A Twilight Musing
I have long been intrigued by the question of how things would have developed had Adam and Eve not eaten of the forbidden fruit and been banished from Eden. One can exercise some inferential imagination by envisioning a world without the known consequences of sin. Attached to those inferences are some questions: Would Adam and Eve and their descendants have lived forever, absent the penalty of death? Would the innocence of universal nakedness have continued? If so, it’s hard for us fallen people to imagine there being no sexual desire except for one’s mate. God arranged the union between Adam and Eve; how would the monogamous coupling of their descendants have been arranged? Would reproduction be unlimited? With no need to produce food by the sweat of their brows, would human beings have been engaged in other activities, such as creative, artistic, and scientific pursuits?
These questions may seem to be idle speculation, but I think they lead into matters of some significance. All of the questions I have posed above are based on the assumption that there existed in the pristine world of Eden an expectation of purposeful and orderly development over a period of time. God Himself looks in this direction when He tells the newly-created man and woman, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over . . . every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). Things in the original creation were expected to change in ways designed by God to fulfill His nascent purposes for this new world of His. Since any kind of change requires the observed passage of time, it seems legitimate to infer that there was a kind of positive temporality in the prelapsarian world that in the postlapsarian world became a degenerative penalty.
Perhaps the best way of getting some sense of God’s original plan for Edenic fulfillment is to consider the implications of the two trees placed in the Garden, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life (Gen. 2:9). We find out after Adam and Eve have eaten from the forbidden tree that God took precautions against their also eating from the Tree of Life.
Then the Lord God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—" 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. (Gen 3:22-24)
To me, this passage implies that, had Adam and Eve not disobeyed God, there might have been a time for them to partake of both trees under God’s direction. It seems not unreasonable to conjecture that the Lord wanted unfallen mankind, under His timing and direction, to become aware of the presence of evil in the universe so that He could equip them to partner with Him in the final defeat of that evil, and thereby be ready in the full maturity of their existence to eat of the Tree of Life.
At any rate, I think that God created the physical world as a kind of theater in which to do battle with the Devil. We have some biblical hints of a battle in Heaven between God and his angels and Satan and his cohorts, in which God by His superior power cast a rebellious Satan down from his exalted position in Heaven (see Ezek. 28:11-19; Rev. 13:7-12). The most familiar literary rendition of this battle is of course in Books V and VI of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Although his narrative of the epic battle in Heaven exercises the privilege of poetic imagination, it nevertheless presents a drama that may very well have taken place in some form before the creation of Eden. This was a victory of God’s power, but it remained to provide a setting in which Satan could be confronted with the moral superiority of God, which could take place only in an arena where God’s love could be triumphant over Satan’s hate. Exactly how that would have worked out if the Creation had not been corrupted by human sin, we don’t know, of course; but it’s hard to imagine how it could have had more dramatic or emotional impact than God’s “backup plan,” in which He participated in the suffering of the sinful world, even becoming a mortal human being and dying in order to redeem the fallen world.
This little essay (Part One) represents a refinement of ideas I have held in rough form for some time. My central point here is that God’s created world, both before and after the Fall, is in marked contrast to His eternal being, which has no beginning and no end and is perpetually and always the same, yesterday, today, and all possible tomorrows. As God’s inherent nature is immutable, so is the place where we will dwell with Him in resurrected form for eternity (see the description of the New Jerusalem in Rev. 21-22). “Heaven” is where all divine purposes have been realized, and there is no longer the need for change toward an objective. The catalyst for this refinement of my ideas on original and fallen creation was a rereading of Paul’s discourse on the Resurrection in I Cor. 15, in which he details the radical contrast between the temporal bodies of the first humans and the eternal bodies that we will share with the resurrected Christ. Part Two is an analysis of this passage, with application of the principles Paul enunciates to the larger matter of the radical difference between the temporal earth and our eternal dwelling place with God.
Image: By William Blake - William Blake Archive, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7735228