Placed in God’s Garden

And YHWH God planted a garden eastward, in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed (Genesis 2:8).

When we think of the Garden of Eden, we tend to do so in terms of paradise lost: man sinned and was forced out (Genesis 3:1-22). Yet we can gain lessons about man’s relationship toward God based on what God sought to accomplish in Eden.

Genesis 2:4-25 provides greater detail regarding the creation of man and woman as mentioned in Genesis 1:26-30. Much is made of Genesis 2:4-25 as a “competing” account of creation; the Genesis author has no such idea in mind, but presents to further explain man’s creation. We make much of God making man from the dust of the ground and breathing into him the breath of life (Hebrew neshama, Greek psyche; Genesis 2:7), and for good reason: such explains how man is both earthly and divine, energized dust. Thus man returns to the dust from which he came (Genesis 3:19); the breath of life in him is a gift and is not to be treated flippantly. Yet what does God then do with the man? YHWH planted a garden, made every tree with fruit good to eat grow there, and He put the man into that garden where he was to work it and keep it (Genesis 2:8-15). God does not just drop the man anywhere in the creation. He places the man in His garden.

“Eden” seems to connote delight and pleasure, as can be seen in the related Hebrew word found in Genesis 18:12, 2 Samuel 1:24, Psalm 36:8, and Jeremiah 51:34; not for nothing does the Greek translator of the Septuagint translate “garden” with paradeison, “paradise,” in Genesis 2:8. The Greek term itself derives from a Persian word describing a “walled enclosure”; a “royal park” is really in view, a well-planned, well-maintained garden, not terribly unlike the gardens of palaces, manors, and estates still visible in Europe, even if reflecting different tastes. Thus Eden was never really “raw nature”; it was a divinely created and organized garden estate, featuring aesthetically pleasing plants, plants good for food, and most likely embodying divine creativity and organization throughout.

A garden, by its very nature, is artificial; if left untended it will become overgrown and lose the properties which distinguish a garden from a forest or other form of natural environment. Man, therefore, was to work and keep God’s garden. Man is made to work; the ultimate futility of the endeavor is the curse of the fall, not the desire for the endeavor itself (Genesis 3:17-18; cf. Ecclesiastes 1:2-11). But man is not made to work in a vacuum: he is made to work and keep God’s garden. Man does not make the garden; man does not innovate in the garden; man is placed in God’s garden to keep it, to enjoy it, and to relish the sublime beauty and truth established in how God has composed that garden.

Since the fall man has been removed from that garden and has lost his innocence; from Eden man will end up at Babel, using his creative energies to make monuments to his own greatness (Genesis 11:1-8). Not much has changed since. Man was made to explore God’s garden and world in wonderment; we have perverted that impulse into a desire to become the masters of the universe. When we “discover” something, we presume some sort of ownership or control over it. In the grand scheme of things such claims seem petty, as a child’s game. It reminds us of the claims of certain Europeans having “discovered” America and other places; the Native Americans of the time were unaware that their lands needed “discovering,” and were quite aware of its existence for millennia without any Europeans around. Likewise, when humans learn about things, they are not really new; they have always existed, testifying to God’s majesty and power (Romans 1:19-21). We could learn about such things and give glory to God; instead, we tend to try to take them back to the Babels which we have built and use them to magnify ourselves. The results are less than aesthetically pleasing.

And yet, ever since the fall, God has called humanity back into restored relationship with Him. We now have opportunity to return to God and seek His purposes through His Son Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1-11). In Jesus we have the hope to return to paradise, to recover what was lost in the fall (Luke 23:43, 2 Corinthians 12:4, Revelation 2:7, 22:1-6). We yearn for full restoration and to bask in the glory of God’s presence without hindrance for eternity (Romans 8:18-25, Revelation 21:1-27). We want to go back to the Garden.

While we do await that full restoration, we are also told that we are a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). God “undoes” the curse of Babel on the day of Pentecost when the assembled Jewish people hear in their own languages the mighty works of God (Acts 2:11). In our lives as Christians we are again invited to participate in the work of glorifying God in His Kingdom, to do His work for His purposes (1 Corinthians 15:58, 2 Corinthians 9:8, Philippians 2:13, Colossians 1:10). Thus, in a real way, Christians are invited to “keep God’s garden” by working in His vineyard, the Kingdom (Matthew 21:33-44).

In many ways God invites us into His garden to enjoy its delights and to work and maintain it. The whole creation is, in a real sense, God’s garden. Through science and technology we learn much about God’s creation; we should not presume to be able to master and manipulate it fully to our own ends, to bring it back into our philosophical boxes to serve our ends, but should glorify God in wonderment for what He has made and how (cf. Psalm 8:1-9). God has given us of His Word (Hebrews 1:1-3, 2 Timothy 3:15-17). We ought to spend time in that Word, diligently applying ourselves to learn it and to accomplish its purposes in our lives (2 Timothy 2:15). Yet, just as Adam could never truly innovate in or master Eden, so we should never presume that we can discover something new through our investigation or mining of the Word, or imagine that we can take God’s Word to our Babel of philosophical ideologies and structures and in that way improve on it or understand it better than all who have come before us (cf. Colossians 2:8). We will never master the Word; we submit to God through the message of the Word and find ourselves mastered by it (Hebrews 4:12). The Word is to be one of God’s gardens of delight for us, a place in which we may find constant surprise which is to lead to confidence in God, adoration of His beauty, and praising and glorifying His name. God has given us important people and relationships in our lives; man was not made to be alone, for God Himself is not alone, but one in relational unity (Genesis 2:18, John 17:21-23). Those people in our lives are not there to be mastered or manipulated; instead, we are to enjoy their presence, seek to encourage them and help build them up, and glorify God for their presence. Every time we are tempted to make a Babel of something which God has made we do well to instead frame it as part of God’s garden, something on which we cannot improve, but something which we can cherish, enjoy, and learn about, all to the glory of God.

God has made us; in Him we live and move and have our being; we are made to seek Him (Acts 17:26-28). It is not for us to master, manipulate, and presume that we can make better than what God has already made. Instead, since the beginning, it has been for us to enjoy with wonderment God’s garden, to work in God’s creation and maintain things, and to give God all the glory. May we seek alignment with God’s purposes, renounce our impulse for mastery and control, submit to the Lord Jesus, and work in His Kingdom to His glory for all eternity!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Babel and Human Potential

And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is what they begin to do: and now nothing will be withholden from them, which they purpose to do. Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech” (Genesis 11:6-7).

It is perhaps the earliest backhanded compliment ever given.

God is quite aware of human potential; He made man in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). When humans come together and work together, there is very little which they are not able to accomplish. So much of what has been accomplished over the past few hundred years testifies to this; we live in a very different world than people in the 1700s did. To a large degree we have tamed our environment, with large cities, highly developed infrastructure, and many technological innovations which have improved the quality of life immeasurably. We marvel at bridges, dams, skyscrapers, and other astounding feats of engineering. Humans, therefore, have a great amount of potential!

We think this potential is great; we do not see any problem at all with it. Yet, according to what we see in Genesis 11:6-8, God decides that this potential is problematic, and confuses the language of humans so that they will scatter and disperse.

This does not seem right. Why would God want humans to be separated and divided? Does God not want humanity to be unified? Is it not a good thing that there is no end to what humans can accomplish when they work together?

The circumstances during which God makes this declaration explain the difficulties. Humans, still unified in language, came together on the plain of Shinar in order to build a tower and a city to make a name for themselves and so that they would not be scattered across the face of the earth (Genesis 11:1-4). This was contrary to God’s intentions (cf. Genesis 9:1), and speaks volumes regarding humans, their intentions, and the ways they use their potential.

We do not think the exercise of human potential is a bad thing at all; in reality, it does not have to be. But humans have been corrupted by sin, and therefore we should not be surprised to see that human potential is often expended in misdirected ways. So it is with the Tower of Babel on the plain of Shinar: man uses his potential to seek to glorify himself and to make a monument to his endeavors and abilities. It is not about God and His glory; it does not seem as if those in Babel gave any consideration to God and what He intended.

One could make a good case that the earth cannot sustain humans living at their full potential. What do people end up doing when they come together and purpose to work together? They transform their environment. People continue to consume with abandon. Little thought is given about what resources will be left for future generations; people end up being too preoccupied with advancing their own purposes and causes in their own generation to think of that. The only checks on such activity come from illnesses and war.

And so God confuses human language, the one thing which seems to keep people together and working together, and from this point people separate from one another. Humans, apparently, must be saved from themselves. From this point on much human potential and energy would be directed against one another, finding new and innovative ways to destroy one another, to get advantages over others, and to find ways of reinforcing “us” and “our” superiority against “them”. Buildings, cities, monuments, civilizations, and the like are built and destroyed. We really have not “developed” much past our ancestors at Babel: we still yearn to be together and to make a name for ourselves. Humans, whenever they get together, plan and purpose for their own ends and glory. And their efforts, no matter how successful they might have seemed for a time, always end up frustrated. Every building, city, monument, and civilization decays and collapses. Everyone dies.

If the Bible ended here in Genesis 11, the story would be quite bleak indeed. Humans were made in God’s image but sinned and found themselves separated from God (Genesis 1:1-3:24). Humans drifted further and further from God’s intentions, suffering terribly, and now is not only separated from God but also is now separated from his fellow man (Genesis 11:1-9). Man finds himself without God, without redemption, without a covenant or identity from God, and therefore without hope. Such is life “under the sun,” and it is not a pretty picture at all. Little wonder people continue to embrace the futile goal of Babel and continue to believe the lie!

But the Bible does not end here. The genealogy immediately following the story of the Tower of Babel brings us to Abram (cf. Genesis 11:10-32), and God will call Abram to Himself and through him begin a series of promises and covenants leading to the means by which He would deliver mankind from his terrible plight.

This story reaches its climax in Abraham’s descendant Jesus of Nazareth and the Gospel proclaimed in His name as found in Acts 2:1-36. And of all the ways by which God would communicate the importance of this message, which does God choose, as exemplified in Acts 2:1-36? Of all the means by which God could communicate how He was bringing all people into the covenant through Jesus, which does God choose in Acts 10:44-48? Speaking in tongues: foreign languages!

The symbolism is potent: Jesus and His Kingdom are the anti-Babel. All that which was established on account of Babel is undone through Jesus and His Kingdom. On account of the Tower of Babel, man’s language was confused so that he could not come together by a common purpose and grew alienated from one another. Through Christ all people of every language, ethnicity, race, and any other mark of identity become one body (Ephesians 2:11-17, Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11).

There is another very important detail about the Apostles and Cornelius and his men as they spoke in tongues: Luke says that they spoke the “mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11) and “magnified God” (Acts 10:46). Our unity can only exist insofar as we are unified with God (cf. John 17:20-23, 1 John 1:5-7); yet we are only brought together so that we can join with one voice to praise the name of God and tell of His wonderful deeds. We are brought together into one Kingdom in Jesus not to advance our own purposes but the purposes of God who purchased us in Christ (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Galatians 2:20). In Christ alone can we find true unity and true purpose so that it is no longer our will, but His, that will be done.

Human potential is not the problem; sin is. Human potential, misdirected because of sin, causes all sorts of problems, seeking only to magnify man’s name. The fact that God felt compelled to separate us from ourselves speaks volumes about our intentions and purposes in the flesh! Human potential, misdirected by sin, causes great damage and pain. It is only when human potential is harnessed and directed toward the glorification of God and the advancement of His purposes that it can be a beautiful sight in the eyes of God and lead to the general betterment of all things. Let us seek unity with God in Christ and thus with one another so that we can expend all of our energies and resources to God’s glory and praise!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Beginnings

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).

Beginnings are extremely important: they set the tone and the scene for everything that follows. Is it foreboding? Is it optimistic? What is going on? How will things proceed?

If such is true for the beginning of common stories, how much more significant is the beginning of the story of stories, and, for that matter, the beginning of all beginnings! Even though we humans were not there nor could be there when everything began, how we understand our origins has a profound influence on how we view ourselves and our relationship with our surroundings. Little wonder, then, that every culture has told some sort of story about how everything began. It allows them to understand who they are in the context of their environment.

So many of these stories tell as much about the story-tellers as it does about possible origins. Some, like the Egyptians, understand creation in terms of copulation. The Babylonian creation story, called the Enuma Elish, sees the earth and skies as created from the corpse of the defeated goddess Tiamat (Chaos), and the blood of her husband Kingu was used to create humans to work the soil and provide food-offerings and thus sustenance for the Babylonian gods.

These and many other stories see the universe in terms of different divine forces in strong competition, bickering, arguing, killing, or, for that matter, copulating or other such activities. In many of these stories the gods seem to need humans, but humans are reduced to divine servitude of the lowest order. When these are the stories that one believes explains who they are and why they are here, what will they make of their lives? How will they feel about the divine or about their fellow man?

The Bible’s story of creation stands in stark contrast to all of this. Sure, there is chaos in the beginning, but there is never an argument or a disputation about the events to follow. The story is told simply: God spoke, and it happened (cf. Genesis 1:2-2:3, Psalm 33:6). There is little sense of mythologizing in this early portrayal: God systematically creates light, the expanse we call Heaven, dry land and seas, vegetation, sun, moon, and stars, fish and birds, and then land animals and humans (Genesis 1:2-31). And then He rests, finished with His acts of creation (Genesis 2:1-3, Hebrews 4:1-11). No fighting; no contest; no copulation. A God with power speaking the world into existence!

And yet man knows where he stands: God created him in His image, and is given dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:26-30). God does not need him, but without God, man is nothing and has nothing. God does not want to reduce man into servile bondage; instead, He created man in order to share in relationship with Him as He shares in relational unity within Himself (Genesis 1:26-27, Acts 17:26-28, John 17:20-23). Since God is love, His act of creation is an act of love (1 John 4:8); He does not force people into relationship with Him, following after His will, but provides every opportunity and invitation for them to do so.

Many have tried to show all of the commonalities of many of the stories of creation, but in many ways the differences could not be greater. The different stories provide completely different views of the nature of divinity, the purpose of mankind, and the relationship between the divine, mankind, and the creation. The Bible’s story tells of a God who has all power and has no need for a power trip; He creates in an orderly fashion with complete sovereignty and always acts in love. As humans we are created in love for love as expressed in relationship, both with God and with one another; we are not caught up in a divine power trip or serve as divine minions to keep the gods fed so they can devote their time to leisure.

The Bible’s story of the beginning emphasizes God’s power and the dignity and integrity inherent within mankind as created in the image of God for relationship with God and one another. Let us be thankful for such a beginning, and let us devote ourselves freely to the God who created us, loved us, and worked diligently to redeem us!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Our Need For Others

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him that is alone when he falleth, and hath not another to lift him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have warmth; but how can one be warm alone? And if a man prevail against him that is alone, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

God created mankind to be a social creature. As an individual alone in a hostile world, one person does not seem to stand much of a chance. In larger numbers, however, mankind can dominate the environment and provide all kinds of services for one another. For better or worse, human beings need their fellow human beings.

It is tragic in many ways that our current society tends to exalt self-sufficiency, as if anyone has ever succeeded truly on his or her own. Humans were never designed to be “self-sufficient.” There has not been one person who truly “made it” by merely “pulling up his own bootstraps.” Somehow, somewhere, there have always been people providing assistance, be it instruction, financial or material support, or some other such thing. Nevertheless, how many people withdraw themselves into their own worlds and attempt to handle all of life’s circumstances on their own? How often are such people depressed, discouraged, in despair, and miserable?

Our Creator knows quite well that we are unable to function on our own, no matter how strongly we may seek to protest. One of the first lessons in wisdom is that we are not sufficient in and of ourselves. Our ways lead to death (Proverbs 14:12). It is not within us to guide our own steps (Jeremiah 10:23). We must lean on the Lord: that requires some humility and the swallowing of pride, but without doing so, we cannot be saved (1 Peter 5:6-7)!

Because we cannot function on our own, God, in His infinite wisdom, established the church, and composed it as a body– Christ is its Head (Ephesians 5:23), and individual believers make up the various components of the body, working together, supporting one another in times of joy or despair (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). As man cannot make it alone physically, he cannot think to make it alone spiritually. Just as mankind comes together in communities, so God has established His community for His people.

Local churches may have their ups and downs, and they may not function entirely as their Lord intended. That is why it is so incumbent on every believer to recognize the lie and deception of society– that somehow they can do it all on their own, physically, emotionally, and spiritually– and be willing to be accountable to his or her fellow believers and seek to encourage and be encouraged by them at every opportunity (James 5:16, Hebrews 10:24-25).

The stronger the connection among fellow believers, the harder it is for the Adversary to succeed. Let us recognize our need for fellow believers, and seek to encourage and be encouraged constantly!

Ethan R. Longhenry