Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Garden and the Gates

Yesterday, I mentioned that we spend so much of our time focusing on the promise of Heaven that we forget the incredible blessing of the created world. God created the heavens and the earth, and He created man on earth. There's got to be a reason. Still, we spend most of our time thinking about "Heaven" and longing for Eden.

Sort of.

What gets us thinking about these things is the brokenness of our world. We look around us and we think that this couldn't possibly be what God intended for His creation. And, of course, it's not. We see murder and rape and hate and tension and strife and struggle, and there's got to be more, we think. And, of course, there is. The trouble is not so much that we set our sights on better things.

The trouble is what we think those better things are.

What do you think of when you think of Eden? You think of a garden untouched. You think of flourishing plants that don't need tended, but merely enjoyed. You think of animals frolicking with one another, and right out in the open where man can behold everything from the beautiful butterfly to the majestic elephant all in the same scene. You think of trees, big and strong, but blowing in the breeze and providing a gentle shade. You think of grass muffled gently beneath your bare feet. If you were to pull out your box of crayons, you would use every color on this canvas. It's strikingly beautiful. And it's all yours. You never picture many more people in Eden. Maybe your spouse, a loved one or two, but primarily, it's you and Creation. It's your perfect little place. 

And Heaven? Heaven is equally so. Heaven is a place bound by gates made of giant pearls, streets paved with gold. It's a place where the clouds surround us once again, the holy presence of our Lord as it was for the Israelites in the wilderness (you never made that connection, did you? From God being the presence in the cloud to us being present in the clouds with Him). It's a place where we're all together, all getting along, walking around those streets and greeting each other with joy the way we were supposed to do "down here." Heaven in the place where your enemies become your friends, where your wounds finally heal, where society gets a chance to live as it was meant to live, apart from sin. Reconciled to the original creation. Glorified. Yes, you feel glorified in Heaven and how could you not? One of those mansions has your name on the mailbox, and one of those closets is full of tailored robes.

Sound about right?

How about...totally wrong?

There is one essential element missing from our recollections of Eden and our imaginations of Heaven. One very important reality that's missing when we hold these images. Did you catch it? Do you know what it is? 

It's God. 

Somewhere, we've gotten the idea that the heavens and the earth were created for us. That they were meant to fulfill something in us. That when God planted the garden, it was for our pleasure and when He paved the streets of gold, it was for our glory. Oh, how highly we think God thinks of us! 

But God has never thought highly of us; He has felt deeply for us. It's for love that God created all this, not for pleasure. Not for glory. God didn't create the garden so that you could enjoy it; He created it so that you could enjoy Him. Remember the real story of Eden? God walked with Adam. God walked with Eve. They were the best of friends, living openly with one another. Unashamed. Unafraid. Deeply enjoying not just the butterflies and the trees and the grasses, but the presence of Creator and created together. Whatever echoes we hear of Eden are not about a beautiful garden; they are about a beautiful relationship. They are about getting us back to that place where we live unashamed with God, where we walk together. 

And the same is true of Heaven. Heaven was never meant to glorify us. It wasn't meant to be a place where we all live together in blessed extravagance. It is another place where, finally, we live together with God. Where we know we're going to run into Him at the corner store, and that's okay. Where our mansion doors are always open because you never know when His angels are going to stop by. Where those streets of gold reflect His glory; His light bounces all around the place. 

We forget that. We forget that the main story of the heavens and the earth is not man; the main story is God. We forget that the earth wasn't created for us; it was created for Him. The heavens, too. They were created for Him. And us? We were not created for the heavens or the earth. We, too, were created for Him. It's all about Him. 

So why is He missing from our fantasies? Why is He missing from our imaginations?

Why, when we think of these perfect places, is our God absent from them?

And I'm just as guilty of this as the rest of you. I am. It's easy for me to get caught up in the idea of monkey butlers and bees that don't sting and a robe that won't only be beautiful but also might actually finally keep me warm. I get it. 

But the more I think about the heavens and the earth, the more I let myself ache for Eden and long for Heaven, the more I realize that I want neither if my God isn't there. That without Him, the earth is formless and void; the heavens are empty. Without Him, it's not perfect. It's not even worth having. 

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