God's Good World was a Beginning, and Not an End
Genesis 2 is contextualized, and is connected to all that follows in the next 10 chapters. It is the first time Adam and Eve are named, the first time we hear of a garden with a location, the first time work is given, and the first time family structures are identified.
The Garden of Eden that we tend to picture is often disconnected from the world we know, which is governed by natural law and ruled by cause and effect. The effect of seeing the Garden in this way is to read more like a myth or fable than anything else. Maybe, there is a way to read this story of the Garden of Eden differently, so it retains the author’s intent, but removes this fable like quality of hearing it. We can read Genesis 1-3 as an origin story, a story that serves as the foundation for a larger story. To see it as an origin story, is to see it as the beginning or a much bigger narrative, and it would protect us from seeing Eden as ‘paradise lost.’
A very simple way of helping us see this is by looking at the words used in Genesis 1 as God contemplated what he’d made. He looked and declared, “it is tov ma-ode” (good, very good). You and I tend to think good means perfect, but that is not what it says in the text. In fact, there are other words that could have been used that actually meant perfect. In this way, we can see that creation is poised to fulfill the purposed God sets for it. It is full of potential. It is not an end; it is the merely the beginning. Thus, we are not to pine to return to Eden, because that would only return us to the beginning; instead, we see how the beginning launches us into a much larger story we are now a part of.
The picture of Genesis 2 is of a human community that relates deeply to God and one another in their capacity as image bearers and stewards of God’s world. This is no myth or fable; this is like the constitution—a founding document that taught the ancient Hebrews who they were and how they were to relate to God, each other, and the world.
They were image bearers, special creations, given authority and responsibility
They were to serve as co-regents representing God to the rest of the world
They were loved, important, dignified, significant and placed on earth for God’s good purpose
While we know how the story ends, it is our job now to be true to our story and live out our part of the story as God intends, so we too must draw on the lessons that Genesis teaches.
We dare not treat any human being as anything less than being made in the image of God
We dare not ever look down on persons of the other sex as being less than
We dare not shrink from the responsibility to image God and represent God to our world
That is what our origin story tells us.