It is a sure sign of the fall that we so egregiously miss what we lost. Jesus calls us to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness precisely because our priorities are all out of line. Even that for which we long — to get back to the garden — we long for in the wrong way. Eden, to be sure, was Edenic. It was a garden paradise. There were no weeds crowding their way in there. No bugs buzzed in ears, nor did they sting arms and legs. Adam and Eve had no need to fear that prowling lions would consume humble lambs or that cyclones would tear up their garden by the roots. Eden was a place of joyful, fulfilling work. Adam would never feel the pressure of too many deadlines. His laptop would never go on the fritz. Neither had he any reason to fear an industrial accident. And then Adam and Eve had each other. This was a love relationship that would stagger us in its glory, that would blow us away in its intensity, that would in turn calm us in its beauty.
And all of the above did not amount to a hill of beans compared to the real blessing. All of the above are but shadows of a far greater glory, icing on a far richer cake. The glory of the garden was this — they walked with God. What we lost was not just beholding but entering into the very glory of God. That is to say, it would have been enough just to have been allowed the privilege of watching Him walk by. That would have shrunk every other blessing down to size. But He did not merely walk by — He walked with. Adam and Eve drew near to Him. To get just a glimpse of what this must have been like, recall to mind how C.S. Lewis portrayed the joyful Aslan playfully wrestling with the Pevensie children. This, not luscious fruit and tropical breezes, is what we lost.
This loss, in turn, is what we are seeking so desperately to forget. We are haunted by Eden. Which may help us to understand the peculiar way in which our modern culture practices its folly. We are told by Paul in Romans 1 that all men know that God exists, but we suppress that truth in unrighteousness. Supposing ourselves to be wise we become fools and exchange the glory of the Creator for mere creatures. Our idolatry isn’t merely embracing the wrong religion. It is rejecting what we know so that we might bow down to what we have made.
In Paul’s day it seemed that on every street corner there was a temple to this goddess and a statue to that god. Modern Americans are different — or are we? We do not self-consciously bow down to gods of our own making. But if one were to step back, to set aside the normalcy of our idolatry, we might find it in the strangest places. I suspect that archeologists in future millennia, when they dig up our civilization, will suggest that we worshiped a nearly ubiquitous god named “Starbucks.” They would, of course, be missing the point. Starbucks is not our god, but a mere aid to our worship. We carry around cups of our drug of choice that will keep us awake and alert enough to attend to our gods — that we can distract our minds, and our hearts with our cell-phones, our iPods, our satellite radios, our constant and perpetual influx of meaningless data. We are all aflutter taking in media of one sort or another so that we will not hear the deafening echo of our emptiness, so that we won’t feel the gnawing lack where we once walked with God.
The strangest thing of all, however, is not the frantic forgetfulness of those yet on the outside. No, the truly strange thing is that Jesus has for us restored paradise. We walk with God but will not listen because our earphones are piping us the latest new band. We will not see His glory because our eyes are captured by whatever is making the rounds today on YouTube. We will not even hold His palm-scarred hand because we’re busy sending someone a text message with our iPhone. That is, we who walk in paradise, are too busy dancing with the Devil to notice.
The kingdom is here, and the kingdom is now. We need not, in one sense, seek it. For it has sought and found us. To seek what has already been found we do not work harder. Instead we stop. We listen. We see. We smell. We enter into the glory of His presence. We rejoice and give thanks that we are already seated with Him in the heavenly places. There is no cell service up there. Be still, and know that He is God.
In that stillness you will hear first the heavenly choirs of angels, as they cry out, “Holy, holy holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” Then you will hear the Master’s voice. Even now, even here on this side of the veil you will hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant…. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21). And you will rejoice that He is that exceedingly great reward. He walks with you now in the cool of the evening. For lo, He is with us always.