Having spent so much time dedicated to the study of Genesis 1-3, I’ve come to realize that as amazing as those pictures are, we have far too small a picture of paradise. I would put forth that paradise is much more than enjoying the physical beauty and comforts of creation. If we were to define paradise according to the garden of Eden before the Fall into sin, then paradise would be more than a place where creation flourishes, though creation flourishing is part of it (Gen. 3:17-18; Rom. 8:20), but many of us miss that paradise was, most importantly, a place where relationships flourished. Creation’s curse is the result of a relational breakdown that has occurred between man and God.
In the original paradise, there was perfect harmony between man and God. God walked with man in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8). I understand that to mean that when Adam’s purposeful and rewarding work of tending of the garden was done for the day, God would come regularly to hang out with him much like we enjoy spending time with our families in the evening. Adam walked with God and found purpose in doing His will.
In the original paradise, there was perfect harmony between man and man. Adam and Eve understood they were made for each other. Genesis 2:23 suggest that when Adam saw Eve, whom God has fashioned from his very own flesh and bone, he looked at Eve as though she was perfect: “This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh[!]” I always want to add an exclamation point there. They say the original Hebrew suggests it could have “Wow!” tone to it. Genesis 2:24 closes the chapter with Adam and Eve’s marriage. They are described as one flesh, cleaving to each other, and being naked and unashamed. There is no conflict. No shame. Their focus had not turned inward (they hadn’t seen the need for fig leaves yet!). There was an intimate oneness between them as they reflected the image of the Triune God.
In the original paradise, there was perfect harmony between man and himself. Man understood his intrinsic value that wasn’t based on looks, feelings, or performance. Guilt wasn’t a thing, as there was no true, judicial guilt before God. They hadn’t wronged God or each other. There was no fear – no need to run and hide from God or cover themselves up. There was no empty pursuits because man was satisfied with God and His love (1 Jn. 4:18) and who God made him to be.
We all long for this paradise, don’t we? I think if we were honest, much of our attempts to “get away” are the attempts to try and run from our interpersonal conflicts with others at home or at work. Many are also “escaping” by trying to find the satisfaction their soul longs for in the world, rather than in God. God is a last “resort” for them – pun intended. Like Onesimus in Philemon, we run from our Master and run from the consequences that come with broken relationships in our lives. The truth is though, we can be in the middle of nowhere on an island but if we have a broken relationship somewhere 1,000 miles away, we can be an anxious, bitter, and sorrowful mess on the inside. Running doesn’t help the situation and “giving it time” just won’t do the trick.
The good news is that Jesus came to restore us to paradise through the gospel. For those who’ve received Him as their Savior, they have the ultimate hope that He will come again one day and after transforming our bodies into glorious, sin-free bodies like His own. He’ll take us by the hand and lead us to a New Heaven and New Earth where paradise is restored in all aspects.
In the meantime, as we studied in Philemon today, the gospel is still the answer to making life a little more like paradise – a place where interpersonal relationships flourish by the enabling work of the Spirit in us. As we live out the gospel by showing each other the same mercy, grace, kindness, love, and forgiveness that God has shown us, we become like a little pocket of flourishing in the world. Our churches, homes, and relationships become little glimpses of paradise – the paradise that was and is to come.
My heart breaks for those who’ve never genuinely experienced a church where they really lived out the gospel. Many churches are known for biting and devouring one another instead of being known for extraordinary love of their neighbors. Would you join me in the pursuit of giving this longing world a glimpse of paradise by living the gospel?