Take about 10 seconds, close your eyes, and think about the Garden of Eden.
What all did you think about? A lot of greenery, and maybe some exotic animals? A few rivers if you remember your Genesis story well? How long did you last before picturing a snake, a tree, and an apple? If you’re like me, your imagination usually telescopes past that indeterminate period of time between Creation and The Fall. Any attempts at imagining the garden are lost pretty quickly in thoughts of not having much to do and being naked. Though I’m sure the world as God created it was much better than I can imagine, until recently I had never really tried to imagine it. What was going on? God created the world and said “good,” but what was that world like, before the fall?
One of the things that’s always tripped me up was the idea of time. Was the world as it was originally made some sort of timeless paradise? It’s difficult to imagine that, just like it’s difficult to imagine a timeless, heavenly existence. We’re grounded in time. And apparently, so was creation. The creation story is told in terms of days — evenings and mornings, in a cycle. This is significant. A question my innocent childhood curiosity never saw satisfied was “Why did God need six days to create the world and a seventh to rest?” Was it just that huge of an undertaking, or was God taking his time, making it up as He went? Either answer leaves you with the problem of a creative process, and a timeless product.
Why is that a problem? If we soak in the Genesis story more fully, we find that the finished creation was less of a product, and more of a project. The great lights in the sky were to govern days and nights and seasons. Animals were instructed to multiply. Plants were instructed to yield fruit. Built in to creation is this ongoing motion of cycles and seasons, production and consumption. God told man the fruit of the Garden was for him to eat. Fruit and seeds means germination, development, and growth. Eating means consumption and metabolization. These types of processes have no place in a timeless world. But why seven “days” to accomplish this creation? The seven day account establishes the concept of the cycle, a pattern of work and rest, and a guided forward motion. The creation process set the tempo for a song that was meant to go somewhere. It was the opening paragraph of a great story.
Then the memorable part of the Genesis story happened — the Fall. From that moment on, the story became that of rescue and renewal. It’s from that moment on, and through the lens of that altered story, that most theology functions. The starting point of the Christian story becomes the fallen state of the world, and works forward from there. The fallen state of the world is important, because in a very large sense it’s where we are. But without meditating on what the original story was supposed to be, where the original project was supposed to go, we can’t clearly perceive where we are now and where our current story is headed. Our starting point has to be the original project. Once we’re standing on that plane and our imaginations are wrapped in that story, we’ll start seeing the now and the not-yet in a different light. We’ll have a better sense of what we’re supposed to be doing and what our ultimate purpose is.
So how do we wrap our imaginations in it? Think about God walking with man in the Garden in the cool of the day. What would they talk about? Remember what man was supposed to do. What kind of men could tend the garden, name the animals, go into all the earth and subdue it? What were their own creations and projects like? What could the man + woman relationship have been like, and in turn their collective relationship to their creator? They obviously weren’t perfect, but both their purpose and responsibility were epic.
This is the first of a three part series exploring the “project-ness” of the world and some of the ramifications of that [I believe] foundational concept. It will by no means be exhaustive or even a good start, but hopefully it will plant some flags that I can return to later. If the project-ness of Creation is the starting point, then the project-ness of New Creation (à la Rev. 21 & 22) is the destination and what I’ll look at next.