A Garden of Eden

“The Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.  And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed.”   Genesis 2:7-8

In traditional Christian theology the biblical story of Genesis is interpreted as the story of how God created a perfect, beautiful world called the garden of Eden as a dwelling place for humanity.  In the beginning, all was bright and beautiful. When the first man and the first woman disobeyed God’s command, sin entered the world. The effect of sin on humanity and in the world has been deep-seated, catastrophic and invasive in all areas of life.  I agree with this interpretation.

However, because of the immense weight of this interpretation, because it is rehearsed again and again, we might miss something essential, something so obvious we don’t see it.  I am referring to the fact that the garden of Eden was not simply originally the dwelling place for humanity, but the home of the first man and woman, the first married people. As such, the garden of Eden is a picture, a vision of God’s intention for every married couple. Yes, your life too! God designed marriage as a garden, a paradise.  The garden of Eden is God’s dream for marriage and family life.

It is hard to overestimate the hopefulness, cheer and brightness of this vision.  The word “garden” is employed more often in the book of Genesis than in any other book of the Bible.  All but one of the references are to the garden of Eden. After Genesis, the book of the Bible where the word “garden” is most often used is called the Song of Solomon. Many people have wondered “How did this book, in which lovers linger over detailed descriptions of each other’s bodies, ever come to be included in the Bible?” The extravagance, opulence and overflowing richness of the garden of Eden marriage vision is elaborated in this poetic book.  Here the deep love of a man and a woman for each other is painted in garden imagery. The groom says. “I come to my garden, my sister, my bride…” (Song of Solomon 5:1) Pomegranates, apples and clusters of grapes are the words by which the lovers describe the beauty of each other’s bodies.

Some work is required to live in the garden.  In Genesis 2:15 we read “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” If we think of this also in relation to the vision of marriage represented by the garden of Eden we understand that living in marriage is similar to keeping a garden.  A garden must be cultivated. Care and attention must be given to what is allowed to grow in the garden. Fruit bearing plants require water, rich soil and sunshine. Weeds and pests need to be eliminated. If we want certain plants to grow, we must create the desired conditions, treating them with love and respect.  

The people of Israel lived in a beautiful land surrounded on many sides by deserts.  Deserts are uncultivated places where little desireable grows and food is hard to come by.  It is an unprotected place, a place of exile where exposure to the hot sun threatens death. That place of exile is where Adam and Eve were destined to live when the angel with a flaming sword cast them out of the garden.  Our lives in marriage must be a long, concerted attempt to return to the beauty of the cultivated garden.

When husbands beat their wives, when wives disdain their husbands, they leave the garden of Eden.  When husbands and wives blame each other and shout harsh words at each other, they enter the desert.

Cynicism about marriage is all too common.  Men who speak of their wives as “my ball and chain” have put themselves in a self-imposed prison.  Marriage is not a prison sentence. It’s the great freedom of a man and woman in Christ to live for each other and for the kingdom of God.  But we must be diligent in cultivating the garden to discover this freedom, to uncover Eden again.

Practicing patience with each other, showing kindness, listening to each other, practicing good manners, speaking politely and kindly to each other are not phony and artificial formalities but are ways of cultivating space for good things to grow in the marriage garden.

How can we reclaim this vision of the beautiful marriage garden of Eden?  One way is to resolve to be satisfied with the spouse God has given us. In his practical works, the Puritan writer Richard Baxter wrote “A good husband with either make a good wife or easily and profitably endure a bad one.”  I know many will shake their heads when they read this, because it does not conform to the spirit of our age, but it is a thought that pushes me to ask myself two questions. “Am I doing everything I can to make our marriage the best it could be?” And then, “Am I accepting and valuing the gift of the person God offers me in my wife, who not mine to evaluate, but is his daughter and child to love?”

Donald Marsden

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1 reply
  1. JoAnn Armistead
    JoAnn Armistead says:

    Elisabeth Elliott, the well known missionary, used to say, “You think you are getting a prize package, but you’re really getting a surprise package!” That was my experience when I got married! The early years of our marriage were full of adjustment to all the surprises, but now after 28 years, there aren’t as many surprises anymore. For us, that has been good! Unrealized expectations can be let go! Marriage seems to be more and more like the Garden all the time! But Donald, you are right. Self-examination is a key.

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