We were driving home from Easter Dinner the other night, and Riley started asking questions… Her most common questions these days are “how do they make XYZ” (to which she quickly throws in “don’t say in a factory!” :-/ ) and “why…?” Why to just about anything.
Somewhat out of the blue came the following two questions:
1) Who did Cain and Able marry?
2) Why did God tell Adam and Eve not to eat the apple… And then as the discussion went on, Why did God put the tree there anyway?
Now #1 seems to be a pretty common question — it showed up in Carl Sagan’s book and movie “Contact,” for example, though I am not so sure how many 5 year olds ask it!. I actually had to go out and do some reading about it as I wasn’t sure of the exact answer, and rather than try to make something up, I’d much rather tell Riley that I’m not sure but I will try to find out.
Some folks may say God had already put other people (other in the sense of Adam and Eve not being their parents) outside of the Garden of Eden, though that is certainly not the “conservative” answer. Most would point out that after the Bible mentions Cain and Able, it goes on to mention Adam and Eve also gave birth to Seth (Gen 4:25), and later that he had “other sons and daughters” (Gen 5:3). The order of things may be a bit muddled as the verses are in the order of Adam and Eve giving birth to Cain, then Able, and then Seth, but that is not necessarily their true birth order. No dates or times are mentioned other then Seth being born when Adam was 130. And even if that is the true birth order, the order of Able’s murder at the hand of Cain and then Cain marrying may be such that Seth and the other sons and daughters were born before the murder and subsequent expulsion of Cain from Eden… At any rate, the answer is Cain married (one of) his sisters… Further explanations as to why that was ok back then vs. why it would not be now are mostly centered around the purity of the gene pull then vs. the mutations since, and the problems such a brother/sister marriage and subsequent children would probably yield due to the current gene pool. But that part is beyond the answer I would give to Riley! :-)
#2 is a bit harder, and there are a lot of angles to look at it… The 1st part — why did God tell them not to eat the apple — is somewhat easier, though framing any answer for a 5 year old is tough… We put it this way: God puts in an order and outlines the consequences of not following it. Then the choice is up to Adam and Eve. You can talk about love and obedience, and you can talk about consequences for disobeying…
But the 2nd part is harder… Why did God put it there to begin with? I don’t really know the answer, and I tried to be honest and tell Riley that. Was it a test? A test God knew they would fail? Was he deliberately setting them up for failure? (Those are my line of questions based on her questions, not ones she actually asked!)
Now that I have had time to think about it, I would answer as follows, though this is not really an answer for a 5 year old. (And this is somewhat off the cuff as I have not done any research into any theological explanations…) But basically, if Adam and Eve were free to do whatever they wanted in the Garden, and there was nothing they could do wrong, there would never be a true option of choice. God wanted us to have free will, so he had to put (at least) one thing in the Garden that gave them a choice of obeying or disobeying Him.
Framing this to be personally relevant to a 5 year old, I think I would put it as follows. As parents, we are trying to raise you so that some day when you are on your own, you will be able to make right choices without us. So as you grow up and mature, we will give you more freedom, and therefore more chances to make decisions without us (i.e. to choose). We hope that everything we have done to date has led you to the place where you will make the right choices. We do know that you won’t be perfect and that you will make some mistakes, but that we will be here for you.
If anyone has any real theological answers from Bible commentaries, etc., please let me know. I’ll try to find some time to look into it further as well.