Picture Eden in your mind.
What are some adjectives that immediately come up? Paradise, perhaps? Perfection?
What are some things we’ve been taught about Eden? That it was God’s original plan? That after his plan of perfection and paradise was ruined by Satan, with the help of Adam and Eve (emphasis on Eve if we’re to believe the rhetoric of the patriarchy), that God has been working on nothing but trying to return everything to that state of paradise and perfection?
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Garden of Eden mythology this morning. And I want to deconstruct a few ideas. (These are my own thoughts, not something I learned in a college course since I’m an uneducated swine.)
(For those of you offended by the term “mythology”, please read this dictionary definition of myth: a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events.)
If God wanted perfection and he/she is as omnipotent as we all believe them to be, then perfection could have been achieved and sustained indefinitely from the very beginning. If perfect people were the goal, God had and has the power to create beings that never sin, never do evil, are never unhappy or sad or angry. There would be no greed, narcissism, hatred, lust, jealousy, arrogance, war, violence, hunger, need of any kind, etc.
Ah, you say, but Adam and Eve had that state of perfection until Satan, disguised as a serpent, tempted and tricked them into eating the forbidden fruit.
No, he didn’t.
You can’t tempt and trick someone into something they don’t already desire. On some level, they were already curious about the fruit and wanted to try it. Then, when presented with the idea that they could be like God in knowledge, the desire to taste that fruit became unbearable. They had to have it. Satan didn’t put desire into them. It was already there.
The idea that Adam and Eve were perfect and innocent before the serpent came along is false. They were already entertaining the idea of eating the fruit before he showed up. I mean, they were hanging out by the damned tree when he came along. He didn’t have to lead them to it or drag them over there. They were ALREADY THERE.
So, no, the Garden wasn’t perfect before Satan came into the picture. Adam and Eve weren’t naive innocents who fell prey to a flim-flam man. They didn’t give their retirement to a Nigerian prince. They weren’t scammed or tricked. What really happened? Satan gave them verbal permission to do something they already wanted to do.
I think it’s important to stop thinking of Eden as a spoilt paradise and dream of creation that God is always trying to get us back to. Because the idea that if Satan hadn’t come along and persuaded A and E to sin, we’d all be living happy, prosperous, perfect lives with no pain is completely and utterly false. Can we all just admit that it was only a matter of time before A and E effed things up on their own without outside help?
They were not perfect and Eden was not perfection.
Let’s stay with this idea that perfection and paradise are God’s ultimate goals for creation and humanity for a bit.
The idea is that perfection and paradise have always been the end game for all of creation and especially humanity but back in Eden, Satan messed everything up. Ok, so where did Satan come from? If perfection and paradise are the goal, why would a good God allow a being like Satan to exist at all?
Ah, you say, but Satan was originally good and fell from heaven because he desired God’s throne.
That’s just more mythology. If you’re someone who believes in the inerrancy of the Bible and holds the Bible up to be more fact and history than poetry and story, then please point out to me the clear scripture verses that explain who Satan is and where he came from. I’ll save you the time and trouble, there are none. There are no verses that clearly state who and what Satan is or how and why he exists. There are some very evocative metaphors about this being that possibly point to metaphorical origins, but nothing straightforward or clear.
Who and what Satan is, remains a mystery. And one of the real mysteries to me is why this being of pure evil exists at all. Because a creature like this does not fit into the idea of perfection and paradise. A being of pure evil can only cause destruction and pain.
Why would a God who desires this state of ultimate perfection allow a being like this to exist at all? If you want perfection, just destroy the little bugger or better yet, don’t allow him to come into existence at all.
But evil does exist. Whether evil comes only from the heart of man or there is a being of evil in the world influencing us, it still exists nonetheless. And evil only begets one thing: pain.
So why would God allow this evil to come and ruin his garden paradise and thwart his plans for perfection? I think it’s because perfection and paradise were never the end goal. God wasn’t creating a paradise that was then ruined by creation’s first douche. If you ask me, Eden was simply meant to be a starting place, a loading screen, chapter one.
I don’t pretend to know why evil or pain exist but I do know that their very existence negates the idea that God is only interested in paradise and perfection. If that’s what they wanted, evil and pain would never have come into the picture.
Before we move on to my third and final idea, let’s go back and retell the story of creation as quickly as possible.
- There was nothing
- God makes light, stars, moon, sun, water, land, plants, animals, everything
- God makes humans
- God puts humans in Eden
- Humans plus Satan topple the Jenga tower
I really want to focus on that middle bullet point for my third idea: God makes humans. Because all this talking about and deconstructing the mythology of Eden has been leading me to this idea. If God wasn’t aiming for perfection and wasn’t trying to make perfect humans, what was he/she up to?
“Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.””
I hope you actually took the time to read the verses above because I want you to notice the suspicious absence of the word “perfect”.
God said “let us make humans in our image” not “let us make perfect little mini-me’s”. We assume humans were meant to be perfect because that is the main attribute we ascribe to God.
Let me say that again for those in the back: WE ASSUME HUMANS WERE MEANT TO BE PERFECT BECAUSE THAT IS THE MAIN ATTRIBUTE WE ASCRIBE TO GOD.
If humans are supposed to be made in God’s image and God is perfect then, ergo, transitive property, humans are made to be perfect.
But perfection is not the only attribute of God and not even the most important one.
If Adam and Eve were meant to be the standard that we fell away from, can you please list for me all the ways they are like God? I don’t see God’s kindness, compassion or love in them. I don’t see God’s power or authority. In fact, I don’t see much of God’s likeness in them at all. God said “let us make them in our image” and we immediately believe the fullness of God’s image is born out in Adam and Eve. How?!? I don’t see it! I can’t believe when God said “in our image” that these two were the standard by which we must measure ourselves. If they were so great, why isn’t there more written about them?!? You know, the only attribute in Adam and Eve that I see as godly is that they were “unashamed”. That’s it!
Made in God’s image.
God is many things. Loving, kind, gentle, compassionate, fierce, jealous, a still small voice, a whirlwind, a creator, a vine dresser, a gardener, a king, a queen, a baby in a manger, a spirit or rather THE spirit of all. And so, so much more than I could ever think of on my own.
Perfect? Yes. Holy? Yes. But with so many wonderful things to say about God, why do we stop with these two? Is it because the one attribute of God’s that A and E actually had, being “unashamed”, was lost and we inherited that shame like it’s written into our DNA. We’re ashamed of ourselves. And all we can see is how unalike God we are.
Can we address the fact that one of God’s most agreed upon attributes is “creator”? When we were made in God’s image, we were given that same attribute. We have creation and creativity in our blood. It’s an essential part of our being. Whether you create through art or cooking or building or children or whatever, you are a creative being. You can’t help but create all day long, every day. But creation of any kind is messy. It’s always messy. Creating anything of any kind causes a mess. If God was not ok with our mess, why would he/she allow us to be these magnificent creative beings going around making our messes?
For me, the “G” in God stands for “growth”. Just one look out your window is all it takes to see what a huge fan of growth God is. We weren’t meant to stay trapped by shame all our lives, punishing ourselves mentally for being imperfect and unholy.
The order of creation goes: light, water, land THEN seeds! God created all the things those seeds would need to grow before he/she even created the seeds. Everything was put in place to foster the growth of those seeds. And once the seeds were created, they were buried in dirt and darkness. They had to push their way free of that dirt and darkness in order to reach the light and air. But they didn’t do it alone. You see God created water. The water reached down into the dirt and darkness and held that seed and helped the little plant break free of its seed cocoon. The water softened the dirt for the little plant so it could push through and reach the light.
Adam and Eve were just the beginning. They weren’t the gold standard. They weren’t something God lost that they’re trying to get back to. They were the seed of humanity. And we’ve been pushing through the dirt and the darkness ever since. Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit, they are the living fucking water that have reached down to help us navigate our way out of the shit! Yes, humanity is mired by dirt and darkness but we are being held by the watery God of growth and light!
If there’s anything I want to leave you with today, it’s the idea that Eden was not our lost perfection. It was the start of centuries of growth. It was the endowment of creativity upon the little seedlings of God. It’s not the end goal of God’s heart. Restoration is absolutely God’s heart. But not resetting. God does not want to reset humanity back to Eden. God wants growth! Growth is always forward. A plant doesn’t grow back into a seed. A plant can certainly wither and need restoration but once it’s restored it continues to grow! That’s the restoration God is bringing us. Not shrinking back into the earth. Not starting from the beginning again.
Eden was the start. Not the end. Let’s keep growing!