For a long time, when I envisioned Eden, I imagined God plopping Adam and Eve in the middle of a pristine tropical paradise, a setting that required little more of them than to soak up the sun, munch fruit and pet the wide assortment of furry animals. Perhaps Adam or Eve would need to pull a weed here or there, but, as I understood it, their garden work entailed only minor maintenance.
With this posh depiction, Eden seemed to offer a picturesque human ideal: ease, comfort, minimal exertion — nothing to actually accomplish, little true impact to make. According to my narrative, before God brought the first humans into the scene, God had finished everything that needed to be done in His creation. Adam and Eveâ€™s job was to simply not mess it up. (oops)
I donâ€™t know how I ever constructed such ideas. The Bible paints a starkly different picture. Genesis two describes Eden before the creation of humanity in much more modest terms: â€œNow no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the groundâ€¦â€ (Gen 2.5) The terrain was not lush; it was barren. The garden was not flush with life; the life and the beauty had yet to erupt. God â€“ and Godâ€™s plot of dirt â€“ was waiting for a human to work the soil, to love the land, to make the garden beautiful.
The central character of creation, no doubt, is God. Much of our human chaos and insanity grows from the fact that we donâ€™t get this first truth straight: God is the center, the first to move, the one from whom all love and life flows. However, even though the creative story begins with God, it does not end there. According to Genesis, there are some things God will do, and there are some things God plans for us to do. There are some things God will create, and there are some things God expects us to create. Before humanity, God had gathered the sea and formed the moon and planted seedlings in the garden and placed a wide assortment of beasts on the land â€“ but God had not brought the garden to life. This was Adam and Eveâ€™s job.
Rather than presenting humanity merely as a maintainer of Godâ€™s finished creation, Genesis sketches a picture of God placing Adam and Eve in the middle of His primitive garden with the task of working it, loving it, carrying creation forward. Their charge was to make Godâ€™s garden beautiful. Then, from there, they were to â€œfill the earth and subdue it.â€ (Gen 2.28) The garden (and each other) was Adam and Eveâ€™s first mission. From there, God intended them to spread His beauty over the rest of the earth.
Tragically, because of human rebellion against God, we have not made Godâ€™s whole word beautiful. We have too often made it uglier, gashed it with deeper scars. Still, God is committed to his human co-creators (me and you) bringing life and order and purpose and much loveliness to His entire world, every single speck of it.
How does God plan to diligently tend His world now, to reclaim the many barren places? How does God plan to irrigate the arid soil of peopleâ€™s broken, dried-up hearts? What is Godâ€™s plan for taking the ugliness of injustice and violence and sin and restoring it with the mercy of Jesus? You. Me. Us. Moving into Godâ€™s world. Making Godâ€™s world beautiful.