Autonomy was given by God when He created Adam and Eve. Along with the ability to make their own choices, He gave them a beautiful place to live, and He gave Himself. The garden provided for all their needs and He communed with them regularly. There was one simple command, not to eat from the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” The penalty for disobedience: “you shall surely die.”
As everyone knows, Adam and Eve ate from the tree and did not die. Instead, God provided for them out of His great love for His creation. There is a question that comes up again and again as we analyze the actions of Adam and Eve. Why did God create human beings and give them brains as sophisticated as ours as well as the ability to choose what actions they would or would not engage? Greater minds than mine have answered this question, writing entire books on the subject.
As an act of autonomy, I will give you my take. Everything God created through the fifth day was preparation for His ultimate creation on the sixth day, mankind. Mankind, the crowning glory of God’s creation, was made in His own image. So, why did God create man? The way I understand it, He created a being with whom a reciprocal relationship would not only be possible, but would be joyfully chosen by those beings. God wanted to pour out his love upon mankind. He still wants to pour His love upon us. We have the autonomy to choose whether or not to accept His love.
God provided a safe home in the garden where Adam and Eve could enjoy each other. The garden was also conducive to a personal, face to face, relationship with God. Ironically, the very autonomy given by God was the cause of Adam’s and Eve’s rejection from the garden. They had the choice whether or not to follow God’s simple rule and chose to go against God. Mankind continues to make this same choice to go against God to this day.
Some argue against the existene of God because He did not take vengance on Adam and Eve and cause them to “die” as He has promised. God, out of his infinite love for his creation, made provision for their survival. For the first time since He created the world and all of its creatures, God killed an animal and used the skin to fashion clothing for Adam and Eve. God had compassion on his creation and provided for their need to be reconciled to Him through the death of this animal. He also made them comfortable by providing a way for them to cover their nakedness.
It must have been an awesome and frightening flooding of the mind for Adam and Eve to receive the knowledge of good and evil. Imagine, innocence shattered and suddenly feeling, experiencing, and understanding the consequence of disobedience. Prior to eating from the tree, disobedience would have been a foreign concept understood only through the lens of innocence.
Adam and Eve had probably not considered ignoring God’s instruction.
Blind obedience is not what God wants in His relationship with us. Therefore, God allowed the tempter to enter the garden. God’s desire for a truly reciprocal relationship required Adam and Eve make the choice to engage in the relationship with Him. Until the serpent entered the scene, Adam and Eve had no reason to consider making a different choice. Unfortunately, they made the wrong choice and now had to eek out a living from the earth on their own.
The similarities to today are striking. Like Adam and Eve as long as things are going along well, we like to let things continue status quo. The difference, today we make choices every day that go against God’s commandments. What, you mean like the ten commandments? In a way yes! First, love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. Second, love your neighbor as yourself. Sounds completely different though doesn’t it?
Christ summed up the commandments so simply that it would be impossible for us to think we would measure up. Exercising our autonomy, we will always make choices benefitting ourselves, even if they appear altruistic. In our altruism, we seek recognition and praise placing the focus on ourselves (we can be too close to the situation to see it). Choices and actions that self seeking exclude us from truly loving God and our neighbor.
It kind of makes autonomy sound like a bad thing. It’s not, it’s part of who we are and how God created us.