One of the most frequent questions I get from children is, why didn’t God keep Satan out of Eden? It’s not just a question I get from children. I hear this question at nearly every one of my speaking events. I especially hear the question when I speak to an audience of highly educated atheists and skeptics. Highly educated atheists and skeptics frequently assert that if Satan actually entered the Garden of Eden and successfully tempted Adam and Eve to rebel against God, then Christianity at a minimum is inconsistent and more likely is plainly false.
Both children and highly educated atheists and skeptics employ the same assumptions and line of reasoning. They note or have heard that the Bible repeatedly declares that God is more powerful than Satan. They recognize, too, that God’s greater power is consistent with the Bible’s claim that God created Satan. They also acknowledge the Bible’s proclamations that God is always perfectly good and always perfectly loving. They see the description of Adam and Eve’s life in the Garden of Eden as idyllic beyond imagination. It seems unfathomable to them, therefore, that an all-powerful, all-loving God would not intervene to prevent Adam and Eve’s loss of paradise in Eden.
In answering the question of why didn’t God keep Satan out of Eden, I first acknowledge that God in his omniscience knew where Satan was and knew of Satan’s intent. I also acknowledge that God in his omnipotence had the power to keep Satan away from Eden and for that matter completely away from our planet, solar system, and galaxy for all of eternity.
These acknowledgments imply, therefore, that it was God’s will and desire for Satan to enter Eden and to tempt Adam and Eve to rebel. One could even conclude that in some context God invited Satan to come into Eden, knowing full well the consequences of Satan’s invasion.
If it was God’s will for Satan to enter Eden and to tempt Adam and Eve, this conclusion begs the question, why? The beginning and the end of the Bible, at least in part, answers the why question.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve basked in the splendor of extravagant natural beauty. They were at peace and in harmony with God, with one another, and with all the plants and animals in Eden. The provision of the garden was bountiful. Adam and Eve did not need to work hard to provide for their needs. They also had access to the tree of life. At any time they could reverse the effect of wear and tear on their bodies by eating of the tree’s fruit. They could enjoy optimal physical health and well-being for all eternity.
God was not content, however, for Adam and Eve and all their offspring to enjoy the pleasures of paradise in Eden for the rest of eternity. God’s ultimate plan for humanity was for humans to eventually inherit a realm far superior to the paradise of Eden. God’s goal was for humans to gain and forever dwell in the new creation that is described in Revelation 21–22.
I write extensively about what life will be like in the new creation in my book Why the Universe Is the Way It Is.1 Briefly, it is a realm with radically different laws of physics and radically different dimensions.2 It is a place so wondrous, so beautiful, so marvelous, and filled with such overwhelming love that Paul says of it in 1 Corinthians 2:9,
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”
One of the most amazing features of the new creation is the fact that no evil or suffering will ever be experienced there, while at the same time humans’ free will capacity will be greatly enhanced. The permanent elimination of the possibility of evil and suffering combined with the enhancement of free will expression implies that only beings whose free will has been tested by the greatest possible temptation to commit evil can be allowed into the new creation.
God provided Adam and Eve and all their progeny with the ultimate test. By allowing Satan, the most powerful and intelligent being God ever created to tempt humans to commit evil means that every human being is afforded the opportunity of overcoming the greatest possible temptation to commit evil. If a human can pass that greatest possible test, no other possible test can threaten their commitment to eschew evil and pursue virtue.
No human, of course, can pass this most challenging test in his or her own strength. It takes Someone more powerful and more intelligent than Satan to help us pass that test. That Someone is always available to help us pass the test. In fact he promises that if we avail ourselves of his help, he guarantees that we will pass the test. We can know that guarantee is secure because he himself passed the test3 and he has already paid the redemptive price required for us to pass the test.4
In short, God created the universe. He created human beings and placed the first humans in the Garden of Eden. He created the universe, humans, and Eden as instruments to permanently eliminate evil and suffering. This is the first creation. It will remain until evil is permanently eradicated. Once that eradication is complete God will replace the first creation with the second creation. The second creation is a realm where humans will experience life, love, and truth in measures far beyond what is possible in the first creation. All this is possible in part because God didn’t keep Satan out of Eden.