Kehrberg: Eden’s flaws a perfect model

Sep 25, 2017 by

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This earth is the garden of our Lord, and he walks in his garden in the cool of the day. — Jean Ritchie, “Now Is the Cool of the Day”

In a late-night chat with my daughters, we hit on the topic of sin, which took us into Eden. One of my girls said, “It looks like Eden was God’s experiment for a perfect world.” The other snorted, “that totally flopped.”

Sarah Kehrberg

Kehrberg

I argued that Eden could have remained an idyllic place if Adam and Eve hadn’t disobeyed. “No,” a daughter said, “if it wasn’t Adam or Eve, someone else would have picked the apple. Eventually they’d eat it.”

Eden was, indeed, unsuccessful. But was it an experiment doomed from the start? If it was perfect, how could it fail?

Then it struck me that Eden was never perfect. The snake was there.

More important, Adam and Eve had the capacity to choose the snake’s voice over God’s. Evil lay within, and who else put it there but the Creator?

I think I agree with my daughter. Given the possibility, it was just a matter of time until the fruit looked too good and the snake sounded too sweet. God had to know the sorrow he hardwired into his beautiful creation.

Why would God sabotage his own creation?

This is a troubling truth every Christian has to face at some point: It doesn’t matter why God permitted the snake’s existence, or for what purpose people received the right to make bad choices. He did, and we do. When it comes to the genesis of evil, God is culpable.

Eden is where we see an all-powerful God who seems to limit himself. God’s concept of power is contrary to humans’. Jesus showed victory won through humiliation and death.

Eden was a short-term venture because God’s power does not come from domination. He cannot stop us from participating with the snake. He cannot make us love him. Humans know this instinctually, and the sense of power is intoxicating. We turn from Good, giving pain to ourselves, simply to feel the adrenaline rush of having our own way.

People know that there are forces, independent of us, at work. This is depicted as angels versus devils on shoulders. Or, as in Star Wars movies, as light rays and force fields that the Jedi tap into to achieve their desired end.

Eden’s story has the snake’s voice as that unique agent of evil. Just as God is an outside source of goodness and love, Evil slithers about with its poisonous gospel of self. Humans have unrestrained access to either.

I try theodicy, but to no avail. Evil is inexplicable. I find nonsensical peace while resting in that thought.

I also take great hope that our God knows evil and gave it a name: Snake, Satan, Deceiver. Each moment, God looks fully on Evil and says, “I see you in all your colors and contortions, and I am not afraid. This is my garden. You are just in it.”

Believing in the imperfect but harmonious Eden answers humans’ nagging desire to be better. Only Jesus shows us the way back — a reversal of Adam and Eve’s acquiescence to selfish desire into selfless love.

I like to imagine that the angel that guarded Jesus’ tomb was the same that barred the entry to Eden all those years before. That the same angel watched Jesus walk out into the fresh air to let us know that we could now return. Eden was restored.

Sarah Kehrberg lives in Swannanoa, N.C., and attends Asheville Mennonite Church.


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