Eden Is Not our Home
As humans, we experience insecurities, uncertainties and tension, none of which ever really goes away. We postpone finding our happy place when we are forced to engage uncertainties – and thats ok. But for many of us, we struggle to remember that it’s ok, so we continue our struggle, always looking for the “silver bullet,”, the “smoking gun”, “evidence that demands a verdict”. But, alas, the answers to life’s greatest problems and the assurance we long for stays out of reach and remains elusive.
One such problem is the source of sin. Some may even call it Original Sin.
How do we describe what it even is?
How do we describe its impact on us today?
Is Original Sin even real – did the Fall really happen and does it have real implications for humans brokenness ?
Is human sickness, disordered desire, brokenness and the groans of Creation because of one man’s act of disobedience or has our world always been broken, disordered and sick?
The typical answer we hear about what happened in the Fall is problematic for answering the questions above. Instead of focusing on what happened with humans in Genesis 1-3 as the explanation for the problem, we should be focusing on what didn’t happen.
And so what didn’t happen? Humans didn’t bring order out of chaos to the rest of creation. Before we unpack that, let’s correct an historical misnomer around the term creatio ex nihilo or Creation out of Nothing. According the Genesis Creation story – God’s activity is devoted to bringing order to chaos by dividing (Day 1-3) and filling (Day 4-6).
Creation out of Chaos, not out of Nothing
There are two options for how this could have happened according to Genesis. First, if, according to Genesis 1:1, God created the heavens and the earth, and then brought order, that means his initial creative act of creating the Heavens and the Earth didn’t have the implicit quality of order. Therefore his first act of creation would have included a chaotic unordered world, which he later would brought order into. The other option is that it is also possible that what is referred to in Genesis 1:1 is then expanded on in the rest of the chapters 1-2, thereby indicating that creation itself was an act of bringing order to a preexistent chaotic material world.
Either way, this poses 2 problems – Chaos precedes order in God’s creation. If God created the world out of nothing, that means he intially created a chaotic creation. The other option is that while He doesn’t claim to create the pre-existent chaos, he does bring order to that chaos through his creative acts. Either way – Chaos precedes order and God seems to have had something to do with the existence of that chaotic environment, or at the very least, bringing order to it. Therefore it is more accurate to say that Scripture really says that God created the world we know out of chaos – creatio ex chao.
Garden of Eden as an Ordered Microcosm in the midst of Disorder (Chaos).
Two entailments of the discussion thus far is that, while God created order out of chaos
1. This reality does not require that all of the material world was brought into order, but rather that the Garden was a microcosm of God’s design for order placed into a chaotic material world. The nature of the ordered Garden was meant to be spread out as humans spread out in obedience to God’s imperative to fill the earth and subdue it. Why would a world need to be subdued if it didn’t already have order – because it didn’t. G.K. Beale says it like this,
Cosmic Expansion of the Garden Sanctuary Through Adam’s Rule as a Priest-King in God’s Image
Not only was Adam to “serve” in and “guard” the initial stage of the Edenic sanctuary, but Genesis 1:28 affirms that he also was to subdue the entire earth: “And God blessed them . . . Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that creeps on the earth.” Genesis 1:27 provides the means by which the commission and goal of verse 28 was to be accomplished: humanity will fulfill the commission by means of being in God’s image.1 They were to reflect God’s kingship by being his vice-regents on earth. Because Adam and Eve were to subdue and rule “over all the earth,” it is plausible to suggest that they were to extend the geographical boundaries of the Garden until Eden extended throughout and covered the whole earth. 2 They were on the primeval hillock of hospitable Eden, outside of which lay the inhospitable land. They were to extend the smaller livable area of the Garden by transforming the outer chaotic region into a habitable territory.
2. The second entailment of this discussion is whether or not Genesis is attributing the creation of the chaotic material world to God or not. The majority of the material world initially was chaotic and lacked order,
So the question is – what didn’t happen? Answer: Because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God, Creation as a whole was never brought into a state of order. In the beginning, only the Garden of Eden retained an ordered status, but even then, Adam and Eve were removed from that ordered world. In it’s primeval status, the whole of Creation never achieved the order it was meant to have and that reality has never changed leading up to today.
The New Creation is better than The First Creation
As a result we cannot treat the goal of Creation as a return to the Garden of Eden. Humans have never lived in an ideal pristine environment – only the New Creation promises an idyllic, painless, perfect world. That first Creation and the Garden never claimed what the New Creation claims – they are qualitatively different. Eden was never a completely ideal environment and it never achieved an idyllic status free from imperfection. But we can even go further, the Garden of Eden was not only non-idyllic but also had potentiality for disorder and distortion pre-programmed into it. There are three reasons this is true if we compare the First Creation with the New Creation.
- In the first Creation, there was always a possibility for sinless humans to sin. If it wasn’t going to be Adam and Eve, there was always the possibility that it was going to be their descendants. There was also always a possibility that Adam and Eve could die as a result of their decision to sin. Both of those possibilities no longer exist in the New Creation – those two potentials are non-existent because there is no opportunity for any member of the New Creation to sin.
- In the first Creation, there was a sentient being that could enter the Garden and introduce distortion, lies and opposition to God. The serpent represents either the Devil, a trickster or an entity that can both come and go as he please as well as communicate distortion, i.e. Adam and Eve were not the first created beings to sin. Nonetheless, Revelation makes it clear that in the New Creation, no one like the serpent will have access to the New World God is going to recreate. It’s borders will be shut to any such entity.
- In the first Creation, there will only be a tree of life. There will be no tree of confusion or temptation to eat from. No potentiality for disobedience will exist in the New Creation and our hearts will be intent on serving and loving God without any chance for a competitor. The fact that a potential for disobedience was placed into the First garden entails that there was always a chance that humans could disobey. God puts no such opportunity in the Garden of the New Creation.
What does this mean?
Original Chaos Resulted in Original Sin, not the Reverse
A. It means that the First Creation is not something we should want to return to, reinvent or recreate. It was not idyllic and was filled with potential for distortion. The Garden was merely the starting point of an ordered Creation, not the Goal of Creation. It was good, very good, but always meant to get better.
B. It means that chaos has been the defining feature of Creation from the beginning. Even if Eden existed, we as humans were created to bring further order to the whole of creation and barely started the job before we sabotaged it. There has never been an defining idyllic environment for us to return to. The New Creation is qualitatively much better than the First and so looking forward rather than looking backward is the call of our faith.
C. If the majority of Creation has always been chaotic and remains so to this day, there is a real chance that pre-existent Chaos is the real reason for human brokenness. It could also provide a reason for humanity’s penchant for sin, even in a sinless environment. When the first humans were “placed” in the Garden and then “removed”, it was their disobedience that forced God’s hand in making them join the rest of a chaotic creation. This could mean they rejoined a collective of first humans already living in Chaos.
This could mean that when humanity disobeyed God, they forfeited the right and the ability to extend order in an already chaotic world. By implication this then sealed them off from bringing about an ordered creation and thrust them into the dominating reality of a disordered creation. Only a New Adam could get us as humans back to the task of extending God’s order into the rest of Creation. But that doesn’t mean that Adam’s disobedience initiated the distortions in Creation. They were already there – Adam merely forfeited the ability to do something about it.
This could mean the real problem we are dealing with is Original Chaos, not Original Sin.
This could mean, we need to rethink Original Sin.