about guns by leaving them unsupervised, playing around with loaded weapons? No, we carefully show them how to use guns safely, and supervise them until they’ve have earned our trust.
Then was God simply giving Adam a very clear choice? Love and honor Me by submitting to Me as God, or don’t: you’re free to reject Me, to go your own way and suffer the consequences. Adam had Free Will; and God was giving him the opportunity to express it. If there’s any other possible motive in giving such a law as God first gave Adam, I’ve not seen it.
Perhaps there’s a hint in the very name of this forbidden tree: the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. It’s an appealing name, as if to call Adam to trust that God knows best, to continually deny himself this forbidden knowledge in order to commune with God. It’s as if God doesn’t want a relationship where He’s not respected, valued above all. And why not? Would Perfect Love allow anything less?
If this actually is God’s purpose and intent in His very first law, which seems likely, could this be so with the rest of His Laws? Giving us the opportunity to show Him we love Him? Again, Why not? Does God ever tell us this is the primary purpose of the Law?
God does, in fact, define what it means to love Him in these very terms: For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. (1Jn 5:3a) And He describes those who do love Him similarly: If a man love me, he will keep my words … He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings. (Jn 14:23) God has given us His Law so we might show Him we love Him; if we don’t obey Him, we don’t love Him. (24) Thinking otherwise is self-deception. (Lk 6:46)
We reveal who we are by our response to God’s Law: we’re either children of disobedience (Ep 5:6), deliberately breaking His laws as we like, or we’re children of light (8), doing our best to obey Him as well as we can.