It was bound to happen. A beautiful Garden, wherein rivers flowed, came with the freedom to go anywhere, to eat anything, except to one tree. Adam and Eve, along with the delightful divine providence, had an open line of communication to satan. With time, it seemed inevitable that the forbidden tree would be visited, one day.
It started when God offered his creation the opportunity to live in eternal pleasure. The terms of the offer required compliance to God’s commandments. Failure to do so would lead to a life filled with eternal displeasure.
The offer was presented to the heavens, the earth, and the mountains. The creation recoiled upon the offer, “they declined to bear it and feared it”. (Quran 33:72) Man, on the other hand, ever so eager, accepted it, “Indeed, he was unjust and ignorant”. (Quran 33:72)
Whether the offer was accepted by Adam, himself, and therefore by extension the rest of mankind were included or it was accepted by him and his descendants when they said, “Yes, we have testified.” (Quran 7:172) to God’s question, “Am I not your Lord?” (we don’t remember this discourse with God because it’s not stored in our physical human memory), the end result is the same. We are held to the terms of the offer.
God issued commandments according to His preferences. An action that He loved the most was labeled an obligation (Fard). An action that was loved a bit less was deemed recommended (mustahab). An action that was completely disliked was declared forbidden (haram). An action that was disliked, but not to the level of the forbidden, was called dis-preferred (makruh).
Ibn Abbas interpreted the words “to worship Me” in the verse “And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.” (Quran 51:56) as “to know Me” because knowing God, His likes and dislikes, was the essence of what worship meant. As a result, man’s purpose in life was to worship God: to implement His commandments, to do what He liked and to abstain from what He disliked.
What came to be known as good were the actions God commanded and what came to be known as bad were the actions He forbade. Man was to be tested in this life on how good his actions were:
He who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed – and He is the Exalted in Might, the Forgiving. (Quran 67:2)
In this test, however, God would only accept the good. They were the only right answers.
Indeed, God is good. He does not accept but the good. (Muslim)
Critics have accused God for being self-serving. He created humans and commanded them to worship Him, to praise Him, to glorify Him. What they missed in this analysis, however, was that the commandments were not serving God, but man.
The actions that God liked and then commanded were only actions that were beneficial to man, hence called good. The actions that God disliked and then forbade were only actions that were harmful to man, hence called bad.
Murder, theft, lying, envy, etc. were forbidden because they harmed man. Sanctity of life, caring for neighbors, giving charity, being honest, etc. were commanded because they were beneficial to man.
Certain actions that had both benefit and harm, their benefit and harm were weighed. If the benefit was greater the action was mandated. However, if the harm was greater the action was forbidden:
They ask you about wine and gambling. Say, “In them is great sin and [yet, some] benefit for people. But their sin is greater than their benefit. (Quran 2:219)
While some claimed that the sheer intellect was capable of determining the good and bad on its own (it would be valid to question the integrity of the intellect’s sheerness and its impregnability to the influence of God’s revelations throughout history) there were actions, like abortion, where the intellect of man did not have a consensus.
In such a case, it made sense to refer to the most knowledgeable, the one who created man, the one who determined the beneficial and harmful without a mistake.
God’s commandments, in essence, were guidance for man. The guidance either explicitly stated the benefit and harm of actions or left timeless applicable principles that were to be used to determine the benefit and harm of actions that were not present during the time of revelation. This was not a self-serving God, but one extensively merciful.
God did not place man on earth for the test immediately. Out of His mercy, He allowed Adam and Eve to dwell in the Garden with commandments:
And We said, “O Adam, dwell, you and your wife, in Paradise and eat therefrom in [ease and] abundance from wherever you will. But do not approach this tree, lest you be among the wrongdoers. (Quran 2:35)
The Garden was the pre-test. It was the training before the real test. Adam and Eve were to experience the benefit of trusting in God, obeying His commandments, and the harm of violating God’s commandments and obeying Satan:
But Satan caused them to slip out of it and removed them from that [condition] in which they had been. (Quran 2:36)
So he made them fall, through deception. And when they tasted of the tree, their private parts became apparent to them, and they began to fasten together over themselves from the leaves of Paradise. And their Lord called to them, ‘Did I not forbid you from that tree and tell you that Satan is to you a clear enemy?’
They said, ‘Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves, and if You do not forgive us and have mercy upon us, we will surely be among the losers.’
[Allah] said, ‘Descend, being to one another enemies. And for you on the earth is a place of settlement and enjoyment for a time.’ “He said, ‘Therein you will live, and therein you will die, and from it, you will be brought forth.’ (Quran 7:22-25)
If man whined against God because He offered him the opportunity to gain an eternal life of pleasure provided he lead a beneficial life and avoided harm, because man chose to accept the offer, because God then gave him the answers– defined for him what would be beneficial and harmful to help him pass the test, then man would be “unjust and ignorant”.
However, if man understood the eternal opportunity at hand, understood that the answers to the test were provided so he didn’t have to waste time figuring them out through trial and error, then man would be grateful.
And few of My servants are grateful. (Quran 34:13)