Several years ago, a PBS series featured round table discussions on the book of Genesis. Participants reflected divergent backgrounds in terms of theology, anthropology, literary analysis, historiography, sociology and psychology, just to name a few. I found the series to be fascinating. With participants analyzing the depiction of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the different suppositions about and impositions on the text provided good “iron sharpens iron” interchanges. In light of their provocative submissions, I ask permission to submit the following thoughts and implications.
The first garden dwellers, named Adam and Eve, were given the task of “working” the garden, “taking care” of the Garden. These expressions indicate that the garden needed human help, at least to make the garden more productive or more visually pleasurable than it would have been be if left to itself.
At the same time, this God given task was given to humans after God had already called the creation “good.” It appears that the creation that God can call good, can be better if humans do their job!! There is a reason why many include creativity in the imago dei.
Note also, concerning Adam and Eve’s work in the garden, that it is not portrayed as either a source or a condition of sinful behavior. In fact it was when sin came into humanity, that human work with the earth became more than necessary; it became painful. Prior to the sin, their work contributed to the bettering of both the environment and the humanity of the humans.
One final observation – the work in the garden included some God made restrictions. Although Adam and Eve could have worked with some trees, making them more productive, they were prohibited from eating anything from the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So, there in the Garden, populated by God’s creative hand, God honoring features were mixed with ways to disobey and dishonor God.
Why should we be surprised if we still find that mixture where we work, live, worship, play, and even love? Even further, why should we expect a utopia in a world of God given “things” that God expects us to improve? Not even the Garden of Eden was that!!