There are any number of ways to capture the glory of Eden. Because it is a garden paradise, we can focus on its bucolic nature. Bereft of thorns and thistles, fruitful and beautiful, it is the ideal location, designed for man and for glory. We can zero in on the peace that reigned there, the absence of death and illness, lions lying down with lambs. We can wonder at the glory of the rivers, the gold, and the precious stones. The crescendo of God’s description, however, isn’t at any of these points. Instead, Genesis 2, just before the serpent is introduced in Genesis 3:1, ends with this paean to the blessed glory of the garden: “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed” (v. 25).
Naked and unashamed. It is all too easy for us to miss the significance of this. Given our cultural obsession with youth and our obscene fixation with changing, arbitrary standards of physical beauty, we might think that Moses is highlighting here the physical perfection of our first parents, as if Moses is saying, “Not only is the setting glorious and the stage perfect, but the actors are so smoking hot they were perfectly comfortable in their birthday suits.” Eden is a glorious place, but that’s not why.
The truth is that Moses is getting at something far more significant than physical perfection. The reason Adam and Eve were able to be naked and unashamed is because of their moral perfection. They were unashamed precisely because they had nothing to be ashamed of. Their bodies were perfect. But their wills, their emotions, their thoughts, their desires, all of these—indeed, all that they were—was unaffected at this point by sin.
They were the polar opposite of what we are in our state of total depravity. Total depravity affirms that all that we are has been affected by Adam and Eve’s first sin, that the whole of our being is corrupt, that we are unable even to embrace the saving work of Christ for us in ourselves. We cannot incline ourselves toward the good. But here, in the garden, the whole of their beings was uncorrupted. There was no shadow upon their moral standing, no blemish on their record, not so much as an inclination against the good to struggle against and be sorrowful for.
Think of what this must have meant for their relationships. It is true that a lack of sin is good for our relationships, as it means we won’t sin against each other. Adam and Eve had no need to fear being sinned against. But how much more potent is it when we know we won’t and haven’t sinned against others? How much more open, how much more honest can we be when there is nothing to be ashamed of? In like manner, while God was gracious and condescending to walk with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening, though Adam and Eve were mere creatures and He is the Creator, because they knew no sin they could talk with Him, unashamed.
Moses, I would argue, gives us this picture not merely so we might be conscious of all that we have lost. Rather he is also telling us something important about what we will regain. Eden is not only a picture of our past but is a picture of our future. It is where we are going. When Jesus calls us to seek first the kingdom of God, He is reminding us where our treasure is. He is directing our gaze away from the blessings of earthly beauty, of earthly fruitfulness, even of earthly peace. He is directing our gaze toward heavenly beauty, spiritual fruit, and peace with the living God. When Jesus calls us to seek the righteousness of God, He is reminding us that because we are now in ourselves sinners, naked and unashamed isn’t what we should be shooting for. Rather our goal is covered and unashamed. We, like our parents in the garden, can move through our days without shame. Not because we have no sin like them, but because we have no sin in Him.
Our standing in Christ, however, is not our ultimate end. We will not enter into the fullness of His kingdom on our own. We need the righteousness of Christ to cover us. But the promise of God is not just that we will be justified, not just that we will be sanctified, but that we will be glorified. We enter into the kingdom dressed in His righteousness, but then our sanctification will be complete. We will be made what we once were, whole and perfect. And we will be in eternity naked and unashamed. In the new heavens and the new earth, in that great garden city whose builder and maker is God, not only will sin be banished, but so will shame.
Eden is our source. And Eden is our destiny. Naked and unashamed, in the garden, we entered this world. And naked and unashamed we will enter the world to come. The gospel of Jesus Christ expels from the garden not us, but the guilt, the stain, and the shame of our sin. Seek then His kingdom and give thanks.