This Sunday I am preaching on the first story in the Bible, Genesis 2 and 3. The story begins with God creating man from the mud of the earth and breathing into adam/man the breath of life. The story has word-play because the Hebrew word for man ‘adam’ sounds like the Hebrew word for ground or dirt is ‘adamah.’ Then the Lord God places the man in a garden in Eden that has “every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Genesis 2:8).
The Garden of Eden has fascinated humanity. My initial impression was of a small compact garden, sort of like a resort on the edge of a river. At the center of the garden is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, with the crafty serpent nearby. I tend to push the story forward to the temptation scene in chapter three, where both the woman and the man disobey and rebel against God.
But that tight image has been challenged by the painter Thomas Cole and his painting called “The Garden of Eden” (1828).
Philip Tallon, a Methodist seminary professor, writes about the painting,
As painted by Cole, the garden seems to encompass the whole earth. It is an infinite playground in which Adam and Eve are dwarfed by rivers, mountains, trees, and even sparkling gems that erupt from the earth. As Cole himself wrote in an 1828 letter about the painting, “I have endeavored to conceive a happy spot where all the beautiful objects of nature were concentered.” This conveys first to me the magnificent, plurality of creation: a Christmas stocking so overflowing with treats that we will never get to the bottom.
The abundance and wonder of the God’s creation can be seen in the scripture. It is essential for understanding the story to rest a moment in the awesome beauty of God’s gift to humanity before moving to the fateful confrontation with the serpent. The wonder of that creation remains all around us, if we have eyes to see.
Lord Jesus, thank you for the beauty of your creation.