Grasping for the Wind

We have no point of reference for what life would have been like in the garden of Eden.  The earthly landscape has been so drastically altered that it is impossible to truly imagine an idyllic world where death, disease, natural catastrophe, injury and other trauma did not threaten man’s existence.  From the scant information about this short-lived era, we can observe:

1. Throughout the creative process “God saw that it was good” (Gn 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31).  No environmental hazards of any kind seem to compromise man’s well-being.

2. Man is created in God’s image (Gn 1:26), implying that he had a special capacity for fellowship with God not true of any other created being.

3. Man is given dominion over all creation (Gn 1:28).  The earth and its resources are available to man for his provision and development.  He is not to elevate creation above himself or become a slave to it but the other way around. 

4. Eden seems a special creation of God for man’s benefit (Gn 2:8ff).  Later, after their transgression, Adam and Eve are barred from reentering this place of refuge and fellowship.

5. “God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it” (Gn 2:15), thus giving man work to accomplish and resultant purpose.

6. Taken together, man’s initial existence and supportive environment was intended to be permanent; death was not part of the equation:  “The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden … ‘And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the true of life, and eat, and live forever’ – therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken.  So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gn 3:9, 22-24).

Before the fall the world was no doubt a beautiful, bountiful and benevolent habitation.  But sin changed everything (cf. Gn 3:14-19).  Death, decay, disease, genetic defect, erosion, corrosion, weeds, drought, storms, earthquake, pain, injury – every form of corruption and suffering imaginable – entered the realm of human experience.  Eden was replaced by a hellish landscape as a result of and to reflect forevermore what happens to people and places when sin is allowed entrance. 

But that is not all.  Sin also proliferated, mutated and infiltrated every human both in initial generations and in every (mentally responsible) individual since.  In Adam’s early posterity we are told of Cain’s fratricide and Lamech’s vengefulness (Gn 4).  By Genesis six God has seen sin become so rampant and infectious that He destroys all mankind (with the exception of eight souls) in a global flood in order to impress upon future generations His righteous judgment and future annihilation of the world (2 Pet 3; Mt 24:37-39) as well as His provisions for salvation (1 Pet 3:20-21).

Ever since this disastrous beginning, mankind has been searching tirelessly and vainly for Eden.  In spite of God’s angelic guard and flaming sword; in spite of catastrophic inundation that drastically changed the landscape so as to make the garden’s original location unrecognizable, we keep looking for a nonexistent ideal – a paradise of peace and harmony, a carefree, joyous and pleasurable world with no downside, discord, disillusion or diminishment – here on earth.

And we keep looking in all the wrong places.

Solomon’s indulgent, intensive, conscious search for happiness epitomizes every man’s search:  “I said in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with mirth; therefore enjoy pleasure’; but surely, this also was vanity.  I said of laughter, ‘It is madness’; and of mirth, ‘What does it accomplish?’  I searched in my heart how to gratify my flesh with wine, while guiding my heart with wisdom, and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the sons of men to do under heaven all the days of their lives. 

“I made my works great, I built myself houses, and planted myself vineyards.  I made myself gardens and orchards … I acquired male and female servants … I had greater possessions of herds and flocks than all … before me.  I also gathered … silver and gold and the special treasures of kings and of the provinces.  I acquired male and female singers, the delights of the sons of men, and musical instruments of all kinds. 

“So I became great and excelled more than all who were before me in Jerusalem.  Also my wisdom remained with me.  Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them.  I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart rejoiced in all my labor …” (Ecc 2:1-10).

Solomon, we say, “had it all” – wine, women and song – and more.  And what was his conclusion?  “Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind.  There was no profit under the sun” (2:11).

When will we learn … Eden is GONEIt is not to be found in this world.  It is heartbreaking to hear a broken drug addict or alcoholic lament their wasted life and ruined relationships; to hear of the billionaire who leaps to his death from his ivory tower; to see young women disrobe before the world to express her “freedom”; to read of those who literally climb mountains, traverse deserts, plunge to the bottom of the ocean – all searching for some phantom “self” or sense of being “alive.”  From mansions to money, from opium to opulence, from lust to larceny, from plastic surgery to pills, Satan deceives us into searching for the wrong thing in the wrong places with the wrong concept of “happiness.”

Paul also “had it all,” not like Solomon’s selfish indulgence but as a rising star in Judaism.  He, too, was searching for Eden and found it in a most unexpected place:  “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.  But indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord … and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Ph 3:7-8).  Eden is not here; without Christ the world is just a pile of rubbish destined for the incinerator.  At best we are sojourners in a land that is but a faint vestige of what it once was.  Love God and others; serve humbly; use the world but don’t abuse it; and understand that “this world is not my home; I’m just a-passing through.”