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Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Garden of Eden: Stardust

I hope you’ll forgive me a little Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (or if you prefer, a little Joni Mitchell). I’m going to think a bit about the garden of Eden, and CSNY had something to say about it in their 1970 hit Woodstock.

They close the song this way: “We are stardust”.

I understand, scientifically, that appears to be the case: we are formed from the same sort of heavy materials and elements that form stars. So I think, scientifically, they were on to something.

I’m not entirely sure what they mean by adding in the next breath “we are golden” but, being generous, I'll grant a little poetic license.

So I largely agree with their science, and when the penultimate line of the song is “we are caught in the Devil’s bargain”, I find I can agree with their theology too.

But when they close with, “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden”, I’m not sure that I can agree with their eschatology.

This whole “getting back to the garden” notion is appealing. It’s a nice idea. Implicit in the statement is a recognition that there is something terribly wrong with the world we live in now. And CSNY suggest that a solution — maybe — is to get back to the state we were in in the garden.

They were talking about the garden of Eden. Now the garden of Eden, of course, is one of ‘those’ stories.

There are lots of increasingly obscure stories in the Bible that, if recounted to your unsaved neighbours who haven’t been to Sunday School, would leave them wondering what on earth you were talking about. They wouldn’t know if that story was drawn from the Koran, or if it once appeared in a back issue of Archie; they would not connect it necessarily with Scripture.

But when you talk about the garden of Eden, it remains a touchstone of sorts for most people and the notion if not the name of Eden runs throughout our culture — from CSNY to Steinbeck to Sagan and so forth. You could hardly find anyone on the face of the planet at this point who hasn’t heard something about Adam and Eve. They’ve drawn their own conclusions, of course, and they may not have all the details right. They think perhaps it was an apple; they’re not sure — much like we think there were three wise men. Go have a look — you can’t find the number of wise men in Scripture nor can you find what sort of fruit it was in the garden.

So people have all sorts of notions and a few perhaps fuzzy details, but people invariably have some idea of what the garden of Eden was about.

The garden is in Eden is a biblical location. For most other locations that appear later in the Scriptures you could pull out a map and say, “Here’s the Jordan River”, or “Here’s Hebron” or “Here’s Bethel”.  It's good to be able to do that because there is something to be said for connecting our sense of a place with actual geography.

Let me explain a little bit what I mean. Some years ago, I had an opportunity to fly into London’s Heathrow airport. My father came over from London after the Second World War — he was British originally — and I had never, as an adult, been to the place he was born. We landed in London, and as the plane came down I was surprised to find myself overwhelmed with a sense of belonging. I know it was entirely sentimental and irrational, and yet there was something about that place that really seemed to call to me; something connected in a profound way.

Similarly, I spent a short time in Barcelona, which is on the northeast corner of Spain. Barcelona borders the Western shores of the Mediterranean. I remember putting my feet into the sea and thinking just across there, these men whom I’d read about — and that one incomparable Man that we read about — were near this body of water. He was just on the other shore not all that long ago. Again a profound sentimental link formed.

I'm sure that's why so many people take trips to the Holy Land. They stand in the place where it’s imagined, perhaps, the tomb of the Lord Jesus was. They are seeking — and, I trust, finding — a new and deeper connection between the history of The Book and an actual place.

Well, when we come to the garden of Eden, there’s nothing I can show you. We know there was a place called Eden, and in it we know that God planted a garden. There are some interesting geographical markers in the book of Genesis provided to us, but of course those markers are pre-Flood. And I assume that, much as you might put a sandcastle up tonight on the beach and come back in the morning unsurprised to find it gone without trace, in the case of a large global flood, these geographic markers that we once knew aren’t necessarily in the same places anymore, if they remain at all.

It really is impossible to put your finger on a map and say categorically, “There’s where Eden was”, so in some ways, Eden for many of us almost becomes a mythic place. In some people’s minds it rests immediately beside Atlantis as a ‘fable’ or an ‘allegory’.

Well, the Lord Jesus never treated Eden that way, and I don’t want to treat it that way. But it’s a place we can’t touch, we can’t look at on the map, we can’t point to.

It’s also where, really, there is only one story. A number of events in the story, certainly; a number of characters too; but the characters don’t change. And the story arc in Eden we all know. There will be no more stories in Eden.

In some ways it’s a very simple thing to look at. In other ways it’s a very profound subject, because from Eden we can all trace our own struggles. You might tell me the story of Joshua, and while it might interest me for many reasons, I can’t point to a single event in Joshua’s life that has an impact on me every moment of every day. But I can point to a choice Adam and Eve made in a garden that has impacted my life in profound ways and continues to affect me each moment I draw breath. I owe them a debt, shall we say — a debt I wish I didn’t owe them.

I carry the legacy of what they chose and what they’ve done.

Next: Meaning and Purpose

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