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PARADISE (March 15 presentation at the Islamic Center of Minnesota)

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Paradise, or heaven, is not a physical place, but a state of relationship.

THE ORIGINAL PARADISE from Genesis 2.

The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

10 Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers. 11 The name of the first is Pishon; it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 The gold of that land is good; the bdellium and the onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is Gihon; it flows around the whole land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is Tigris; it flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

15 Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. 16 The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

In the garden we find

  1. Rivers that bring life to the garden. These are physically identifiable places that could be identified as something occurring on earth, not merely in polytheistic mythology.
  2. Trees that give life to the people on earth
  3. One unique tree that sustains the life of the people, possibly forever.
  4. One tree that brings death.
  5. The intimate presence of God (3:8 implies that God normally visited the garden at day’s end.

20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place… 22 The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

The chapter ends with the note that there was no shame, and no need for privacy. Nakedness implies complete transparency.

PARADISE DEFACED AND DEFILED

The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” 11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked?

The writer shows a deep understanding of the human condition. The snake said, “ God is depriving you of the power to know good and evil, but don’t fall for God’s trick. You can be equal to God in distinguishing good from evil.”   When the primeval couple betrayed the trust God had placed in them, the result was expulsion. They got fired. Their ignoble failure brought shame on the entire human family.

Shame is removed only by death. When an entire graduating class of Korean students drowned on a party ship that sank, the shame of losing all those students drove the principal to commit suicide. When a bridge built by a Japanese construction engineer fell and killed many people, the engineer committed suicide. In our country when shame has reached the core of someone’s identity, he picks up a rifle and starts shooting. In that condition such a person would shoot everyone in the world if he could. Suicide bombing and I.S.I.S. are the result of collective shame in a group.  Fear also, mingles with shame. Shame and fear are the unexpected consequences of breaking the trust God invested in humanity.

A WORLD DOMINATED BY “HONOR AND SHAME”

Leaves make a poor covering, but we all try to use them. We cover our shame with power, wealth, fashion, success, status, and accomplishments, but the insecurity of falling off the ladder of respectability always haunts us. In the story, God acted to cover the shame. The animals died to provide skins.

Throughout history shame has led to suicide and murder. It also leads to war. War is collective suicide and murder, and we go to war to preserve our honor. This fear of dishonor underlies all our pretences and conflicts. The primeval story of Adam and Eve is about all of us.

PARADISE RENEWED from Revelation 21

1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth… And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God… And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s dwelling is among men. He will live among them, and they will be His people.   He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; death will be no more—no mourning, crying, or pain. The former things are gone.”

22 I saw no temple (or church or mosque) in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple (church and mosque). 23 The glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light, …. 25 … Its gates will never close. 26 The nations will bring their glory and honor into it; 27 and nothing unclean, …shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

CONTINUING from Revelation 22

1Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life… and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.

In this account

  1. Paradise originates in heaven but comes down to earth.
  2. The garden has metamorphosed into a city with all the significant benefits of the garden intact.
    1. The river of life from God (22:1)
    2. The tree of life is ubiquitous, growing along both river sides of the river (22:2)
    3. The eternal, intimate presence of God
    4. Some things are missing
      1. Sorrow and death (21:4)
      2. The tempter and the tree of temptation. (see Rev. 20:10)
      3. Darkness (some place to hide) is gone and transparency reigns in God’s light; therefore, there is neither need of nor desire for privacy (21:23-24).
      4. No defilement and no shame exist (21:27).
      5. God’s presence fills the world permanently with light.

“He (God)…alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (1 Timothy 6:16). When we enter the place of complete transparency and perfect intimacy, all vestiges of shame in memory will be exposed by the light of God. The social coverings of leaves we have created for religiosity and respectability will prove inadequate.  The darkness of hell is where devils and those whom they have deceived will go to escape the unapproachable light of heaven.

That is why Jesus came to be the light of God on earth within a limited human frame. In Jesus Christ, God took on our shame, entered into death and destroyed its power. Why God did this and how this actually works is beyond human comprehension. No human would ever imagine such a thing, but God revealed it to be true.

In Genesis God created us for a holy, Divine/human partnership as God’s vice regent (Genesis 1:26-28), but not an equal partnership. God is God. Humans are human. Jesus is the bridge. When Jesus came, he replaced shame and fear with hope, and we can live in a different world today if we accept his solution. He identified with us in our shame, and if we make his shame and death the foundation of our identity, we will also share his glory in resurrection to be God’s vice regent living in intimacy with God forever (22:5).

Paradise, or heaven, is not a physical place, but rather a state of intimate relationship with God. The intimacy with God that Jesus enjoyed can be ours as well.

 

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Creative Commons License PARADISE (March 15 presentation at the Islamic Center of Minnesota) is licensed by Philip Friesen under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.