This is a message from pastor and teacher Bill Serjak from the Genesis series “In Beginning”
The Garden of Eden
Some people think the purpose of life is to find ways to fulfill their desires. Most would say there is more to life than that and seek to find real meaning in their lives. To find that meaning they are even willing to push back their desires. The two creation accounts are especially interesting in that each emphasizes a different part of who we are. The first account is centered in the creation of the cosmos and is told as though the reader were an observer of what God was doing. Some people try to find meaning for their lives within that framework. They seek to understand how the world is put together; they classify the plants, animals, and everything they find in the world. Meaning for their life comes from learning all they can about the world in which they live. The more mature ones following this pursuit limit themselves to seeking to understand a small aspect of this world. The scientist, George Washington Carver, said that when he was young he asked the Lord to reveal to him the secrets of the universe. The Lord told him that those secrets were reserved for Him alone. Then Carver asked the Lord to reveal to him the secrets of the peanut. The Lord agreed that was more George’s size and during his lifetime Carver made remarkable discoveries about the peanut. Studying the world in which we live is one way some people find meaning for their lives.
Understanding the world helps people build their own kingdoms. Although some have been very successful at building their kingdoms, they are often still unhappy people. Howard Hughes comes to mind. He understood much about how the world works and created a great deal of wealth, but ended up an unhappy and paranoid man. His understanding and wealth did not give him a meaningful life.
The second creation account centers on a different emphasis for life, a more internal way of looking at life. It begins by describing how to think about the life God has given us. Morality is introduced as we are told what to do and what not to do; morality then leads us to relationships forming another side of who we are as human beings. Genesis describes this duality of life, but we never completely succeed at either understanding the world or living rightly within it.
God also created potential in the world. There are still many things left for us to do. The idea of potential comes right at the creation of plants and animals. Their potential was there in the earth God had created, but it wasn’t until He sent the rains that the potential was fulfilled. God shows how a future lurks inside the present and only needs the right actions to bring it forth. Jesus also taught this in the sermon on the mount when He told us to live`rightly in the present and not worry about the future, leaving the future to God. All of what God will do in the future of the world, the calling of Abraham, the forming of the nation of Israel, the coming of the Messiah, and the final coming of the kingdom of God is all potentially present as God breathes into Adam the breath of life. In Genesis, the future lurks in the present.
This creation account tells of man being formed from the dust of the earth, so there is a part of us that is very much of the earth and that will always be with us. We will have a resurrected physical body forever. I had a roommate in college who was a diehard evolutionist and I was a diehard creationist. He told me that he knew mankind evolved from the sea because he felt a deep affinity for the sea even when he just smelled the sea air. I told him that when I smelled the sea air, I remembered all the times I was seasick. I felt that affinity when I was on a farm, so I knew that man was formed from the dust of the earth. Our feelings were more likely based in the fact that he grew up sailing off Long Island and I grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania. Wherever it comes from, all of us have some sort of affinity for the world that God made. We gain a richness to life from the world in which we live.
After He formed us from the dust of the earth, God also breathed into us the breath of life. When He did that, we became more than just of the earth; we also became alive to God. We have the breath of God in us. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and Hebrew uses the word ruach for breath, spirit, and wind. The same thing is true for the Greek in which the New Testament was originally written; the word pneuma also means all three things. So this verse could also be translated to mean that the spirit of God was put inside mankind. We are not satisfied with just being a part of the earth; we aspire to be related to God. I think the plants and animals are content to be a part of the earth; I don’t think they aspire to know the world or to worship God. I would be surprised if one Sunday our dog, Ashli, came to church and paid rapt attention as I read from the Scriptures, then lifted her heart in worshiping God. She is a wonderful dog but I don’t think she has aspirations of knowing God personally. She has been raised around people more than animals, so in many ways she reflects people, but only men and women have the breath of God in them that draws them to God.
This chapter in Genesis helps us see how we are this strange bipolar creature that needs to connect and understand the physical world and, at the same time, needs to worship and know God. We can never be complete when we attempt to leave behind either of those aspects of who we are. If we try to find our fulfillment by gaining all this world has to offer, or if we try to be purely “spiritual” we will end up being unfulfilled. We are built to have both. It is not just our spirits that will live forever; we also believe in the resurrection of the body. We will be both physical and spiritual forever. Jesus is that way right now. He was resurrected from the dead and His body is somewhere. I don’t know how to describe that somewhere, but His body ascended into heaven and He is still connected to His body. One day we will be the same. There is a gnostic teaching in much of Christianity today that teaches that the spirit is good and the physical is evil. That is not what the Bible teaches. It teaches that evil spirits exist and that the physical will be a part of heaven forever.
Another thing taught in this chapter is that Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden. This garden is bounded by four rivers. We are quite familiar with the Tigris and Euphrates, but the other two never appear in recorded history. It may have been that the Garden of Eden existed in both this world and in the abode of God. The two rivers of which we have no knowledge may have had their source in heaven. When we all gather at the river in heaven, those rivers may be where we gather. At that time, the abode of God and of humankind will come together once more.
Adam was put in a place where his basic needs were met; he was comfortable there. Even today men seem to think an ideal place would be one where they didn’t have to work and their basic needs were met. Some men get that feeling when the are in front of a TV watching a football game, having a beer, plenty of snacks, and a bathroom close by. There is even a sense of a god in that picture, because sports team are a bit like deities. Men’s spirits rise and fall according to the fates of their favorite teams. For men, that would be Eden but it might not be enough for women. We also don’t usually realize how temporary that “Eden” really is. The game will be soon over, the beer and snacks will run dry, your team may lose, and you will have to go back to work the next day. The real Garden of Eden is about being in that state forever. We have a genuine longing for it and can never really find it on this earth.
One day we will be with the real God, not a temporary deity like the Carolina Panthers or the Atlanta Braves. We will be with that real God forever and He will wipe away all our tears and see that all our needs are met. We will be able to live as we were created, both physical and spiritual. We don’t have to settle for a second-rate deity, but will have the opportunity to live as we were created to live, in the presence of God and in the world God made. We can begin to live that way right now, for we can walk with the Lord as we live our lives in this world. When we live with God and worship Him, we can finally become what we were created to be.