The Good Life (Part II)
In part one we began to study the Garden of Eden. We studied how God put us in a paradise that included fresh air, sunshine, exercise, abstinence, fresh diet and labor. Next, we come to…
In Eden man knew God with face to face intimacy. Genesis 2:7 explains, “The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” This means that when Adam first drew a breath and opened his eyes it was God that he saw face to face, lip to lip, then Adam began to hear God’s word, “Dress the earth and keep it.” “Don’t eat of the tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil.” And Adam served his Lord, the Creator God.
It is interesting that when Adam and Eve sinned they hid from God. And Cain, after murdering his brother and receiving God’s judgement, lamented to God, “From Thy face I shall be hidden” (Genesis 4:14). So, from a face to face intimacy with God to a relationship of dishonesty, fear, and avoidance man has fallen. And one may study both God and man’s disappointment with this state of affairs throughout Scripture.
In 2 Chronicles 7:14 God declares, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
In Psalm 10:1 the man grieves over his lack of face to face honesty with God, “Why dost thou stand afar off, O Lord? Why dost Thou hide Thyself in times of trouble?” Even the apostle Paul admits, “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). And the joy of the saints in heaven as described in Revelation 22:4, the Bible’s last chapter is, “They shall see His face.”
The Hebrew word for “worship” has a word picture behind it which means “to kiss toward God.” To worship, then, means to seek the presence of the Lord, to seek honest intimacy with Him, to know Him face to face as Adam did at creation.
One may worship God privately throughout the day. Perhaps a morning quiet time that includes Bible study and prayer. Then there is a running dialog with God throughout the day— a litany of praise, confession, gratitude and supplication as the day unfolds, intimacy between a child and his God that is honest, available, and communicative.
But individual worship is not enough. Adam had his Eve. And we have our fellow believers. And we are called to corporate worship as well.
When my car battery is dead I can get with another car that has a charged battery and jump start my own. The same with my Christian faith. When I am tired, depressed, ignorant, and discouraged, I can gather with other Christians and find encouragement, instruction, and ministry, and the watching world sees in our community lifestyle the love of Jesus which authenticates our witness.
And the Bible is saying that such is a portion of any optimum human habitat.
“Committed Human Relationships”
Yet another ingredient in Eden paradise was committed human relationships.
In Eden God said, “Let us make man in our own image” (Genesis 1:26). The “us” and the “our” is God speaking as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So, if the Triune God creates man in His own image, then it stands to reason that man must share in the Lord’s Triune or three dimensional nature. And Genesis 2:7 clearly points out this is so. “The Lord God formed man of the dust from the ground”— that is our physical dimension. “And breathed into his nostrils the breath of life”— that is our spiritual dimension. “And man became a living soul”— that is our emotional, willful, and intellectual dimension.
So, Adam was a living community within himself, pronounced “very good” by God (Gen. 1:31), and placed as a bachelor farmer in Eden paradise. Obviously God expected him to take time to get to know himself, to become his own best friend, and to learn creation.
But then comes the first negative statement in Scripture. “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). And God assumes the responsibility to do something about it. “I will make a helper fit for him.” The Hebrew literally reads, “I will make a helper fit to be before him.”
Remember God’s relationship with Adam was first face to face, lip to lip? Now He creates Eve for such a relationship with Adam. Face to face. Lip to lip.
Actually, the human lips have more nerve endings in them than any other part of the human anatomy. It is as if when God kissed us to life He left us a special sensitivity in that portion of our bodies where He gave us life. And almost as a subconscious remembrance of that occasion do we celebrate our love for one another with kisses today. And did you realize that the human sexual encounter is all but unique among the animal kingdom in that it is not front to back but face to face?
If you think about it, the Bible teaches that history began with a wedding in the Garden of Eden. Christ launched His public ministry at the wedding feast of Cana in Galilee (John 2). And Revelation 19 says history will end at the wedding supper of the lamb when Christ the Groom comes for His bride, the church.
Clearly, then, our face to face relationship with God on a Spiritual level is lived out on a physical level in marriage, the most concentrated form of human relationship.
The trouble today with our relationships outside paradise is that we have not only lost God, but we are losing each other as well. As rugged individualists we brag, “I don’t need anyone.” The average American moves every three years. Divorce runs about 50%. We shun involvement in community affairs. And we have even fixed it so we can watch sports events and church on television while alone in our homes.
I asked a young Kenya, Africa, woman living in the United States if she liked it here better than in her own homeland. And her quick answer stunned me. “I very much like Africa better. In America,” she said, “We are so rich, so busy, we do not take time for each other. We give things as gifts instead of ourselves. But in Africa where people are poor they have nothing to give but themselves. And that’s what I miss most,” she lamented. “Here I have a relationship with things— T.V., cars, a house, money, trips. But in Africa it is still possible to have a relationship with people.” And isn’t it the truth?
Committed human relationships. “A man leaves his mother and his father, cleaves unto his wife, and the two become one,” God says in Genesis 2:24. Clearly God intended persons to live in community, to experience friendships and, when the time is right, to live married.
Another delightful portion of Adam and Eve’s optimal lifestyle is play. Genesis 2:2 tells us that God took a day off to rest from the labors of creation. And He commanded Adam and Eve to rest as well. And for their relaxation he gave them pets and a garden.
Play is something I’ve only of late learned to do. I tend to be so serious, a workaholic of sorts. Garrison Keillor on the radio show “Prairie Home Companion” calls a church in his hometown, “Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility.” I could easily work for that church.
One of God’s gifts to me over the years was a freshman roommate in college named Jimmy Parris. That’s English for Demetrius Parisis. Jimmy, you see, was Greek. And above all else, Jimmy knew how to play. But all I knew how to do was work.
I never missed a class. Jimmy did. I was always on a schedule. Jimmy wasn’t. I always had to study. Jimmy didn’t. And so there was conflict. Him wanting me to play. Me wanting him to work.
One day, when I had had quite enough of Jimmy’s antics, I put a sign on the mirror, “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of. Ben Franklin.” Jimmy read that and went to his desk to make his own counter sign. Beside mine, it read, “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted at all. Zorba the Greek.”
God bless me! With Jimmy I did learn to lighten up and play a little bit. And Jimmy learned to work some too. And by year’s end we were balancing each other out.
P.T. Barnum, the founder of the circus, was a Christian who defended his ministry of providing play for people. “This is a trading world,” he wrote, “And men, women, and children, who cannot live on gravity alone, need something to satisfy their gayer, lighter moods and hours, and he who ministers to this want is in a business established by the author of our nature. If he worthily fulfills his mission and amuses without corruption, he need never feel that he has lived in vain.”
The dictionary defines play as recreational activity, the spontaneous activity of children, to move aimlessly about in fun, to deal in a light manner, or to frolic. President Ronald Reagan knew the benefit of play. From the tensions of high office he regularly escaped to the stables for a spell of horseback riding. “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man,” he explained. Even Jesus knew how to hop aboard a sailboat or head for the hills and say to His twelve, “Come away and rest yourselves for a while” (Mark 6:31).
What do you do to recreate, to frolic, to honor God by resting playfully? Golf? Tennis? Gardening? Fishing? A novel? Joking? Cards? Square dancing? A party?
Such honors God. And such enhances your life and the lives of those who live around you.
You will also discover sleep to be an integral part of the garden of Eden.
God set the example Himself by resting (Gen. 2:1-3). He created night and day. He pointed out Adam’s singular inadequacy and took it upon Himself to make a helper fit for him. (Was Adam tired?) And then God “caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man” (Gen. 2:21).
Many today consider sleep to be a waste of time. Yet nothing could be further from the truth!
A recent medical study revealed that most Americans do not get enough sleep. And when that happens doctor’s point out persons become irritable, their thinking gets fuzzy, and they become less productive.
If you think about it, we spend about one third of our lives sleeping. And the Bible is not silent about what happens during this time.
Sleeping is symbolic in our lives of death and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:51), it is a time for meditation (Psalm 4:4, 16:7), and through dreams the Lord sometimes chooses to communicate with us (Gen. 40-41). In short, sleep has marvelous powers to restore, to instruct, and to enhance our lives in Christ. As such, it is not to be avoided, but sought.
Also in the wholesome atmosphere of Eden paradise was art. Adam maintained a garden. And when he first saw Eve he spoke poetry to her…
“This at last is bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called woman,
Today, art is even more important in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Consider: Genesis 1 and 2 describe a world in perfect order. Genesis 3 describes that world fallen in sin and disharmony. But in Genesis 4:21 God gives the human race Jubal, the father of all those who make music.
Do you see what God is doing here? It’s as if God is saying, “You are going to miss the order and harmony, the beauty of Eden now that the world is shattered in sin. So, I am giving you art, particularly the gift of music. It will be a tonic for your homesickness for paradise. By it you can impose a little order on the world of ugly chaos.”
As a Christian minister I see and hear it all from incest to unemployment, drug abuse, self-loathing, divorce and death. And many is the day that I am simply overwhelmed by it all and go home in despair. But when I put on Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons”, Handel’s “Water Music”, or Bach’s “Air on a G String” the beautiful sounds wash over me, reach inside me soothing, ordering, restoring, and relaxing. After 30 minutes I feel like there is hope and meaning in life again.
And it is not just music that can do this. A good novel can do it. So can a poem, a play, a short story, or a painting.
Even making art ourselves is a powerful restorative. But you say, “I’m not the least bit artistic!” Perhaps you do not make music, paint, dance or act. But there is a vast amount of “hidden art” that is art just the same. And nearly every person is or can become involved in one or more such creative activities. It may be interior decorating, cooking a fine meal, floral arrangements, landscaping, sewing, writing a letter, planning a party or gardening. Whatever artistic endeavor you indulge in, you’ll be certain to find that when you put things in order you yourself are ordered.
In the Garden there was also study. Genesis 2:19-20 tells us that Adam identified and named each of the animals of creation. What a mind he must have had to do so! If you’ve ever taken Zoology in college you know how difficult animal identification, classification, and naming can be. (I once saw written on a bathroom wall the question, “Where will you spend eternity?” And some student had written in reply, “The way it looks now, in Zoology 101!”).
Clearly, Adam was a student. He was not completed the moment God blew His breath into him. He was a person growing, stretching, ever expanding in his intellectual capabilities.
At a church meeting once, a young ministerial candidate was sharing his testimony with the gathered pastors. And as a portion of his autobiography he said, “I completed my education at Emory University in 1975.” To which a veteran pastor in his sixties replied, “There was a time when I might have said what you just said, young man. ‘I completed my education.’ Let me assure you, young man, your education is just beginning!” To be healthy none of us should ever stop learning! We should be life long learners.
Why, the most interesting people of any generation are those with questing and questioning minds. They get up at 4 A.M. to watch a meteor shower. They take time to explore the intricacies of a rare flower. They read books, are curious, want to learn history, a biographical detail or how something works.
Peter wrote to the church, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). This means we are to approach God with ever expanding wonder and awe, to love God with our minds, to be curious, to question, to seek new information, new skills, deeper relationship.
Right now, in my own life, I am studying the book of Jeremiah. For six months I’m living in his writings, studying the historical background of his life, finding out what he faced and felt and said and did. And I’ve never felt more alive!
As a professor of mine once said, “Stephen, don’t be afraid to read a book, for in so doing, there will be more of you to love God.”
A final ingredient in the wholesome habitat of Eden is obedience. God told Adam to dress the earth and keep it, not to eat forbidden fruit, and to love Eve, his wife. And for a time, at least, Adam and Eve followed God with perfect loyalty. And all was well with their body, spirit, and soul.
I once asked a doctor of internal medicine, “What is the best drug, the most potent therapy? Is it penicillin? Or radiation? Or some new magic bullet fresh out of the lab?” And the doctor’s reply so startled me I’ve never forgotten it.
“Stephen,” he said, “The best medicine is obedience.”
You see, God has so constructed His universe that those who say yes to Him and His will find the whole universe saying yes to them. But when you say no to God the universe says no to you.
Witness this in the original Garden. When Adam and Eve lived positively obedient toward God they lived in splendid harmony with poetry between them. But as soon as a “no” came into their lifestyle, as soon as they disobeyed God, their lives became an unhealthy chaos of fear (Gen. 3:10), low self-esteem (Gen. 3:7,10), domestic violence (Gen. 4:8), untruth (Gen. 4:9), and death (Gen. 3:19). And it is still the same today. A disobedient person is, in the end, an unhealthy person.
“The Whole Person”
Be careful to notice that Eden was an environment, a lifestyle that nurtured the whole person, spirit, body and soul (emotion, will, and intellect). There was something there for each facet of the human being. To nourish the spirit there was worship, and obedience. For the body there was exercise, diet, fresh air, sunshine and sleep. For the mind there was study; for the will, work; and for the emotion, art and play!
Adam and Eve were totally alive in an environment that was totally alive to them.
It is so easy today to live on nothing but a physical and emotional level. We do what we “feel” like doing. If it will make our body experience pleasure then we’ll do it. But the spirit-life bores us. Intellectual development is too strenuous. And learning willful obedience is restrictive. So we stick with our body and our emotions going from one experience to another looking only for some sort of glandular “rush”.
The trouble with such a lifestyle is that it is not fully human. It is substandard. Sort of like a car engine that is not hitting on all its cylinders. We are only operating at a fraction of our capacity. And we were made for more! This is why Paul, writing to the church in I Thessalonians 5:23, prayed, “May the God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“What Time Frame?”
Before concluding this study, we need to ask one more crucial question. “What time frame does all of this fit into? And the answer is simply the week, God’s seven day cycle. Genesis 2:1-3 explains that God fit all of this activity into 7 days. Exodus 20:8, the fourth commandment, urges us not to forget, but to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord…”
During the French revolution the humanists who came to power were eager to rid their society of all religious habits, so they threw out the 7 day week and instituted instead a 10 day week. For 9 days people worked. The tenth day they played. The experiment lasted nearly 2 years and ended in failure. The French revolutionists found that work productivity decreased, people grew irritable, crime increased, and disease was more widespread. Even animals failed to respond to the 10 day week positively. Horses used to pull city taxis literally fell exhausted in their traces. Re-establishing the 7 day week, French humanists observed that they did not know who this man Moses was but he must have somehow been divinely inspired.
Today, we, too, need to rediscover the week, God’s 7 day cycle of work, rest, play and worship. So many of us binge on work January to June, play all summer, and try to catch up on a lifetime of spiritual neglect Thanksgiving to Christmas. But God’s cycle is not the year or the month or some 10 day cycle we might seek to establish. His ideal is the week. And into each week must come rest, diet, art, play, work, worship, diet, study, obedience and the like.
I recently bought a new set of tires for my car. And the dealer insisted that I have each wheel balanced as a precaution against early tread wear. A tiny two ounce weight affixed to the tire rim at speeds of 55 miles per hour can weigh as much as 125 pounds. Without such a balance the same excessive weight could bear on one side of the tire instead of striking it evenly. The result is a tire that wears unevenly, gaps out, and eventually blows out.
Unbalanced lifestyles in today’s fast paced world does the same thing to people. It’s nothing to meet burned out executives, married people who have died emotionally, people whose brains have been reduced to mush by television, or prostitutes and drug addicts whose bodies look old before their time.
Balance. Into every seven days. The good things of God’s Eden. This is what Solomon was writing about in Ecclesiastes 3:1 following “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: A time to build up…, A time to weep, and a time to laugh;… I have seen the business that God has given to the sons of men to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time.”
In closing, let me give you a Hebrew word often repeated in Scripture. The word is “Shalom”. And it means “peace”. But it is a peace far more than the mere absence of war. It is an environment as full and nourishing as Eden paradise.
To understand Biblical Shalom, God’s peace, visit a greenhouse. There in a sunny environment is the absence of things like drought, frost, and rabbits which might destroy a plant. But there is more! There is the presence of right amounts of moisture, sunlight, fertilizer and pruning which nourish a plant to full bloom.
The Garden of Eden was a sort of God-fashioned greenhouse in which people could be nurtured to the full bloom of humanity. But, alas, we do not live in the Garden of Eden any longer. Because of sin Eden was destroyed.
Yet in the faith of Jesus Christ it is God’s will to give us peace, to give us Shalom, once more. John 20:19-23 tells of Jesus’ appearance to his disciples Easter Sunday night. And the first thing He said to them was, “Peace be with you!” Then, as if He was creating a new Adam, He breathes on them and commanded them to “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Clearly God intends Christians to be His new Adam and Eves, to be alive spiritually, physically, emotionally, willfully, and intellectually! And most certainly He expects us to live obedient lives. And that brings us to a lifestyle balanced each week with the things of Eden— sunshine, fresh air, exercise, fresh diet, abstinence, play, art, sleep, worship, work, study, committed human relationships and obedience.
When do you begin?