November 24, 2017

In the King’s Garden (Gen 2), part two

By Chaplain Mike

The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed.

Genesis 2:8 (NASB)

In the first part of Genesis 2:4-25, we saw:

  • The pre-fall condition of the land
  • The creation of Adam

Beginning at verse 8, the author describes:

  • The garden God planted in Eden (2:8-14)
  • Adam’s role and responsibility in the garden (2:15-17)
  • God’s provision of a partner for Adam (2:18-22)
  • Poetic speech: Adam’s response (2:23)
  • Epilogue: The gift of marriage (2:24-25)

Our focus in this post will be upon the Garden, the priestly calling of Adam, the two prominent trees and what they represent, and God’s threatened penalty for eating from the forbidden tree.

The King’s Garden (2:8-14)
The word “garden” refers to a “park” or a “botanical garden” of the kind that was common in royal temple or palace complexes in the ancient world. Solomon was renowned for his horticultural interests, and records show that the kings of Assyria, Babylon, and Persia had magnificent garden complexes. The most famous, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, was one of the world’s seven wonders. “Eden” means “abundance.” In this lush, verdant location, God created a royal arboretum, fit for the King, furnished by his own hand.

Two trees stood out among all the attractive and bountiful trees in the garden: the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. More about these later.

The author mentions four rivers branching out and irrigating Eden. Two are known to us: the Tigris and Euphrates, which puts us in the Fertile Crescent of the Ancient Near East. Two are unknown: the Pishon and the Gihon. A clue in the description of the Gihon leads us west to the region of Egypt and Ethiopia. Thus, we are speaking of a region that stretches from Egypt to Mesopotamia.

A case can be made, therefore, that the Garden in Eden is an early name for the Promised Land. Later descriptions, such as Genesis 15:18—“On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates,'” reinforce this.

If Eden is the Promised Land, this supports John Sailhamer’s interpretation of Genesis 1, that the “six days of creation” do not describe the creation of planet earth, but the preparation of the Promised Land, the land of blessing, the land where God put his first covenant partners, to be his temple in the world. The “eretz” of ch. 1 is the “Eden” of chapter two, in which God planted his garden.

Adam’s Role and Responsibility in the Garden
Genesis 2:15 is an important verse that reflects back on the “image of God” in chapter one. The text says, literally, “Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden for serving and for keeping.” Most English versions think that these verbs point back to the Garden, “for working and keeping IT.” However, this is problematic grammatically, for “it” is feminine and the word “garden” is masculine. Sailhamer therefore translates, “to worship and obey”.

If so, this means that Adam is portrayed here as a priest, not a gardener. This is further supported by the verb “to put.” It could be literally rendered, “to cause to rest” or “to dedicate,” and it is used to speak of the consecration of priests in the Torah. God set Adam apart (like a priest) by situating him in his own royal temple-garden and calling him to worship and keep God’s Word.

It is God’s Word that we next hear. Adam may eat freely of any tree (including the Tree of Life), but he is commanded not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In the context of creation, we can get some idea of what these trees represented.

Genesis 1 depicts God as the One who blesses humankind by providing what is “good” (tôb). At first, the land was tōhû wābōhû (1:2—a formless wasteland). But God turns tōhû to tôb. When Genesis 1 says repeatedly, “And God saw that it was good,” we may understand the verb “to see” in the sense of “to provide”. Day after day, God “saw to it” that what he did would be good for his world and creatures.

God alone knows what is “good” and what is “evil” for his creatures. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil represents the opportunity for humankind to seek this wisdom autonomously, apart from God and his revealed Word. As we will see in chapter 3, eating the fruit from this tree represents humanity’s attempt to seek wisdom for themselves, apart from God. What God, in effect, is telling Adam is—“Trust in the Lord with a whole heart; do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways know him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

God warns Adam that if he eats from the forbidden tree, on that very day he will die. Would this threatened consequence have meant anything to Adam?

  • Those who hold certain creationist positions hold that there was no death in the world before the Fall, and that when sin was introduced into the world, not only humans but also animals began to die, that the processes of corruption and decay throughout nature had their onset.
  • Those who think the earth is old, including people who accept the model of biological evolution, say there was most certainly death before the fall. For example, Jim Snoke in his book, A Biblical Case for an Old Earth, says: “…the language of the curse of Genesis 3:14-24 does not indicate a complete change of the physical world, but rather an exile into a pre-existing outer darkness”—the world that surrounded the garden, a world where animals died, where the sea and darkness and sea monsters represented danger and threat, where, if there were other people besides Adam and Eve in the world, they died too. Snoke argues that the presence of such darkness and death would have been a visible illustration to Adam of God’s warning.

One thing is clear: Adam and Eve were mortal when God created them. They were on probation and would not have eternal life unless they ate from the Tree of Life (Gen 3:22). They must have been susceptible to physical death from the start. Moreover, if God meant they would suffer immediate “physical death” when they ate the forbidden fruit, it did not come to pass. They heard God’s word of consequence and were exiled from the Garden, but the record says that Adam did not die physically for nearly a millennium!

We may conclude that God’s threat to Adam concerned spiritual death. On the day the couple ate from the banned tree, their relationships with God, one another, and creation was forever altered. They were cast from the Garden. They entered the world and joined the darkness.

An Example of “The Good”
We won’t take time to discuss the latter part of this chapter, except to say that God’s provision of Eve for Adam represents an example of the “good” that God sees to for his creatures. A partner, crafted to “help” Adam by perfectly complementing him in every way, God brings the woman to man through a mysterious process that helps the man understand that this is his true counterpart.

The image of God, male and female (1:27), is explicated through this story. One becomes two and then the two become one. Eastern church theology speaks of “perichoresis”—the mutual embrace, interpenetration, and intimate oneness of the members of the Godhead. God’s greatest creation gift, marriage, pictures this oneness.

Comments

  1. The reason Adam and Eve did not die when they sinned is because animal substitutes died in their place. So this event is not a reason to redefine or spiritualize death. It was in fact the first Day of Atonement, or Day of “Covering”.

    I have a book that traces this “covering” of sin as it is developed through the Bible, if you are interested:
    http://www.amazon.com/Bible-Matrix-Michael-Bull/dp/1449702635

    Apologies for the ‘shameless appeal’ but this crucial facet of Scripture is largely ignored, and ignorance of it makes us weak.

    • The text does not draw attention to the animal’s deaths in this way. Nor does it ever state that the penalty of death was averted by their substitutionary sacrifice. Yes, Adam and Eve’s nakedness was covered. Their “death” here was exile from the Garden and blocked access to the tree of life.

      • Hi Mike,

        Just to round out your point, I think these sacrifices, at the very least, do draw from the text symbolically as the text paints for us a very beautiful metaphor of the necessity of Christ’s shed body and blood to cover our raw nakedness.

        But like all Old Testament sacrifices, they were only symbolic of the True Sacrifice and Substitution to come.

        Brad

      • Mike

        There’s a lot that’s not implicitly stated here, but the structure of events in the Garden is replayed in the Land (Cain and Abel: Cain refuses covering) and in the World (only Noah’s family is covered).

        The same structure is found in Israel’s annual feasts, and even in the history of the first century church. The Bible begins with Adam, Eve and the serpent and ends with a false prophet, a harlot and a beast. The sins of individuals become institutionalised. What’s implicit in Genesis 3 becomes explicit throughout biblical history.

        I’m happy to send you a copy of my book, which lays all this out, if you are interested.
        You can contact me through my blog: www [dot] bullartistry [dot] com [dot] au/wp

        Blessings,
        Mike

    • I’ve read that one explanation for the presence (fixation?) with human sacrifice in religion is that for millions of years we were prey, not predator, the hunted not the hunters, and sometimes one person got eaten by the cave bear or whatever while the rest got away. I suppose this theory would also work with humans having to leave an animal they had recently killed to the bigger predators.

      Other than that, it’s a mystery to me while people felt the need to kill other people and animals in order to appease God.

      • @fish,
        If you’re interested, S. Mark Heim in Saved from Sacrifice discusses this in great detail, especially with regard to R. Girard and his views on myth and scapegoating. I think it answers your question, in general at least.

        • The one I’m referring to is Blood Rites, by Ehrenreich. She looks at “what draws our species to war and even makes us see it as a kind of sacred undertaking.”

          Whatever original sin is, I think our drive to organize ourselves and our entire society and economy to go fight and kill another group of people is part of it. There’s no parallel to that behavior – think of a Nazi rally – in the animal world that I see.

          • brandon says:

            There are parallels to killing other groups of living beings in the animal world–pack hunting of any sort. Wolves and dolphins come to mind. Just a parallel, and not an exact one. But a parallel nonetheless.

            You can always argue that scarcity causes conflict, in a purely bestial world. Pride, covetousness and deceit combined with scarcity of course would cause untold numbers of people to rally around some ideal of justice to do just about anything.

    • Preston says:

      Actually, in other ANE texts we find something similar to this…
      When a parent wanted to disown their son, they would remove that son’s garment and put it on their door latch. If they decided to accept their son as their own again they would place a new garment on them. God removed the fig leaf garments, closed the entrance to the garden… then to reaffirm Adam’s sonship… he placed new garments on them.

      When Moses wrote this people of that time wouldn’t have understood the skins as a sacrifice because (correct me if I’m wrong) entire animal was to be burned on the altar.

  2. Chaplain Mike,

    Interesting thoughts! I had never thought about some of the text in this way. A question – you say: “When Genesis 1 says repeatedly, “And God saw that it was good,” we may understand the verb “to see” in the sense of “to provide”.” I was wondering what the word “saw” (or “to see”) means in the original Hebrew. Does it support this sense of our English word “saw”?

    • A good example is in the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac. After God provides the sacrifice the place is named “The Lord will Provide” (Yahweh Yireh). This is the same word–the Lord will SEE.

      • Thanks! That is really interesting.

      • Just a caution that although the word might be exactly the same in the two places, that does not imply any connection whatsoever in meaning. I can use the word “traffic” and be talking about the number of automobiles on the road or I can use the word “traffic” and be talking about drug dealers. Just because I use the word “traffic” talking about drug dealers doesn’t mean that there is any connection whatsoever with the concept of automobiles. Context determines the meaning of a word, not the word itself. I’m not really arguing for or against the underlying issue here about Genesis—-just saying that making connections between words in different places is somewhat meaningless since the actual meaning is context-driven, not word-driven.

        • JeffB, you have a point. If I were to fully develop this point, I would try to show how “to see” is used consistently in this way in Genesis, the bigger context. You will some of that in my post on Gen. 3.

  3. Great post, Chaplain Mike! It’s really got me thinking this morning.

    In regards to the old-earth position which you cited and the possible presence of death outside of Eden, that makes sense to me. I think God’s warning wouldn’t mean much if Adam didn’t understand that death was bad. The only way he would’ve known that is if he already had an idea of what it meant, which would require death to have exited prior to the Fall.

    (Or it’s possible that God just explained what death was, but that would be reading into the text.)

    A question, though: since the tree of life is present in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21-22), does this imply that the church, fully redeemed, won’t inherently live forever unless they eat of it?

    Thanks again for all your work on this site (both you and the other contributors).

    • That should have been “existed prior to the Fall.” (last line of the second paragraph)

  4. Chaplain Mike,

    I think the Garden as Promised Land makes sense in the grand scheme of the bible, by the way. But, in regards to Eden being an early name for the Promised Land I have a question: Is it safe to say that after the Flood of Noah that geographically, there could have been a change to the location and dynamics of these rivers? If so, how are we certain that geographically Eden could potentially be the region of the Promised Land?

  5. I am also intrigued. I’ve never heard anything like this, honestly. My question: what does it do to our understanding of Jesus’ defeat of death when we look at the fall as the beginning of spiritual but not physical death?

    • Jesus promised those who would believe in him would never die. well everyone who did believe in him died physical deaths, so he either meant something else, or didn’t keep his promise.

      • I should have been more clear in what I meant here. I’m referring to Jesus’ ultimate defeat of death “in the end” (we’d have to get into eschatology to decide what I mean by that, so let’s not). Is this not referring to physical death? Or is my idea of Jesus’ defeat of death not scriptural?
        fyi and btw, I’m not trying to argue down the idea of death before the fall. I think it might explain some things. I’m just trying to sort through some of the ramifications in my head.

  6. Good points Mike!
    I always wondered why they would need a tree of life if they were already immortal haha!
    Plus the thorns and weeds and all that, were the result of being kicked out of the garden. They were always there they didn’t just pop up when A&E sinned. Some creationists think the whole planet was eden before sin, but they get this from TRADITION, not Scripture!

    MT

  7. textjunkie says:

    This is a truly bizarre set of ratiocinations to make this story work.
    1) It doesn’t apply to everyone, just to these special two humans who may or may not be related to everyone after them, and are probably just specific to Israel.

    2) It doesn’t account for the way the world is so messed up. According to this version, the world was created messed up, but with a little bubble of goodness in it that was the Garden.

    Wow. That’s an approach I have to admit I have never run into before, short of the Gnostic demi-urge story.

    • “It doesn’t account for the way the world is so messed up.”

      Please define “messed up”.

    • Would it not make sense that a God, in whom exists the capacity to hate sin and destroy his enemies would create according to this part of his character? Adam hadn’t sinned yet, but was given a demonstration of what life outside of intimate connection with God looked like. Precisely because God knew of the potential to sin Adam would be faced with(and succumb to) in Satan, who rebelled before Creation. Makes perfect sense to me.

      In this scenario, the world was not created “messed up,” it was simply not created death-free. Like the condemnation of Adam and all humanity to death, it is not purposeless, it gave an example to man of what was lost in the breaking of fellowship with God.

      Love it Chaplain Mike, can’t wait to see the speculations that come out of this one. You may have convinced me to read Sailhamer, et al…

      Nate

      Nate

    • Ekstasis says:

      Good line of thinking, Textjunkie and Rick. Following the chain of logic, the existence of “bad” or “evil” among created, material beings requires suffering as a result, either directly or indirectly, do you agree?

      Only SENTIENT beings can suffer, the term sentient equating to being conscious and having feelings, for the sake of this discussion. Now, how do we really know whether animals, or for that matter other humans, are sentient beings that are conscious and have feelings? We need to keep in mind that physically responding to stimulus does not, in and of itself, prove that a creature is conscious. A robot can be designed, in theory, to respond and do everything a living organism can do.

      Here it is — because we are conscious and feel pleasure and pain — we make an assumption or inference that other people, and some animals, also feel the same things. Of course we have no proof of such a thing, no real empirical evidence.

      Now, in the Garden, Adam and Eve, once they ate from the Tree of Life, could of become the first SENTIENT beings to exist. In other words, other humans and animals outside the garden were performing as living organisms do, but perhaps without suffering. Therefore EVIL, as we define it, did not exist. Only because being torn to shreds by a lion causes a sentient being to experience pain, do we include it is “bad” and “evil”.

      Just a crazy idea. This is what being a sentient being with the knowledge of good and evil produces.

      • I think there is fairly good evidence that some of the “higher” animals are self-aware and do have feelings of pain/pleasure. Not sure if that is what you mean by sentient though.

        • Ekstasis says:

          What is the evidence? Responding to what we consider pain and pleasure stimuli does not, in and of itself, provide evidence that consciousness exists. Computers with artificial intelligence are self-assessing, and also are not conscious.

          My point is not whether animals are or are not conscious as we define conscousness, but rather to make the point that what we now view as suffering and pain is not necessarily a true perspective for all times and places. Pain and suffering require both a condition and the ability to perceive, process, and experience that condition as something damaging or hurtful.

          • Well I could point to some studies but I think that you are approaching this from a more philosophical point of view. You are right that we can’t offer empirical proot that an animal feels the same sensation of pleasure/pain that we humans do. I don’t think this means that animal suffering does not exist. If it did not, shouldn’t we repeal all the animal cruelty laws?

            I do sympathize with what you are trying to say. I just might say it differently.

            We can’t automatically assume that the death of an animal is “evil.” Is that part of what you are saying?

          • undertheradar3 says:

            Wow again. Are you seriously arguing that if you stick a knife into a chimpanzee or a cat they don’t suffer? The word “agony” does not apply to anything except humans??

            Well, that’ll make animal biomedical research a whole lot easier to do, I must say. No ethical considerations for their pain and suffering required!
            /sarcasm

          • undertherader3,

            I specifically said, “I don’t think this means that animal suffering does not exist.”

          • textjunkie says:

            Sorry Landon, I don’t know why that came across as “undertheradar3”, it was me, and I meant to be responding to Ekstasis’ comments.

  8. Augustine also had a different take on Genesis.

  9. This whole “creation week” series of posts have been absolutely fascinating. I love the richness of how the original hearers would have understood this, as opposed to the literalist/inerantist “if it was written in English to a modern audience this is what it would mean” mentality.

    Thank you very much for your willingness to draw the flak you’re catching over this. I really appreciate it.

  10. How can there be sin before man knew God?

    God = good. Before one can sin, one must first have a concept of good. I don’t believe my cats sin when they rip apart a lizard or covet the other’s sunbeam.

    God teaches humans to know Him and in knowing him we learn love. We learn to love God and to love one another. This is His will for us.

    When humans chose knowledge of good and evil we chose to be our own little Gods, declaring for ourselves what is good and evil in our own eyes.

    I have read some comments that suggest that God could not have been a good God if he allowed animals to suffer and die before humans evolved. But don’t you see, this is merely a judgment of good and evil in our own minds. It is saying that we mortals have a right to declare what makes God a good God.

    Since the fossil record clearly shows that many types of animals lived and died on this planet before the emergence of man. Spiritual death must be meant. Everything that lives within time suffers a physical death, even mountains and planets and stars. But they have no knowledge of good and evil.

    • If it is good for animals to suffer and die, why don’t we torture them?

      • That question suggests there is no difference with the human who torments a small creature for sadistic pleasure and the animal that causes suffering when hunger drives it to hunt.

        • Perhaps it is wrong to torture an animal for our own pleasure, but shouldn’t we torture them to glorify God? If God did it to glorify Himself, why shouldn’t we glorify Him?

          • I know I shouldn’t engage on this, but….you are using several logical fallacies in this argument that undercut your position. First, you are affirming the consequent. Death is equivalent to torture, all things glorify God. Thus, we should glorify God through torture. Second, you are poisoning the well by using loaded language. Why does death have to equal torture? Finally, you are overlooking alternatives by assuming that torture, a deliberately cruel act, is equivalent to death which may or not have a purpose in this created order which we do not fully comprehend. Please note that my response is not a critique of the logical fallacies of YEC, but rather a suggestion that your impassioned defense of it not resort to hyperbole.

          • I admit I am letting a fair amount of emotion into the argument. My desire is for people to feel the pain of the world. It is very real, and it is often easy to forget that in the comfort and security of one’s home.

      • No one said that suffering was good. The point is that physical death is not evil, in the way we understand evil vs good. It is not sinful or evil when a spider kills and eats a fly. Likewise, it is not sinful or evil when a lion kills and eats a gazelle. Physical death is a natural consequence of the way God created this universe. The physical death of a mammal, reptile, insect or fish is no different than the natural physical death of a star or a flower. God created the physical laws which govern the way our universe operates.

        Even pain is not evil or sinful. Pain is a biological function that helps living things identify and/or prevent injury. Pain (and therefore suffering) can be caused through sinful actions of humans, however. If pain is caused intentionally for the purpose of inflicting suffering, that clearly is not an act of love. The existence of pain does not diminish God’s holiness or perfect goodness.

        If humans inflict pain or death in a way that violates the basic commandment of “love your neighbor” then we are using a natural physical property of God’s creation in a sinful way. But the pain or death in itself is not sinful or evil.

        • So, when I suffer, I am not to be consoled that it is due to something wrong in the created order. I have no comfort.

          • What kind of suffering are you referring to? When you stub your toe on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night, that’s pain, not suffering. Just a natural part of life. If you’re experiencing emotional suffering due to someone sinning against you, then that’s not part of the created order, that’s caused by a human being sinning. Growing old and getting sick is part of the natural created world. These bodies were never designed to last forever without special divine sustenance (ie. Tree of Life). So getting sick and dying is not evil, it’s just natural.

            What do you mean by suffering?

          • Say hundreds of thousands are people are killed in an earthquake. Many of them are not killed instantly, but are trapped in rubble and die slowly.

            That is God’s created order?

        • >>If humans inflict pain or death in a way that violates the basic commandment of “love your neighbor” then we are using a natural physical property of God’s creation in a sinful way. But the pain or death in itself is not sinful or evil<<

          Wow! Beautifully expressed.

        • textjunkie says:

          So physical death is no loss, in this view point. It’s a natural thing, and doesn’t need to be redeemed/conquered. It’s just a stage in the cycle of life. Not a traditionally Christian viewpoint, but let that pass. It’s certainly a comforting thought, when gathered around a peaceful deathbed.

          Sentient beings can’t sin, so only humans can be evil. Fair enough. The lion slaughtering the zebra, not evil per se. Does the zebra suffer? Anyone who can watch and hear the zebra struggling and vocalizing and yet says otherwise, I have serious doubts about their capacity for empathy and compassion.

          So what about pain and suffering that are not caused by sinful actions of humans? You’re saying “no one said suffering was good” but it is certainly here; and if it isn’t good, how did it get here?

          • “So physical death is no loss, in this view point.”

            Of course death is loss, but it is also inevitable. Life matters very much. Death also matters very much, but it still happens.

            We feel pain because the nerves in our bodies tell our brain when something hurts.

    • textjunkie says:

      Any definition of “good” that says one animal being ripped to shreds by another is “good” I really have to question.

      Now, if you’re going to walk away from the idea that God is “good”, at least you can allow that the world is as God created it, and suffering is part of God’s creation, not a flaw or dysfunction. But at that point I really really wonder what it means to say “God is Love.”

      • “You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl. The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God. The sun rises and they teal away; the return and lie down in their dens.” -Psalm 104:20-22

        • That should be “…they steal away; they return…”

        • textjunkie says:

          Yes, but what about Romans 8:
          20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
          22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

          • C. John Collins suggests that the key term in Rom. 8 is “bondage to decay” (or “corruption”). In the LXX of Genesis this term is used, not in Genesis 3, but in Genesis 6:11-13, where it says that the world became corrupt in God’s sight because “all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.”

            Collins writes, “Seen this way, the creation is ‘in bondage to decay,’ not because of changes in the way it works but because of the ‘decay’ (or corruption) of mankind, and in response to man’s ‘decay’ God ‘brings decay to’ (or ‘destroys’) the earth to chastise man. The creation is ‘subjected to futility’ because it has sinful mankind in it, and thus it is the arena in which mankind expresses its sin and experiences God’s judgments. No wonder it ‘wait with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God,’ for then the sons of God will be perfect in holiness, and sin will be no more.” (Genesis 1-4, p. 184)

  11. There must be death in the world. Must be.

    Eden or no Eden, the entire planet works in cycles, where life is sprung, grows and decays, leaving the seeds and nurturing the next generation. Otherwise there is simply no nature. Nature cannot exist as something static without growth, change and decay and then the next cycle.

    Eden as an oasis in this repitition is an interesting idea, but the idea that there cannot be death before Adam’s Fall disrespects the entire nature of… nature. Gd clearly set up this system. Man was perhaps Created to be something above this, and through his sin fell and became part of the endless cycle.

    • It is that way today. You cannot know how it was…

      Will there be death in eternity future?

    • Consider how often life is saved because we are capable of feeling pain, and therefore able to act.

      Cruelty would be if the child in pain could not feel it, and alert her mother for help. How cruel if pain did not alert us to some minor injury that was easily treated. How terrible if an injured animal could not feel the injury and therefore went on instead of resting. We would all starve to death if we could not feel hunger.

      These are natural warning signs and they are necessary. Sin (and I am pretty sure that only a human could think of doing such a terrible thing) would be to use these natural warning signals to abuse and torment.

      • textjunkie says:

        We’re sitting in the blogspace of a man who died after months of pain and suffering as a cancer ate its way through his brain. It was not due to sin or evil or anyone’s mistake; there have been brain cancers as long as there have been brains. There are many of his friends who are angry about his being cut off in the prime of life, having watched him and his family suffer as he died.

        But you’re saying this suffering is not part of a fallen, broken, distorted world? This pain was ok, because God is a good God who created nature and this is just nature doing its thing? This is the world God intended??

        That’s asking a lot. It’s a lot more coherent with the idea of a good and loving God if this is a fallen world.

        • If this is not the world that God intended, he could fix it immediately or else he’s not an all-powerful God after all. Go too far down that path and you’ll end up an atheist.

          This is a big flaw in Christianity, at least to me. The idea that two people did something bad and so God had to ruin the entire world, and it’s all our fault. All the pain and suffering we see around us must be our fault, and not God’s — go too far down that path and you’ll end up Buddhist.

          • Not at all.

            God doesn’t fix the world immediately because that is not His point (that is, our suffering is not the greatest evil / preventing suffering is not the greatest good).

            The point of creation is to glorify God – to express His attributes.

            Suffering exists because of sin. Every time we see suffering, it is a reminder of the terrible cost of sin – the death of our Lord.

            To believe that suffering is part of God’s created order diminishes that fact.

            That is why I will never except an old earth. Not because of science, not for any interpretation of a Bible passage.

            • “Suffering exists because of sin.”

              I would encourage you to re-think this, nedbrek. There may be other aspects you’ve not fully considered.

              1. Bruce Waltke, for example, finds evidence of the presence of evil and chaos at the very outset of the creation story, in Genesis 1:2. The origins of what he calls “surd evil” (that which cannot be explained rationally) are a mystery.

              2. In the same way, the origins of the dark power that spoke through the serpent in Genesis 3 are unknown. The fact that there was an evil voice speaking BEFORE humans sinned testifies to the presence of malevolent forces working in creation before the fall.

              3. Furthermore, other creation texts in the Scriptures describe a “cosmic battle” through which Yahweh overcomes the forces of chaos and establishes order in his creation, not destroying them but setting them within the bounds of his providence.

              The forces that cause suffering were apparently in the world before human sin. Human sin, introduced at the time of the fall, contributes to the efforts of those forces.

              • This seems almost beyond the pale to me.

                Did God create this evil, or is it eternally co-existent with Him? Is this not dualism? Is God sovereign over evil or not? Is God powerful enough to conquer evil or not?

                The serpent in garden was Satan. He was a sinner from the beginning (John 8:44). God created him and allowed him to fall. His fall had no effect on creation, because angels have no dominion over creation. Man has (or at least had) dominion over creation.

                • nedbrek, it is called “surd” because the answer is, we don’t know. We can’t explain its origin. It is not revealed to us. It is clearly not dualism, for it is under God’s providential control. I believe the account of the new creation in Revelation gives the final picture when it says, “there will be no more sea” there. Even the forces present in creation that were opposed to God before human sin will be overcome in the end.

                  • Actually, I assume you have the same definition of evil as me – perhaps not.

                    To me, “evil” means the opposite of good, where God is good. Evil is the opposite of God, or the lack of God (or God’s goodness).

                    Man is evil because he is opposed to God (and God’s will). The fallen angels are evil for the same reason.

                    Before creation, there cannot be evil (there is only God).

                    After, there can only be evil due to the creation itself rebelling against God (not some mystical force apart from creation).

                    • nedbrek: You are missing a key exegetical point in Genesis—Genesis 1:2 starts with the world already in existence. Genesis 1 doesn’t tell how how God created the earth itself. It tells us how God ordered the earth (or land) to make it “good” for his creatures. How long was it in existence before then? What had transpired in the world and in the spiritual realm before Genesis 1:2? These matters are beyond what has been revealed to us. In my view, that includes the absolute origins of evil.

        • TextJunkie: I would not say that. I would say that Michael’s suffering and the suffering of countless others through history is due to the mysterious working of chaos and evil that we see even from the very beginning of the creation story, before the fall of humankind.

          In his commentary on Genesis, Bruce Waltke identifies the first mention of chaos and evil with Genesis 1:2 and not with Genesis 3. “The precreated state of the earth with darkness and chaos suggests that everything hostile to life is not a result of sin” (p. 68). He calls this “surd evil” (incapable of being expressed in rational terms). Its origins are a mystery, just as the origin of the diabolical power that speaks through the serpent in Genesis 3 is a mystery.

        • With iMonk’s cancer I suspect I asked God “Why?” and prayed “But we need him here,” as often as any. Last week a cousin, a year younger than me with an undiagnosed heart condition, died. As great as suffering can be, as much as we grieve the loss of those we love, surely you can see that pain is also natural and necessary for survival?

          The most intense physical pain I have experienced was when I spent thirty hours in labor to give birth to a ten pound baby. But as terrible as that pain, I think we can all agree that it is natural and necessary. Believe me, the moment I held that newborn in my arms the suffering seemed a very small sacrifice.

          While studying family history I found a cemetery where a number of my ancestors are buried. I realized in horror that about half the graves were for infants. An older relative told me that there were so many infant deaths at that time because of yellow fever. Think of this, before it was discovered that mosquitoes carried malaria and yellow fever, people may have thought it was the wrath of God, or evil spirits or just the result of living in a fallen world.

  12. dumb ox says:

    Very informative. I never thought of the “garden” as being that expansive. Mention of th Tigris and Eurphrates has been used to narrow down a specific location. This may also eliminate some apparent conflict with human DNA placing our origins back to Africa, rather than Persia/Babylon. If Adam and Eve were banished from the promise land, they could have traveled west rather than east. If they were exiled to Egypt, this woud have meant a lot to the Israelites who were enslaved there. Might also give even more ancient significance to Mount Sinai. Something else for me to chew on. Very well-done, thought-provoking post.

  13. dumb ox says:

    With Palestine being a land bridge between continents, would banishment from “the garden” region have prevented the population of world – assuming plate tectonics hadn’t changed land masses?

    Can you imagine a world without hypotheticals? 😉

  14. Sure, anything might have happened. But isn’t it simpler to assume nothing happened (or at least, very little)? Why jump through hoops and invent unnamed evils and mysteries?

    • I don’t see it as jumping through hoops. I’m trying to deal with the text as it stands. And I’m also trying to be realistic about the world the Bible portrays. God took Job and his friends to task for accepting simplistic answers and for not appropriately standing in awe before a transcendent God and before a creation that defies simple explanation.