Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Garden

So, God decided to plant a garden in His brand new creation. And He decided to put it somewhere called Eden. Now, this garden was quite the place. Listen to how Moses writes about it.

And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.

God planted a garden and put some trees there. These trees were very functional. They provided fruit that was good for food. And that’s good since Adam is going to need to eat. But God was interested in more than things being functional. These trees were also ‘pleasant to the sight’. God was also interested in beauty. So, it’s functionality and beauty.

Moses tells us more about this garden.

A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

So, there is a river flowing out of the land of Eden and into the garden. And there it divides into four rivers. Again this is functional. The trees will need water to produce their fruit. Adam will need to drink. But I suspect that one reason Moses writes about this is to give another hint about the beauty of the garden as these rivers make their way through it.

Moses also tells us about the gold, bdellium and onyx that are in the garden. The point of these is not about wealth. There would be no need of wealth in the garden. I rather think that the point is, again, about beauty. There were raw materials that Adam and his children could use to create beauty.

Then, Moses says this about Adam.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

And what is this about? Adam has a calling. God places him in the garden and tells him ‘to work it and keep it’. Adam’s work in the garden is an aspect of his having dominion, something that we saw back in chapter one. Pursuing this dominion requires effort. Adam has to work. So, there are things to be done so that trees flourish and the animals are cared for. Adam is charged by God to work the garden.

But he is also told to ‘keep it’. So, what’s this? There are several things going on with this word. It is translated in different places in the Bible as ‘guard’, ‘protect’, ‘have charge of’. The bottom line here is that Adam is responsible for what happens in the garden. As he works the garden, he is to keep his eyes open to what is going on around him. If something needs to happen in the garden, he needs to make sure that it happens. If something better not happen in the garden, then he needs to make sure it doesn’t. God has called Adam to this work in the garden, and He will hold him accountable. It’s part of what it means for Adam to be a man.

Then, there’s this.

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden …”

This makes sense. Adam has work to do, and he will need to eat. So, God points to all the trees and says, ‘Take, eat. Whatever you want. Enjoy it all.’

However, that’s not where the sentence ends. There’s also this.

… but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

God is quite lavish in granting Adam the pick of all of the trees. But there is that one tree that is off limits. And God is quite strict about this. If Adam eats from this tree God assures him that he will die. And even if Adam didn’t know much about death, he could tell that it wasn’t good. The warning - maybe we should call it a threat - was clear. And it was an expression of God’s love for Adam.

Well, that covers the obvious things in the text. Now for the important question. What does this bit of Scripture tell us about God? I am finding this an increasingly important question. And it is important because it’s not being asked near enough these days. The tendency is to ask, ‘What does this bit of Scripture tell us about us?’ And that’s a fair question, even an important one. But it is a secondary question. The first place belongs to the other question, the one about God. And it’s important to ask and answer that question first because without a good answer to it you will not understand very well what any text actually does tell you about you. The first part of wisdom is to understand God. The primary purpose of Scripture is to reveal God. We always come in second. So, what does this bit of Scripture tell us about God?

Let’s get at that with this. What is God doing here? Well, he’s running His creation. That’s been a major theme of this part of Genesis. God commands the sun and moon to shine in the heavens. He tells the water to collect in one place so that the land will appear. He calls birds into existence so that they will fly in the sky. In all of this there is no debate, not even a discussion. God speaks, and that’s the way it’s going to be. God is running His creation. And the same is true when it comes to Adam and the garden. God is running His creation.

Did you notice that Moses records nothing said by Adam? And that makes sense. What could he say except, ‘Yes, Lord’? God is setting things up, and He informs Adam what his role is to be. God is running His creation in the way that He thinks best. Adam’s response is to salute smartly and get to work.

Now, there are those who would react to that description of things. God sounds harsh just telling Adam what to do. But they don’t understand that God made Adam to flourish by working and keeping the garden, by eating from every tree except that one. God isn’t forcing something alien onto Adam. This is how Adam can thrive. Who would know better what that would look like than God?

There are still those who don’t like it. ‘Doesn’t Adam have any choice in this? Or is the Garden of Eden a place of tyranny?’ God is no tyrant. But He is a king. And those too used to democracy don’t like the idea of a monarchy where the king alone rules. But folk who react in this way need to look again. Does Adam have choices in all of this? Of course, he does. And that’s obvious when you think about that tree in the middle of the garden. Adam has a huge choice. Will he eat or not? And he has that choice because of how God set up the situation. He has a choice by God’s design. It’s God who is saying, ‘Adam, choose.’

There are still those who would attack God’s character here. ‘Yeah, and about that tree, is God trying to tempt Adam? Why have the tree at all?’ Well, first, God tempts no one. Other places in Scripture are quite clear about that. But God does put people to the test. He did that with Abraham and Isaac. He even did that with Jesus at the beginning of His ministry. And He’s doing that here with Adam. He wants Adam to face what’s really going on and to choose. And the issue at hand isn’t about tasty fruit. The issue is about love. ‘Adam, do you love Me? And do you believe that I love you? Do you?’ That’s what the tree is about.

Now, Adam could have answered, ‘Yes, I do love You. And I will show You that love by my not eating from that tree. Because I love You, I will obey you. And I do love You because I know that You love me.’ And if Adam had responded in that way he would have learned the difference between good and evil by choosing to do good, by loving God and believing that God loved him. But, as you know, Adam didn’t choose to respond that way. And as a result, he learned the difference between good and evil by rejecting love. And here we are in a world filled with evil because of Adam’s choice.

Obviously, lots has changed since the day garden was planted. And yet, there is much that is still the same. God is still running His creation. And He still does that as King. And like Adam, we each have a calling from God for which we are responsible to Him. We still have choices to make. God still sends tests our way. And it is still the case that the best response to those tests is, ‘Yes, I do love You. And I will show You that love. Because I love You, I will obey you. And I do love You because I know that You love me.’

Now, there are lots of times that we get it very wrong and choose not to love. But, because Jesus has given us the Spirit, there are also lots of times when we get that very right. And as the Spirit continues His work in us, we will get it right more and more of the time. We are being changed so that we do better at loving God in response to His love for us. And I hope that seeing that is very encouraging to you. The Spirit is busy. Change is happening.

The day will come when we all will be in a garden with beautiful fruit trees and gently flowing rivers, a place where we will have lots of choices. But because of the work of the Spirit, at that point completed, we will always choose what is good. We will always choose to love.

No comments: