Every once in a while you finish a book and somehow know it’s changed your life. Epic of Eden is that book for me. Five good friends took a chance one summer and read it with me. An Old Testament textbook used in seminaries, this tome intimidated us, but courageously, we did our best to absorb everything Dr. Sandra Richter had to say about the Old Testament, which she calls the story of God’s people, that is to say – our story.
I can’t begin to list here all the reasons Epic of Eden is so incredible, but for our purposes on this particular journey of learning what it means to dwell, we can grab hold of what Dr. Richter says so simply – from Eden to the New Eden, God’s ambition is to BE WITH US.
In the beginning, God creates everything on earth, including a particular “garden in the east in Eden” into which He places Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:8). We are given clues as to how magnificent this garden is – filled with every tree that looks good and tastes even better, a mighty river, animals that Adam names, and most importantly the garden is a place God inhabits with His creation. Eden is without blemish and contains everything God had in mind when He began creating.
The writer(s) of Genesis help us see how perfect the world is before the Fall, more so than most of us realize. Recently I heard Dr. Richter teach that Eden’s flawless, flourishing trees are more than food and the river more than refreshing water. Throughout Scripture, they become symbolic of God and humanity dwelling together.
Images of trees, flowers, and fruit throughout Scripture point us back to the days of the perfect Garden. Visions of a river of life in Ezekiel 47 and Revelation 22 echo the cosmic river of Eden that flows fully in the Garden. Rivers and trees weave in and out of our story as captured by the Old Testament writers, and the objective is to remind us of God’s presence with His creation in Eden.
In summarizing Eden, Dr. Richter says the people of God thrived in the place of God, and they dwelled in the presence of God. THIS is God’s original intent.
But, we know how this story goes. Turn the page and Adam and Eve give in to temptation, defying God. Paradise and its picture perfect world, where God and humanity dwell together, are shattered:
“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. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked?’”Genesis 3:8-11, ESV
Cast out of Eden, all of humanity lives the consequences of the Fall. Yet our hearts are created for Eden, which is why when bad things happen, we feel as though it’s wrong, often lamenting, “it’s not supposed to be this way.” Because it isn’t. The fallen world is not God’s original intent.
The good news, in the middle of the mess and misery, is that God doesn’t let the story end here. We can trace God’s redemptive plan through each great moment of Old Testament history to find all the ways God works to rescue this relationship between Him and humanity, each becoming a step toward the ultimate reversal – Jesus Himself – so that by the end of the story, Jesus returns and ushers in Eden-restored.
It seems a bit ironic that we don’t get a glimpse of what the relationship between Adam, Eve, and God is like until after they eat the fruit, but we do get to observe God walking in the Garden with them. He looks for them and at them. He talks with them. He provides for them (Genesis 3).
This scene evokes much curiosity within me — God inhabiting a garden, on earth, with the people He created. After what we learned last week about the incinerating qualities of God’s holiness and our inability to enter His presence in all of our sin – lest we die – it’s awe-inspiring to see what our hearts yearn for so beautifully depicted.
Intimate is a walk in the garden with the One who loves us fully.
That little line in Genesis 3:8, “the Lord God walking in the garden,” embodies God’s design and desire to dwell with His people. So our hearts break when we realize just how much is lost when sin comes into the world.
But it’s also why our hearts grow three sizes bigger when we sing hymns like “In the Garden” – because the chorus gives us a picture of what we long for and of what’s to come in the New Eden.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
How beautiful is it to stop and walk in this perfect Garden with our Lord? Even if it is only in our minds today, the image is enough to anchor us in hope for this eternal togetherness.
Lauren Daigle’s opening song to our Dwell playlist ends with this repetitive lyric, “Eternity will almost be enough,” while the background chorus reverberates, “in Your presence.” For me, it captures this feeling we harbor deep in our souls, this longing to be with God. We want to be in His presence so much that, almost jokingly, we join Lauren in saying, eternity will almost be long enough to be with Him. We have so much to look forward to, and for now we can relish this gift, this picture Eden gives us of what dwelling in God’s presence looks like.
- Take time in you journal this week to list what you know about Eden and what you look forward to most upon its return!
- Our Dwell Playlist grows — I added “In the Garden” this week because it too perfectly illustrates God inhabiting a garden WITH US!
- I highly recommend Epic of Eden.* It really helped to have friends to process it all — it is PACKED so full! And considering it’s seminary worthy, it is quite readable for the rest of us.
- If you’d rather have Dr. Richter teach it to you herself (which is quite the treat), Seedbed partnered with her to create a small group study based on all the goodness in her book. I’ve read the book, done the study, and helped lead it two more times. And I get all geeky thinking about doing it again.
- And, it so happens Seedbed is about to start an online study of Epic of Eden on February 7th. You can sign up here. It’s a little pricey, but you get to keep the video teachings, which I promise you’ll value.
Featured photo by Florian Giorgio on Unsplash
*indicates an affiliate link, so with any purchases made I earn a wee bit