So there was God, Creator of the entire Universe, and He was laying out Eden. He created four rivers and put them in their place. He created fruit trees and arranged them in an orchard. And the tree of knowledge of good and evil, He put that right in the middle. Then He made Adam and told him, “You may freely eat fruit from every tree of the orchard, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die.” Which begs the eternal question: Why? Wouldn’t it have been better if there was no tree to tempt us? He’s the God of the Universe, He makes the rules, why even allow Satan into Eden? If God loves us, why did He give us something to be tempted by in the first place? Why even give us the choice?

During the period of Moorish occupation of Córdoba, Spain, in the Tenth Century, there was a bishop who was captured by the Moorish caliph. The bishop promised to pay a large ransom if he was freed. So at the age of ten, his nephew Pelagius, a young and very pious Christian boy, took his uncle’s place in prison and awaited his uncle to send the money that would free him. Three years passed with no sign of the bishop or the ransom. One day, Caliph Abdurrahman, surrounded by his court and elders, sent for the Christian boy. He decided that rather than continue to wait for the ransom, that he would make the boy a page in his court, a prize of sorts. After three years in prison at such a young age, Pelagius was anxious to be freed from prison, even if he wouldn’t be able to go home. There was one catch however: he would have to renounce his Christian faith, and recite the line “There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.” There were no other Christians there that day to witness Pelagius’ apostasy. He could just recite the line with his lips but still love Christ in his heart, could he not? But Pelagius was a devout Christian who took the words of Jesus seriously. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus said, “Whoever, then, acknowledges me before people, I will acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever denies me before people, I will deny him also before my Father in heaven.” Certainly this was on Pelagius’ mind when he answered the calpih: “I will, indeed, be true to thee and obedient in all else, but first, I am Christ’s. Nothing may part me from Him. I am a Christian, and believe in Christ. Christ I will never deny.”

Caliph Abdurrahman was furious. And he grew even more so when his aides started laughing, saying, “the Spaniard boy mocks you, as his friend the bishop did, in his Christian insolence.” The caliph was enraged. “Take him out, and hang him up by his wrists till the pain forces him to deny his Christ!” Some time passed and word came back to the caliph that Pelagius had passed out from the pain, but had not denied Christ. The caliph ordered Pelagius brought back to him. Once Pelagius had come around, the caliph said: “Once more, and for the last time, infidel and ungrateful as thou art, I give thee another chance. Happy freedom, honor, my favor and protection—or death. Choose!” Pelagius looked at the caliph and replied, “I have chosen: Christ!” The caliph ordered him taken away, his hands and feet were cut off with iron pincers, and he was thrown in the river.

We are all presented many choices in our life. Adam had the choice to refuse the temptation of the forbidden fruit and he failed. Saint Pelagius of Córdoba had the choice to choose Christ over his earthly life, and he succeeded. But there’s still the question of “Why?” If God loves us and wants us to be with Him eternally, why even open up the potential that we might be lost from Him forever?

The answer is, because true love is a choice. True love is choosing to love your wife more than all other women. True love is choosing to prioritize your children over your ambition. And God, in who’s true love for us chose to create us and chose to send Jesus to die for us, wants nothing less than our true love in return. Without the temptation to sin, there can be no true love of our Creator by rejecting sin. True love of God means we need to choose to love God more than sin.

Both Adam and Saint Pelagius had the same choice: God, or sin. We are all tempted every day. And we are all confronted with the same imperative: Choose!