The truth is that everything that Christians identify as foretastes of Heaven, everything that they put off until God's tomorrow, everything that they claim as hope for eternity, is just as much an echo of Eden. That is, it is just as much the way that God designed things in the beginning, just as much His original plan for all of Creation, just as much part of His "very good."
We don't talk very much about this because it's not the kind of beautiful hope that Heaven gives us. When we talk about Eden, we have to talk about how badly we've screwed things up, just how far we've fallen, and essentially what terrible creatures we are. We have to admit our own propensity to want to be like God, and this does not paint the same kind of wonderful, sparkly image as, say, streets of gold.
So Heaven it is, not Eden, even though God's plan, His design, has not changed from one to the other. Even though Heaven is not fundamentally different than the Garden. Even though we know (because God's story tells us) that our "happily ever after" is our "once upon a time."
But before we get too carried away and start talking about Eden, let's be clear about this, too: these echoes of Eden, this God who created all things, this original "very good" design is also only half of the story. And since it is only half of the story, it can never fulfill the longings of our heart, either.
And this half of the story, just like the other half, creates a distance in our relationship with our loving Father. This time, though, it is not He who has stepped away into the future; it is we who are stepping away from our past.
Which means that once again, our immanent God, the God who walked with us in the very beginning, the God who is building a place for us in His house for eternity, the God who came to dwell among us as a man, is no longer immanent. He's not here. He's back there. Back in the Garden where we left Him when we decided that we could be just like Him if we'd only develop a taste for figs. (It didn't take much. And yes, figs. Oh, how theologically pleasing it is for the fruit to be a fig.)
However we got here, here we are, with a Christianity that confesses plainly that this life is not what it was meant to be. This world is not what God created for it. We are not who He intended us to be. This whole big thing in a mess.
Our response to this confession boils down to one of these two things, though more often one than the other. We often say that this disaster is here because God dwells in Heaven, waiting for eternity. The more confessional among us might say that this disaster is here because we left God in the Garden at the very beginning when we fell. And the problem is always either that there is too much distance between our stories and God...or that there is too much distance between God and our stories. And no matter how we frame it, it always seems to boil down to the fact that we are "here" and not "there," whichever "where" we settle on. Mansions or dirt. Whatever.
Then, we boldly proclaim this to the world as the story of Christianity. It is either a dramatic failure of original design or an eternal hope for a promised tomorrow. It is the story of a people and a God with a great chasm between them that seems to only deepen with time, but will be closed in the blink of an eye.
It sounds beautiful to us. But the world's not buying it. And they shouldn't. It's only half the story.
The real story lies somewhere in the middle, in the here and now, and it's one that modern Christianity has not made a lot of room for but we absolutely must.
Are you starting to see where this is going? No, not to a manger, although that's part of it....
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