Throughout some of Christian history, The Garden of Eden has been looked at as a “Perfect Place.” Adam and Eve also as “Perfect People.” This interpretation is especially popular in America and Western Christianity. This Perfect View (as I will call it) has one of the most influential theologians in history in its favor. Augustine, who lived in the late 300’s. This man heavily influenced much of Catholic and Evangelical Christian Theology today. The Perfect View is so popular that few people are aware of a more original (and hence earlier too) understanding of the Garden and Adam and Eve.
The more biblical view avoids the word “perfect” and uses the Bible’s own word for the Garden and Adam and Eve. The Bible calls them “Good” (Genesis 1:31), but never perfect. Goodness has more to do with simplicity and basic humanness than it does some heavenly perfection. There are reasons that defining the garden and first humans as perfect should be avoided. Doing so we run into nearly insurmountable difficulties. Among them are 1) How did sin enter a perfect place? 2) How could perfect people choose sin? Perfection makes things hard here. But, the Simple Goodness View can get the job done.
In the Simple Goodness View, humans could not really be perfect at the outset. Humans are species that by definition are a growing and developing kind of thing. The very concept of people or humanness necessitates that they must be able to grow and mature. In other words, Adam and Eve were not pre-downloaded with all the necessary information that they would always need. God had them on a growth track. And, seemingly, the way to grow is to interact with the natural world through decisions. Opportunities to decide can build human maturity. Decisions can make us great vessels for God or corrupted vessels of sin.
This brings us to the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” This “tree” has much to do with choice. Adam and Eve (because they are human) must have the opportunity to work on their growth. This means decisions. This possibly even means faltering. I myself do not think that God was surprised by Adam and Eve sinning. In my mind, this seems to be a possibility from the outset for all those training for godliness and growing in understanding.
The possibility of temptation is woven into the fabricate of a good world that human creatures get to make decisions in. Tim Bergman mentioned to me on Sunday that he often teaches in his Bible Seminars that temptation is “the thought to satisfy a good desire in the wrong way.” In other words, Adam and Eve’s curiosity and desire to know were good desires, but they were fulfilled in a timing and place that was not good for them. We can say the same thing about our own temptations. For an easy example, the desire to enjoy some chocolate is good. However, if one goes about stealing chocolate to fulfill that desire, or perhaps gorges on it constantly, then we would fault the route of fulfillment.
Now to us who are also human. Lent reminds us of the good desires of Jesus for food, worship, and trusting in God that the devil wanted to use for evil. We human creatures get “trees” or opportunities to decide how we will fulfill our desires for good things. Like Jesus, we must order our desires. Will we go about them in good and maturing ways or in detrimental and de-maturing ways? This is the challenge of any Garden. This is the challenge for all humanity. This is the opportunity of Lent!