Yesterday evening (as I write this) I had a very interesting conversation at dinner with a couple of people and among the topics we discussed was the question of God’s asking questions to both Adam & Eve and Cain in the beginning of Genesis. The question was, what level of knowledge did God have of what was going on, and why did God ask questions?
I would like to begin this exploration by stating that I do not think we can be dogmatic about this sort of question. Reasonable people an differ–and we had some different opinions in our conversation, all of them discussed rather honestly. I think it is important that we work out the implications of what we think, and ponder the patterns we see when it comes to God’s interactions with men and our own interactions with others and make sure that we avoid viewing God as a mere puppetmaster who predetermines what happens and then blamese others for things that they are not ultimately responsible for. Whatever answer we have about God’s knowledge and the reason why He asks the questions He does must include both a recognition of mankind’s free will and responsibility as well as God’s ultimate control.
Both in the garden of Eden with Adam & Eve and shortly after that with Cain, God asked questions to some of the earliest people in the Bible. The context of the questioning is broadly similar. In both cases God had given the people responsible various warnings or commands, in both cases the people in question disregarded those warnings and disobeyed the commands, and in both cases God interacted with them after the fact when mankind refused to take responsibility and then went into blaming and fallacious self-justification.
We know, for example, in the second case that God clearly knew what Cain had done and was asking the questions rhetorically. We know this because God told us that Abel’s blood was crying from the ground, and so it was that we can be confident that God knew what Cain had done and wanted Cain to repent of it and own up to it, which did not happen. Nowhere do we see that Cain accepted responsibility for his deed–he always viewed himself as the victim despite being the first murderer in recorded biblical history.
It is more of a question when we look at the example of Adam and Eve. How much did God know when He asked questions to Adam and Eve, and does it matter? I do not wish to be dogmatic about this point. My own thinking is that God sincerely wished to know what Adam and Eve were thinking when they took the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Sometimes, I must admit, I do not know what I am thinking or feeling until I find some way of expressing it. It is through the process of reflection and self-examination and expression that I know what I am about. And perhaps I am not alone in that.