Outside of the Garden: What Now?

Outside of the Garden: What Now?

Written by: Pete McClanathan

Recall again the climactic event of Genesis 3:

“Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” (Gen. 3: 7-8)

There we have it. Even before the many physical curses that soon were to come (the ground, work, childbirth, even physical death), Adam and Eve experienced a terrible and wholly unexpected consequence of their sin: distortion of their relationship with God.

Prior to the fall, mankind had enjoyed ongoing intimacy with God. Out of that intimacy flowed the blessings of their life in the garden: lavish provision, protection, unpoisoned relationship (with God and with each other), and purpose (to care for God’s creation).

Never again in this season of divine economy would that status be restored in its former completeness. There would come many provisions of grace as God’s plan unfolds, but the perfection of the garden would not be attained again on this earth. And man would carry the continuing curse of sin that pollutes his life, his values, his actions, his decisions, and his relationships. Worst of all it was final, non-negotiable:

“...therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Gen. 3: 23-24)

Are there any sadder words in Scripture, in literature, in human history? We are outside the garden and can’t make our way back. Every suffering and evil that has ever plagued mankind is traceable to the tragedy of Gen. 3.

Now outside of the provision and protection of the garden, man’s preoccupation necessarily became himself.  He was left to make his way in a hostile and frightening world that he had never known and was poorly equipped to manage.
Instead of free abundance, he found a mostly-meager existence accessible only through difficult work. In place of the God-ordained purpose of caring for creation, he was met with confusion, uncertainty, and incompleteness. Whereas his identity once was contained in his relationship with God and the purposes that flowed therefrom, mankind now faced competition from others and threats from the plant and animal kingdoms that he once lovingly managed.

Unfamiliar feelings consumed the former occupants of the garden. A survey of Gen. 4-11 demonstrates the ravages of the new order: fear, anger, envy, competition, violence, death, pride, disrespect, lust, and a disregard for God and worship.

Despite the optimistic words of Gen. 4:26 that tell us that for a time “people began to call upon the name of the Lord,” and the favorable account of Noah and his family (Gen. 6-9), the story of man quickly deteriorates into degradation. By the time of Gen. 6, we find God’s observations and His opinion of man:

“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of this land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I made them.” (Gen. 6: 5-7)
I strongly suspect that we seldom really face the gravity of these words. Wickedness. Every intention. Only evil continually. Regretted that he had made man. Grieved him to his heart. Blot out man and creation from the earth. The One who six times pronounced His creation “good” and once as “very good” in Gen. 1, now expresses deep regret over the entire project. Wider extremes do not exist.

Faced with this verdict and condemnation, how dare any of us take sin lightly, or view casually the miracle of our redemption in Christ, or disregard the effects of our thoughts, our words, and our behavior on the heart of God?  

We can learn much as we view human nature and history through this lens. We begin by considering what this journey through the details of Gen. 3 means to us today. Does this vantage point reveal any helpful understandings, and if so, what?

The answer would be yes, and in all areas of our lives. Why? In simple terms, the elements of self-driven thought, emotion, and decision-making that led to the pitfalls and tragedies of Gen. 3 are the very struggles that we too encounter. The characters, places, and events have changed over time, but mankind’s challenges have not.

This article is being posted together with the one following. They are intended as a unified piece, separated only to avoid one excessively long article. Whether you begin with this or the other, it may be profitable to study them together.

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