Monday, March 22, 2010

Why Heaven Will Be Superior To Eden

There is an idea floating around in contemporary Christian literature and music and I am baffled at its popularity. It usual manifests itself in phrases like "return to paradise" or "get back to Eden". I am baffled because—if one makes even a cursory reading of Genesis 2-3 and then Revelation 20-22—heaven seems plainly superior in many ways to Eden.

Yet this idea that salvation and heaven are just a reclaiming of what was lost in Eden seems to have some staying power. Certainly there are obvious similarities (which seem to get all the attention by many), but the differences are significant and considerable. I'm not even talking about the superficial distinctions—obviously one is a garden and the other is a city (the only carry-over we see in both places is the tree of life). Some of the other differences, however, are important because they inform our understanding of the fall, of heaven, and of the sovereignty of God.

The potential for a fall

I was tempted to break these all into individual points, but in the interest of brevity (and intellectual integrity) I summed them up to the basic idea that the fall and all that came with it loomed as an ever-present possibility. In Eden, mankind was of the nature that, though morally perfect in that he had not sinned, was not perfect in that he could not sin. Thus the possibility of sin and the fall kept these all as potential realities (and as we know, eventual realities). These ever-present possibilities include mourning, crying, and pain (Gen. 3:16, 17) and even physical death (Gen. 2:16, 3:19). Yet these all become impossibilities when God promises there will be no more "mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more" (Rev. 21:4) and Death itself will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14).

The presence of Satan

"Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman . . . " (Gen. 3:1) The beginning of the fall narrative opens with the presence of what most theologians agree is a physical manifestation of Satan. Yet in Revelation he is defeated and banished to the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10). This is reaffirmed when we read that "nothing unclean will ever enter [heaven], nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life" (Rev. 21:27).

The presence of God

While the last point is probably quite obvious to most, the presence of God also seems to be different between Eden and heaven. It is possible that God was not perpetually present in Eden in a physical manifestation because we read that "[Adam and Eve] heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day" (Gen. 3:8). This seems to suggest he was not constantly walking in the garden. It also seems implicit that God is not physically present during the conversation between Eve and the serpent. Whether this is true or not, it is certainly true that Adam and Eve's awareness of the presence of God was such that they thought they could escape it as they "hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden" (Gen. 3:8).

Now I am certainly not questioning God's omnipresence, but I am suggesting that there will be a change in our awareness of the presence of God from Eden to heaven. In heaven, we read that "the dwelling pace of God is with man" (Rev. 21:3) as well as this great promise: "They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever." (Rev. 22:4,5) It seems clear that in heaven we will

The ignorance/innocence of mankind

This last point is to some extent an outgrowth of the first three. While Adam was indeed quite intelligent (e.g. naming of the animals) and enjoyed a relationship with God of which we can only speculate, there is a great bit of experiential ignorance/innocence in man pre-fall. Adam and Eve did not have the same experiential understanding of God's grace, mercy, saving love and sacrificial servanthood that we have this side of Eden—and we do not have the same understanding that we will have someday while remain this side of heaven. Everything between Eden and heaven serve to shape and form worshippers who understand and appreciate who God is better than we ever could if we had stayed in the garden.

Conclusion

Obviously more could be said for each item and more items added to the list (for example, could Jesus' incarnated body and his post-resurrection glorified body be a picture for us of the bodies from Eden to heaven?). However, I feel these four points are sufficient to delineate between the condition of mankind in Eden and in heaven. So what? Why does it matter? I can think of at least two reasons.

1) This understanding of heaven as superior to Eden give us a greater appreciation of the sovereignty of God. If mankind had to endure everything between Eden and heaven just to get things "back to the way they were meant to be", it would seem somewhat pointless. But if God had planned from the beginning to bring a chosen people from Eden, through the in betweens, and to a heaven far superior to Eden, then that is a very amazing and beautiful thing. Indeed, I believe that is exactly what Revelation is talking about when we read "All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world." (Rev. 13:8) Notice that both those who would be saved and their means of salvation have been written from the creation of the world. This seems to imply also a fall that was somehow written from the creation of the world. (See also: Ephesians 1)

2) The understanding of a superior heaven should motivate us to live a life both joyfully in the present and eagerly anticipating the future. If all the trials we endure on this Earth are just backlash from our sin in Eden, then we've just gotta buckle down and bear it. But if each and every trial is a piece that God sovereignly ordained (see point 1) so that in heaven that very trial will all the more magnify the grace of God and the conquering joy of his people, well then we can, as James instructed, "consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds". If all of the in betweens are just the hoops we must jump through to get back what we'd lost in Eden, we could spend all of our lives looking back regretting the fall and questioning God. But if heaven surpasses Eden, then this is reason enough to press on, to look forward, to trust God and to pray with fervency "come quickly Lord Jesus!"

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