In the beginning, man was created with free will. In paradise, Adam and Eve had complete freedom of action and only a single rule: Do not eat the fruit of one particular tree. They were free to obey or disobey. God warned them that eating the fruit of the tree would kill them, but God—having made them free—could not prevent their abuse of that freedom and so death came to our world.
We have heard the story so many times we do not stop to consider how odd this is. From a human point of view, this is very peculiar. When men wish to prevent something bad from happening, they take concrete steps to deter it. If it is in their power to stop something they do not want to happen, they stop it. If they cannot reliably stop someone from doing something, they declare it a crime and punish the offender afterwards.
From our point of view, God’s reaction to evil is shockingly different. Unlike man, God has the absolute power to stop evil from happening. He could have stopped evil at any stage. He need never have made men in the first place. He might have made us so that—like robots—we never acted wrongly, but He did not. He made man and woman in his own image, with the freedom to choose good or evil. He gave them dominion over the earth and then God declared that it was good.
Having made men who could choose evil, He might have chosen to punish evil instantly, whenever it occurred, but God did not do that either. While many wrong actions have natural consequences in this life, most of us are given a full lifespan before being called to account for our lives.
In God’s wisdom, free will is so important that He gives it to every man, not just our first parents. Why did God permit such freedom? The abuse of our free will brings death and sorrow to every generation, so why did an omnipotent and good Creator risk the evil that often results? It seems free will is necessary to make men who are capable of sharing in God’s life. Only free men can become good men. True virtue requires liberty.