This was a very interesting question I had never been presented with before, and at first I found it very perplexing. But after consideration and prayer, it actually lead me to greater faith.
First, we need to clarify that someone can do wrong without necessarily understanding why what they did was wrong. For example, if you tell a child not to throw stones, and they throw a stone, they have done wrong. They may not comprehend how severely someone could be hurt, but they disobeyed and were wrong.
But disobedience was not the “sin” Adam and Eve committed.
This is an abbreviated version of the story: God told Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of the tree and if they did, they would die. The devil came along and told them they would not die, but instead would be like God. They decided to eat the fruit, were banished from the garden and eventually died.
So what did Adam and Eve really do wrong? First, they didn’t believe (trust, have faith in) what God told them. Second, they wanted to be like God. They were proud enough to think they could be like their creator and decide for themselves what was right and wrong, good and evil. In short they wanted to trust themselves and not God.
This is essentially what all sin is and is one of the most constant themes of the Bible. From God dealing with Adam and Eve, to Jesus dealing with the Pharisees, it is the same story. Man is so proud he thinks he can decide for himself what is right and wrong and choose do whatever he pleases. God, instead, call us to trust him and faithfully obey him. Simply put, we are to love God, and love our neighbor.
It sounds so easy, but it is so hard. I make the same choice Adam did all the time.[cref logically-christian Logically Christian Home Page]
It seems, had there not been a snake in the garden that Adam and Eve would have never eaten of the tree. She had no idea the snake was deceiving her, she doesn’t even know what lying is. Using your child analogy: that would be like you telling your kid not to throw rocks, but then another adult coming up and telling him/her to throw rocks because you are just jealous that they are so good at throwing rocks. The kid is not going to know the difference between your dominance and the other adults dominance and will immediately start to throw rocks. If that situation happened who would you get mad at? The kid who doesn’t know the difference between you and the other adult and only did it because an adult told them to or would you explain to your child the situation and then get angry at the adult who is stupid enough to recommend to your child to throw rocks?
I think there are a few more points that we need to consider. I actually discussed this with my 10 year old child to get her perspective.
Geneis says God breathed into Adam to give him life. God placed the man in the wonderful Garden of Eden and gave him all the trees to eat from. Clearly God had demonstrated that he was good to the man and the man’s superior. In short God had been a good and loving father to the man. God later had the man name all the animals and gave him “dominion” over them. So it was extremely clear that God was the man’s creator and therefore higher in rank than the man, and the serpent was one of the animals, so of lower rank.
So now lets go back to the stone throwing analogy. I am a father and have children. They know me, and know they can trust me. (this was Adam and Eve’s situation) Now lets say another adult came along and told my child it was good to throw stones and I was jealous. (this really is not fair to the analogy because it was a clear inferior being that tempted Adam and Eve but in our analogy we are using another adult) I would expect my child to trust and obey me over another adult. If another adult accused me of being jealous etc. but I had been nothing but good to my child, I would expect them to love and trust me more than a stranger. You have a father. You know I speak the truth in this. I told my own daughter the stone throwing story and she said “I think any child would know they should listen to their parent before another adult.”
But really, you are almost exactly right in saying what you would expect to happen and what did happen. God punished Adam and Eve, but he promised he would redeem them. He promised his punishment was not forever. The serpent however, who was really satan disguised, he promised to crush and that man would eventually rule.
Lastly, it still was a matter of trust, not knowing good and evil. A child who chose to throw the stones after his parent told him not to is choosing not to trust the parent. Faith makes all the difference. My daughter said, “well, as soon as you tell me not to do something, it makes me want to do it. But I admit that could be cause I just don’t want you to boss me around.”