I recently wrote about responsibility as a paradigm for shared conversation that could/should cross the liberal-conservative divide and provide some base for shared solutions and not just yelling across the chasm. This week I want to take a look at Eden, that supposed perfect place, and share why responsibility lies at the heart of the church’s message. And because I think most of the Christian tradition has this wrong – we lack some of what we need to jump in to be helpful in this.
I have talked with many groups about the creation stories in Genesis. I like to look at the second one – where Adam and Eve’s story is told. The simplest version looks something like this:
- God made the world
- God made a perfect place in it called Eden
- God made Adam
- God made Eve from Adam’s rib
- They screwed the whole thing up
When I ask people, even groups of pastors about this story, the almost universally nod, “Yup, that’s the story.” But sadly, although we’ve perpetuated that story for centuries, that’s NOT the story.
In the story, when God makes Adam, there “is no plant…” and the reason is “there is no one to till the ground.” Eden, comes AFTER Adam is formed and the reason? Because without a gardener there can be no garden! God needs and plans for this garden to develop with Adam’s help. No Adam – no Eden! (Check out Genesis 2:2-9 for this)
The origins of humanity in this story are there to claim responsible partnership with God. It is responsibility that God charges Adam with. He is to care for and tend to the garden. In fact, the dream of Eden can only be fulfilled with his help.
Sadly, the myth of Eden has trumped the biblical story. Rather than being something Adam and Eve were to help develop, Eden was already done and perfect – all that we could do was mess it up. And while this may help keep people in line by reminding them that we are all incompetent failures, the original story called us to claim our roles as responsible partners with God. Imagine if we understood sin, not as the thing that destroys perfection, but the failure to assume responsibility for attending to God’s project and joining in so that it is cared for and grows!
The old take on the Christian story tells us that we are imperfect and should be ashamed. Yet the original story seems to say that we are needed and call forth responsibility. Our sin is not that we aren’t perfect – it is that we continue to dodge responsibility. In a world of right vs. left where blame seems to be the weapon of choice, the church has a chance to revisit scripture and the story we share and lift up a vision of another way.