Was Eden Perfect?

This could be a weekly post but for now, I refrain. In my writing (as in my thinking in general), I like to “look behind” the obvious. It’s more interesting back there. And in that way (read: way to qualify what comes next), I am not really interested in being right (<—lie), just making people uncomfortably admit to the “perhaps,” that maybe there are more angles to life, the Bible, God, etc. than they were previously willing to admit.

One of the ways I do this as a student of the Bible is to expose how people assume things about the Bible that are not really there. And believe me, there are plenty. The classic example, in the holiday spirit, is of course the song “We Three Kings of Orient Are” where the Bible says nothing of there being 3, of them being kings, or of them being from the Orient.

One of the most common that I hear is the argument that the garden of Eden is perfect and that heaven (more accurately, the new earth, but whatever) will be just like the garden of Eden. I am not sure about your views of perfection or heaven, but I prefer mine not to include talking snakes that love to deceive, a tree that leads to soul-death, and the chaotic waters of the great deep. But maybe that’s just me.

But we gloss over all that because we have accepted another perplexing assumption: that the basic phrase “good,” topped off with a very feminist “very good,” is somehow supposed to be understood as “perfect.” Perhaps it just means “good” and “very good.” When I eat ice cream and say “this is good” and then add chocolate syrup and say “wow, this is very good” everyone around me does not assume that I have just attributed metaphysical perfection to my ice cream, do they?

I think John understood. He made sure that when he painted a picture of the new Eden/Heaven/Earth in Revelation he added an extra tree of life so that there are now 2, one on either side of the river. We don’t want Eden again, we saw where that got us. We want Double Eden!

9 responses to “Was Eden Perfect?

  1. Jared, I’m curious what is meant by “a feminist ‘very good'”–? Linguistically or theologically or politically or–? How?

    And I want to hear more about John and his vision! But a crisply-written, thought-provoking post…

  2. My professor has this gorgeous notion of the ‘garden city.’ Don’t know where he got it, but his use of it in talking about the creation mandate to perfect (‘avod) the garden is wonderful.

    • That’s the other thing I should have mentioned. We start with a garden and end in a city. What does that mean? What does it mean for those who want us to go back to a “simpler way of life” whereby their ideas of a “simplified life” and a “life without technology” get conflated? Did your professor have any thought about that?

      • Repristination is bad because it is (1) unreasonable, and (2) unbiblical. (You can imagine he has problems and Eastern [Shane Claiborne Repristination] University.)

        We cultivate a garden to the level of a city because that’s what human reason and the natural order of creation suggests. This is a lot of Lonergan’s vertical finality. So a think has a horizontal finality, a flat end, in which (e.g.) grape vines make grapes, are eaten and nourish, or are replanted and make more grapes. Grapes have another horizontal end in which grapes are turned into wine. The trick is making sure the vertical finality doesn’t undermine the integrity of the thing. So a garden is cultivated into a city, while maintaining the integrity of a garden. That would seem to be something like not turning it into a parking lot, but keeping its inherent fecundity, diversity, community, etc. (Look at New Urbanist folks on this kind of thing, especially Phillip Bess–Till We Have Built Jerusalem.)

        So we shouldn’t cultivate technology as a good in itself. Computers aren’t good simply because they’re new. They may be good, however, because they provide some good (I’m not convinced). Or to go with the garden: one need not cultivate a garden by hand since anything else is technology. Shovels and plows are good ways to cultivate and respect the soil. Tractors (pesticides, etc.), however, may not be.

        The ‘simple life’ isn’t a good in itself. In fact, I’m not sure it’s a good at all. A life well-lived is a good, and simple isn’t self-evident, here. Wendell Berry (a farmer who doesn’t use tractors because they aren’t good technology) suggests, rather, that we ‘complexify,’ by which he means something like not doing all of your shopping in one place, because complexity (not simplicity or uniformity) is sustainable and reflects the diversity of God, too.

        Any of that help? Sorry it’s unorganized.

  3. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer!

    Kidding–sort of.

    frontporchrepublic.com It’s a haven of short pieces more or less relevant to this point. The professor I’ve mentioned just started writing on there: RJ Snell. (Jason Peters is my favorite author on there. He’s funny as hell.) Be warned: it’s a conservative blog!

    Wendell Berry, of course. Especially his novels, and especially Jayber Crow and Hannah Coulter. His essays will appeal to you more though. Art of the Commonplace is a collection of his essays that will give a broad overview of what he’s getting at.

    Those two will do ya–I can get you some specifics if you’re interested.

  4. Maybe part of the hangup is our concept of ‘perfect’ – that it means there can be no change (because that means getting better or getting worse) – and that there can be nothing else that is perfect.

    SO maybe Eden WAS perfect- for the time and the purpose and the ones who were there. But that does Not mean it is perfect for everyone, perfect forever, perfect for every purpose. It was perfect for them, then, there.

    But there is another, different, perfect place for us, and we can’t find it by trying to ‘go back to Eden.’ (Or back to Christian America, or Acts 2, or whatever.)

    • I agree with you Adriene, but then I think we are getting into semantics – “perfect” does mean “cannot change.” There really is no way around that. So I think it’s best we just get away from the concept entirely. I think you are absolutely right that things can be “perfect for that time and purpose.” It is always relative and always changing.

  5. I have a different but Biblical take on all this.
    I believe Isaiah 66: 7 says, “Before she was in pain she gave birth. Before she travailed she birthed a son.” There is only one woman who was cursed by God the Father and that was Eve. These two lines tell me that Eve at sometime in the Genesis story and before the serpent was seen had two painless deliveries – the first line to birth a daughter, the second line to birth a son. Eve is the only woman to have pain-free births and she joined the human race after Gen 3 to birth Cain, Abel and Seth all with pain.
    Guess who the son is? None other than Jesus Christ as 1 john 3: 8 will confirm, and now deduce who Eve really is? She is God the Holy Spirit and Adam is her chosen life-long partner in marriage.
    Christians will have to repent in order to get back into the garden. Repent of their faulty diagnosis of saying it was Eve who brought sin into the World. All of us have Jesus Christ to take our sins to the Cross and this sin of ‘blaming’ Eve is so wrong. I repented of this during last year and continue to do so, for I want Christians to see the folly of their ways.
    The Holy Spirit appears in a whole number of chapters of Scripture, but the Garden of Eden is the crowning glory. There are including Genesis another four chapters where the Holy Spirit may be found with the Father and Jesus. These are all crucial Trinitarian chapters with special function.
    The “hiding” of the Holy Spirit by using a classical Greek language that is incapable in its grammar of helping you here, together with the scattering of verses from relevant chapters into prophetic books like Isaiah is the two major ways God hides the TRUTH.
    It is Satan we want to see kicked out of the Garden and Eve blessed.

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