Having established that the tree next to the stream is Christ, St. Hilary explains how the happy man can be like Christ the Tree of Life:
That happy man, then, will become like unto this tree when he shall be transplanted, as the thief was, into the garden and set to grow beside the rills of water: and his planting will be that happy new planting which cannot be uprooted, to which the Lord refers in the Gospels when He curses the other kind of planting and says: ‘Every planting that My Father hath not planted shall be rooted up (Matt 15:13).’ This tree, therefore, will yield its fruits. Now in all other passages where God’s Word teaches some lesson from the fruits of trees, it mentions them as making fruit rather than as yielding fruit, as when it says: ‘A good tree cannot make evil fruits (Matt 7:18),’ and when in Isaiah the complaint about the vine is: ‘I looked that it should make grapes, and it made thorns (Is 5:2).’ But this tree will yield its fruits, being supplied with free-will and understanding for the purpose. For it will yield its fruits in its own season.
It is God’s desire to see everyone be like Him. He wants nothing more than to have every human being in all of history transplanted, drinking of water that brings everlasting life — just as He did with the Thief on the Cross. Note, however, that St. Hilary acknowledges something very important about how God deals with human beings — the fact that the happy man yields his fruits rather than makes his fruits demonstrates that the exercise of free will is a necessary component to this entire process — of becoming blessed, happy and ultimately transplanted.
One of the arguments used against Christianity is in reaction to the fire and brimstone-type homilies that are part and parcel to the history of Christianity in America. This history is heavily influenced by the fatalism of Calvin, which, in turn, affects entire swaths of denominations of Protestants in the United States. The argument is usually some variation on the theme that God is coercive and that He rules by fear. If God were truly good, He would snap His fingers and all the evil in the world would go away and we could all be happy.
The problem with both this assessment and the fatalism of Calvin is rooted in the free will that St. Hilary sees being exercised in the First Psalm. God is ultimately free — His freedom is beyond our comprehension. There was nothing that coerced or compelled Him to create. There was nothing that forced Him to go to the Cross. There was nothing that obliged Him to make humanity in His image and His likeness.
If, therefore, we are truly made in that image and in that likeness, part of what makes us like God is our free will. In other words, if God were to snap His fingers and get rid of all evil in the world, He would actually destroy His creation. In ridding the world of evil, He would deny our free will to choose that evil. In denying our free will, He would deny us His image and likeness. In denying us His image and likeness, we would cease to be human beings. We would cease to be what He made us to be.
In other words, God cannot be coercive. The road to salvation — the path we must take to be transplanted to the rill of water that gives us eternal life — is a road that we must choose. Only in that way can God maintain His creation — honor and protect the image and likeness that He freely granted to us. Thus, the evil that exists in this world is not of God’s making or God’s fault. We are wholly responsible for that evil because we choose it on a daily basis. Rather, God — by allowing us that choice in the first place — is demonstrating His patience and His love for His creation.
When we made the choice to turn our back on our Creator, He had every right to erase us all from existence — to allow us to go back to the nothing from which we came. Instead, God chose not only to allow us continued existence, but to come to us, to become one of us, to suffer as we suffer, to die as we die and, ultimately, to honor and fulfill our free will to reject Him in the hope that we will see the Truth — that we will see in ourselves the ability to be like the tree by waters which never dies and yields its fruits in its own season.