I run mormondna.org and I’ve been asked a question that’s got me stumped. It started with a guy saying the Fall wasn’t necessary, and if it weren’t for Adam and Eve eating the fruit we’d all be living happily in the Garden. He used the scripture that says “multiply and replenish the earth” as proof that this was possible in the Garden, otherwise God wouldn’t have commanded it. The response, of course, is that conflicting commandments allowed Adam and Eve to gain their agency. But why was agency necessary at this point? Why didn’t God just give Adam and Eve the fruit and say “Well, now it’s time to leave the Garden, be careful out there.”? And that leads to the question what was the purpose of the Garden anyway? Why weren’t Adam and Eve placed directly into the lone and dreary world? I know I’m missing something, it just all seems a bit arbitrary, and I know the gospel is natural and not arbitrary when you understand it.
Well first of all, the fruit didn’t give Adam and Eve their agency. They possessed it from the start. What the fruit gave them was a knowledge of good and evil. In other words it gave them a greater awareness of what their agency was for.
Secondly, however, the main thrust of the question could be reduced to simply, why bother with the garden at all? Why didn’t God just create the mortal imperfect world as we know it and put Adam and Eve on it as mortals and start there?
The answer is this, he could not. God is a perfect being. Everything He does and says is perfect. To be less than perfect in any aspect would be to fall short of His own glory, and thus lose the very power and glory He possesses.
God created the world in a perfect immortal condition. All life on it was immortal and perfect, including Adam and Eve. Again, this is because it was how God had to use His power. The only way mortal life, or life that falls short of perfection, could begin on earth was through the agency of man. Why is mortal life so important? Because a mortal body is required in order to create another mortal body. Again, God could not create an imperfect body, so he created two perfected bodies in Adam and Eve, and then let them use their agency to make themselves mortal, or less than perfect. This is why God established the Garden of Eden. This is why he gave the two conflicting commandments. This is also why one of the commandments was to multiply and replenish the earth. It was to explain to both Adam and Eve the importance of their choice.
One thing I keep in mind about this whole process is a simple question; If there were a better way to begin this stage of our lives, don’t you think God would have used it instead? I have to think he would. So, if this is the absolute best way he could have done this, then everything that happened with Adam and Eve happened because they HAD to occur as they did. Adam and Eve had to be placed in the garden. They had to be presented with conflicting commandments. As long as they remained worthy of living in the Garden, they could not procreate. So long as they persisted in the Garden, the Plan of Salvation was on hold because none of us would be able to join them on earth. It was only when the fruit was eaten that the Plan of Salvation could proceed through the procreation of mortal man.
There is also a great amount of symbolism in the Garden of Eden story in that it represents the process we all voluntarily chose to participate in. Adam represents everyone born into this world as someone who deliberately chose to leave Heavenly Father’s presence and begin the process of mortality. Adam leaving the garden is as we left Heaven to be born to our mortal parents. The same blessings and cursings that were given to Adam and Eve apply to us all to this day.