Was the Garden of Eden Really Perfect?

Six times in the creation narrative God reviews His creation in different stages, and He calls it “good”.

Sandra Richter in her book, The Epic of Eden, toes the orthodox, evangelical line, that the Garden of Eden was created perfect by God. This echoes the orthodox, western position that Eden was perfect, and Adam ruined the perfection of Eden in his rebellion against God.

This is the traditional view: that God’s world was perfect until Adam ruined it.

Not that Adam didn’t have some help in this rebellion. I am using Adam in the generic sense, meaning those initial humans who made that one fateful choice that God prohibited, committing the first sin that led to death and banishment from the Edenic paradise into which God introduced man.

This is what I learned as a new Christian. Sandra Richter is a theologian, and I am not. At least, I am not a theologian by trade, academic degree, or career.  I respect Richter, which is why I am reading her book, but I am not sure this view is exactly right.

At least, there is another view that I think has some merit. I have come to see some nuance in Genesis that I had not seen before, and it gives pause when I hear the traditional line. I don’t think I have ever written on it, so here goes.

Six times in the creation narrative God reviews His creation in different stages, and He calls it “good”. When He finally stops and surveys all He has done, He calls it “very good”… but He never says it was perfect.

Stick with me here. I note that I am taking the Genesis narrative literally in taking the words that are used, and not used, at face value. God says it is good, even very good, but He does not sat it was perfect.

I don’t think I am being heretical to say that Eden was good, and to say the universe God created was good, because that’s how God describes it. I also believe that God created the world as He intended to create it, and He had a purpose in creating it that way.

We might say that it was created perfectly for the purpose for which He created it, but God does not describe the universe He created as perfect, and I think that is significant. At least, it is worth taking note.

I don’t think that the goodness (or lack of perfection) negates any orthodox theology. What I see is a world that is not (yet) perfected, a world full of potentiality that is not yet what God wants it to be.

This world is designed to accomplish God’s purpose. Maybe it is a world perfectly designed to accomplish God’s purpose, but it is not (yet) perfect. Some things must happen before it accomplishes the purpose God has for His universe into which he introduced beings created in His image: Adam and Eve, male and female.

Adam and Eve were created in God’s image with the potential to reflect God in all His goodness. One of those attributes is agency, and the ability to exercise their own will, even if that choice God He gave them to exercise was limited.

God gave them a very narrow band of choice. One tree in a garden full of trees. Only one tree which fruit they could not eat. Their choice was virtually unlimited, but for that one tree that was forbidden.

This gave Adam and Eve choice (agency). It gave them the ability to exercise the will that God gave them, a will that is like God’s will, except that Adam and Eve could not see the consequences of exercising their choice. God certainly saw it, though.

That garden also had a tree of life in it. Adam and Eve could have chosen to eat the fruit from the tree of life. At some point, however, they chose to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil over the tree of life and over all the other choices that God gave them.

Thus, in that garden was potentiality. Adam and Eve had the potential to exercise every choice God had given them and to choose not to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They could have achieved the potentiality of goodness by not choosing the one forbidden fruit, but they chose to go down a different road to a different potentiality – the potentiality of rebellion, of exercising their own will contrary to God’s instruction to them.

Because Adam had that choice that God gave him, with the opportunity and the ability to exercise it contrary to God’s will, the garden could not have been perfect. Thus, the garden was certainly good, but it was not perfect.

Consider also the power God gave Adam and Eve in the exercise of their choice. By exercising all of the choices God gave them, but for the one choice that was forbidden, Adam could have maintained the goodness of the natural world that God created.

On the other hand, God gave them the ability to rebel, the ability to exercise the one choice that was forbidden to them. With that choice came a terrible power: the consequences of that choice.

The consequences of that choice have resulted in a world that is no longer good, a world that is doomed to reflect the reality of Adam’s rebellion.

You could say that I now read the Bible a little more literally than I once read it. When the Bible says that God created a good world, I take him at His word. I now understand God to mean He did not create a world that was perfect.

In one sense, perhaps, it was perfect. It had the potential of being perfect. It was also the perfect kind of world for the development and perfection of the pinnacle of God’s creation – the one created being made in God’s image.

Because God gave human beings agency, human beings have the ability to choose the good and to perfect God’s creation in doing so. Perhaps, this was God’s plan all along.

Humans could not really choose good unless they had a legitimate ability to go their own way and to exercise their own will contrary to God. They could not legitimately choose the good unless they knew full well what the opposite of good is.

I am assuming here that choosing God’s way is the good (because God alone is good). Going against Him, therefore, is not good, and now we know that full well!

We live in a world that suffers under the consequences of that rebellious choice, and this is as God knew it would be. And it had to be this way in order for us and all of God’s creation to be truly perfect – perfected by us choosing God over all other choices we have. Is this not the meaning of Romans 8?

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:18-21)

The creation was subjected by God to frustration, and God did that through the one choice He forbade Adam to make, knowing full well (I believe) that Adam would make that one choice. Maybe it wasn’t inevitable (or it would not truly have been a choice), but it was highly likely.

Romans 8 reveals that this was the plan all along, and that the whole creation now waits for the redemption of Adam. Until Adam is perfected, creation groans, waiting for its own perfection. The fate of God’s creation is tied to our fate. As we are redeemed and perfected, so is creation redeemed and perfected.

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” Romans 8:22-23

The creation itself is groaning in the pains of childbirth. Creation groans with the expectation of the potentiality God established for us and, with us, for creation. In the process of suffering through the frustration to which we and our world has been subjected, we enter into God’s creative agency by choosing Him!

In this fallen world, all the choices that Adam makes reflect Adam’s fallen world, except for one. That one choice is to submit to God and trust him – as Adam was instructed in the garden. Except, this time we have the benefit of knowing the potentiality of evil, rebellion against God, and the fruit of going our own way. Now, we can choose the good for good’s sake knowing the consequences of the choice we make.

Just as Adam had free reign to exercise every possible choice in the garden, but for one, now one choice, and only one choice, exists by which Adam can be restored to the goodness, and the order, and the perfection that was only a potential in the world the before to the fall. This time, however, the new heavens and earth, the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven will be perfect.

2 thoughts on “Was the Garden of Eden Really Perfect?

  1. Good day, Mr. Kevin Drendel.

    Maybe this is of your interest.

    Now the LinkedIn group Political and Theological Affairs is public.

    There is greater visibility, so non-members can see the posts and place “likes” and other smarticons. Although only members of the group can post and comment.

    Best regards,

    R. Olivo.


Comments are welcomed

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.