Monday, January 25, 2010

Longing for Eden

God made us for Eden.

If we want to know God’s desire and intention for the human race, the truth is to be found in our creation. And that’s found in Gen. 1-2. In those chapters, we find that the first man and woman placed by God in a Garden Paradise called Eden.

Paradise lasts, it turns out, for only two chapters… but there is much to learn there before sin tainted creation. Eden is what God made us for. And that explains the longings that we have to “return” there.


Among the other perfect elements of life in Eden, Adam and Eve enjoyed perfect relationships. God Himself exists in the eternal and perfect communion of the Trinity, and our capacity for relationship is one of the ways that we bear His likeness.Therefore, I am focusing our attention on relationships in this post.

There were three essential relationships which the first human beings experienced in Eden. All three were part of God’s intention and design; all three were in evidence before the Fall, and all three were damaged by the Fall.

The three relationships were:

  • Their relationship with God.
  • Their relationship with their spouse.
  • Their relationship with themselves.

By God’s design, all three of these relationships were perfect because they were exactly as God intended them to be.

  • Relationship with God: They were created in God’s image and likeness, and they obeyed Him as their Lord. (Gen. 1:26-27, 2:16)

As God’s crowning creation, the man and the woman were especially honored to be made in His image, and they alone were given the opportunity to obey or disobey God. They alone were expected to live with God in perpetual volitional obedience. While they did so, their relationship with Him was perfect and unhindered.

  • Relationship with Their Spouse: They experienced true “one-flesh” union with each other. (Gen. 2:24)

Just as each person of the Godhead exists in perfect union and relationship with the other persons of the Godhead, so the man and the woman were designed by God to live in perfect union with one another. Before the Fall, this relationship was mutually giving, loving, and unselfish.

  • Relationship with Themselves: They knew no shame. (Gen. 2:25)

Both Adam and Eve were completely at peace with who they were. There was no need to hide either physically (they were naked) or emotionally (without shame). They were exactly as God made them and intended them to be, and it was enough. There was no sense of any kind that they needed to be more, less, or different than what and who they were. Shame is not and never was God’s desire for His highest creation. Before the fall, Adam and Eve were each in perfect relationship with themselves for they were utterly without shame.

Damaged by the Fall

All three relationships listed above were severely damaged by the sin of Adam and Eve. This damage was evident in the actions of Adam and Eve immediately thereafter.

  • Relationship with God: When God approached them, Adam and Eve hid themselves from the presence of God. (Gen. 3:8-9)

Adam and Eve no longer felt free to be in God’s presence; instead, they felt fear. Furthermore, their understanding of God was skewed so that they were now deluded into believing or hoping that if they hid among the trees, He would not know where they were.

  • Relationship with Their Spouse: Love and trust were lost. (Gen 2:12-13)

Adam and Eve were no longer unified. When tempted, Eve chose not to believe what her husband had told her and follow his guidance for her. Eve was then party to Adam’s Fall. When confronted about his own sin, Adam chose to blame rather than to fulfill his own responsibility as husband to love and protect his wife.

  • Relationship with Themselves: They were ashamed of their bodies. (Gen. 3:7)

Adam and Eve no longer accepted how God had made them. They now considered parts of their own bodies to be less than good, and they felt exposed and vulnerable. In their effort to hide their own sense of inadequacy, they sought protection from external coverings.

The Longing Remains

  • Man still longs for the peace with God that he was made for.

Adam’s perfect relationship with God was damaged, but deep in his soul, there was still a yearning to know and walk in peace with his Creator. The fact that perfection was lost does not change the fact that we were made for that relationship. God also desires that we walk with Him. That is why He sent Christ Jesus to take away our sin and restore us to our relationship with the Father.

This side of heaven, we will never know a perfect relationship with the Father like Adam did before the Fall, but we still long for it, and we are called to pursue an ever deepening relationship with Him here and now.

  • Man and Wife still long to be united in perfect love with one another.

A man still longs to have the be fully one in body and soul with his wife, and a woman still longs to give herself fully to a man who will love, cherish, and protect her. Neither will see complete fulfillment of that desire in the fallen state, but they can and should pursue the ideal.

We can experience tastes of that unity when we love with God’s love and give ourselves as fully as we are able to our spouses. Even in our fallen state, there is no more fulfilling human relationship that we can experience than the one between husband and wife when each fully gives themselves in unselfish love.

  • We all have a deep longing to be completely and transparently accepted exactly as we are.

So much of our lives we spend seeking approval and/or affirmation. We are constantly aware of our own inadequacies and failures. Hiding or covering our imperfections are perpetual motivations. We want to feel good about ourselves, and we want others to accept us as well.

Children – and adults – are most free and “alive” when they know for sure that they are truly “ok” exactly as they are. They shy away from contexts where they are judged, and they blossom and shine in a context of complete acceptance. This kind of acceptance is what we were made for. Indeed, the Bible calls it, “naked and unashamed.”

The Rub…

Notice that I didn’t say that we should pursue “naked and unashamed.” Everyone knows that since we’re fallen, there’s no way we can ever get any taste of “naked and unashamed” in this life, right?

    Says who?

We will never experience the fullness of pre-fall unity with our Heavenly Father in our fallen state… but that sure doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue an ever deepening relationship with Him.

We will never experience the fullness of pre-fall unity with our spouses in our fallen state… but that sure doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make any effort to give ourselves fully to the one God has given to us.

We will never experience the fullness of pre-fall innocence and purity in our fallen state… but that sure doesn’t mean that we should never even attempt to live “naked and unashamed.”

Can anyone show me in the Bible where God has forbidden such a pursuit?

God’s pre-fall ideals for humanity are His post-fall ideals for humanity. God never changed His mind about them. He understands that we are dust and that we are fallen; He knows that we won’t fully attain the ideals until after we are fully and ultimately redeemed, but He still wants us to pursue His ideals here and now. His grace is greater than our inability to get all the way there, so we have absolutely no reason to hold back.

Roadblocks to Eden

We were created for Eden. If we are honest with ourselves, we will see that we still long for it on all counts, even though we have built and maintain false roadblocks to getting there:

  • We tell ourselves that if we really draw close to God, we will have to lose or give up something. We trade what is to be found in God for what little comfort we can find in the pursuit of our own ways.
  • We tell ourselves that if we really open up to another person, we will get hurt by them. We embrace the predictability of emotional and/or physical isolation to protect against the threat of pain.
  • We tell ourselves that if we really attempt to be naked, we will only know shame. We choose the safety of hiding behind clothing in a vain attempt to thwart shame.

In all cases, the tradeoff is tragically misguided. All we really do is promote the false notion that our fallen state is unredeemable. We accept being less than truly human. We miss out on what God made us for.

Most everyone will rightly tell us to lay aside the first two roadblocks, but precious few will ever encourage anyone to lay aside the third. Most, it seems, will vehemently forbid any attempt to “return to Eden”… but on that point only! There is no logical or biblical defense for that distinction. To be consistent, we must either forbid all three pursuits, or encourage all three.

Welcome back to Eden!

I invite you to Eden!

Yes, God blocked the entrance to the physical Garden Paradise in Gen. 3:22-24, but His clearly stated purpose for doing so was so that the man and woman would not partake of the Tree of Life and live forever physically! It was not a declaration that their longings for the relationships of Eden could not be pursued!

Instead, God gave the promise of a Savior (Gen. 3:15 the “seed of the woman”), and that Savior became the One by whom we could once again live forever! Even that human desire is still ultimately God’s will for us… just not in our unredeemed state!

Lay aside the roadblocks. All of them.

  • Give up anything that keeps you from pursuing your relationship with God.
  • Give up emotional and physical isolation from your spouse and others.
  • Give up your confidence in clothing and shed your shame.

Welcome to the freedom of being completely human… the way God meant for you to be.

Matthew Neal


Steven said...

Good words, Matt. most excellent, dude!

A couple of things:

I am uncertain about your first bullet point, about their relationship with God, where you say "...they obeyed Him as their Lord...", and also "...they were expected to live...". I do not have a strong point to make, but I am uncomfortable with the way I think about "obeying Him as Lord" feels - it seems to me that their relationship with God was infinitely more intimate, and that obeying was more of a privilege extended to one that was loved. God and man were friends! I wonder what the completeness of their perspective was on their relationship with the Father. Like the children of a nation's president, I suspect the relationship was one of love and honor, rather than much attention to His titles and position of authority in the universe. Just a thought. And, "expected" is a strange word, the way we commonly use it, with respect to God. In one use, God was not surprised by their disobedience, and as such did not "expect" something that did not come to be. In another use, "expected" implies a pressure in relationship toward a particular end. And, I am not sure that accurately characterizes God. Humans have expectations, and apply that pressure on one another. It seems to me that Father pretty much just lays out what the rules are, and gives us freedom to choose. No expectation, although there are promised results to either choice. But, truly free will.

The other is a point with humor, as I know it is merely a grammatical "oops" - under "The Longing Remains", concerning the man and wife, I am fairly certain that you meant "wives" to be in the singular, when you refer to a man and his wives. :-)

I appreciate your writing and thoughts so much!



Matthew Neal said...


Thanks for your kind words.

To answer the points you raised, I would just say that I was not emphasizing the "expectation" of obedience, I was emphasizing the uniqueness of the human creation in comparison to all the other animals. They alone had a relationship with God that involved volitional response to Him. None of the others were asked to do anything having to do with a responsibility, but they were. This set them apart.

The fact is that God made them for relationship with Him, and so it is not a "requirement" that they are "expected" to fulfill, but a reality of their God-given nature they could not avoid expressing. It was literally impossible for them to be relationally neutral.

You also talked about the intimacy they must have known with God before the Fall. Undoubtedly, you are correct, but I am trying to be very careful not to move beyond what the Bible actually says. So when I described their relationship with God, I tried to limit myself to the words that are found in the text or words that have the same essential meaning.

The reason for this is that the entire blog is about fidelity to exactly what the Bible does and does not say.

Thanks for catching that typo... although now that it's fixed, it's still forever documented by your comments!!!

Have a great day... in Eden!


Aaron Frost said...

Though the theological and exegetical arguments are most relevant to my conclusions, this beautiful call back to Eden is my favorite blog post so far! I feel so blessed that God brought me to the understanding of this wonderful truth, and I feel privileged to bear the responsibility of spreading the word even if it brings me persecution and mistreatment.