To love is to allow choice. Whether our understanding of God leans more towards sovereignty or freewill, most will agree that Adam and Eve had a measure of freedom that we today do not (likely) enjoy. But what we no doubt have in common with Adam and Eve is the human situation: namely, we all have been in relationships where we are not given freedom by those overseeing us or relating to us. To this we respond with frustration and usually the intuition that this “just isn’t right.” Few would say that those who “control us” also love us. And even if we are convinced that this “controlling person” truly does love us, we will likely have to explain to others and carefully emphasize that that person does love us despite their inclination to try to control. So what does this intuition and need to explain point to? That control is inherently unloving. This is a strong statement but should this be doubted just remember, why that feeling that we need to explain how this person does love me although they (try to) control me.
For those of us focuses on God’s sovereignty in our theology, note that this intuition is not nullified by supposing that God controls and rules all things. First, professional theologians who lean calvinistic—but not all see it this way—have developed what is called compatibilistic freedom. There are two versions of it (and maybe more in more technical theology): 1) that we truly make choices and we would not make choices otherwise than the ones we make and 2) that we truly make choices but we could not make choices other than the ones we make. Both of these ways of seeing freedom are a far cry from what most intuitively think freedom is. The point of this paragraph is that even sovereignistic theologians have felt the strength of this intuition—and know (appearance of) the implied ability humans have to make choices demonstrable in Scripture—to such a degree that they have attempted to “make compatible” freedom with sovereignty.
Therefore, that attempting to control is unloving stands across a great span of theological opinions. What we have done here is begin our theologizing (thinking about God) with our human experience. So now, let’s take our human experience and bring it into conversation with Scripture: we are not trying to make Scripture support the point above so much as trying to find if Scripture does support it. If control is inherently unloving, the Genesis narrative surely makes it look as though God gave Adam and Eve choice, even set things up to guarantee it. God comes and goes (walking with Adam in the cool) and so is not “overbearing” by making His presence known at all times—even though He could do this should He have wanted to. Then, the garden is set up with options: so many trees to pick to eat from with God saying, “You can eat of any tree of the garden . . . .” This, of course, implies true choice, what philosophers call significant freewill. But the options are not limited to merely choices that would not risk relationship with God—said differently, not limited to merely good choices. This is where I’ll speculate a bit: God is the author, yes, very definition of the Good. Thus all things good are in the domain and rule of God. Should God have limited Adam and Eve’s choices to merely good ones, this would have been a control designed to guarantee their compliance with His worship, without them even knowing that they could not worship Him. Thus God also offered and set up an option of evil, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Yes, God even permitted a tempter to enter humanity’s world: the devil. God offered choices among the trees, offered choices between good and evil, and allowed an evil being to make evil’s case, to sell rejecting God, to show that there was really a choice whether to remain with God or not. With this said, the Genesis narrative poses circumstances that show design concerned with freedom of choice; and it is this freedom of choice He gives that is part of the foundation for humans to love.
Among human relationships, we must always ask, “Who am I trying to control?” “Am I telling myself that I am controlling for their good?” “Couldn’t God say this by setting up the garden with only good choices?” “And if God allows humans to have sweeping freedom in the garden, how can I steal freedom from another person—after all, if anyone has the right to control, it would be God not me?” The more we try to control, the more difficult cultivating love in our relationships will be.
B. T. Scalise