Lesson 10: Return to Paradise

Many, if not most, pictures of salvation are very general, enabling us to fill them with our own ideas. I am thinking of salvation as God’s will being done. Scholars sometime speak of this as “whatever it is when God has God’s will with you”. A second describes salvation as participation in the life of the Triune God. Both of these are found plenty of times in the Bible. However, neither offers much specific content.

Let me offer some more particular pictures. One that responds to Lupe’s concern for addressing our ecological crisis is the return to the Garden of Eden. Certainly the Bible’s main history of salvation is a healing process that assumes God created a good world that one way or another became corrupted. When humans were not able to correct this, God came to the rescue. His work is often described as restoring the conditions of Paradise.

This picture offers a foundation for the stewardship necessary in ecology. It overcomes the pictures in Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series where salvation is only for humans who are raptured out of the world as it is being destroyed. The same goes for those like Ann Coulter who claimed, “God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees. God said, ‘Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It’s yours.” In both of these popular pictures plants, animals, and the rest of the material world are disposable.

The “Return to Paradise” pictures of salvation are quite different. Consider the harmony of all parts of creation in Isaiah 11: 6-10: “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD AS the waters cover the sea.”

Isaiah 65: 20-24 says much of the same but adds further characteristics of Eden, such as enjoyable work, long life, and direct conversation with God. “No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD- and their descendants as well. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.”

The same features appear in the updated picture of the ecological city in Revelation 22 “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more.”

Many modern dramas and novels use this version of salvation quite a bit. Tending your little garden in the midst of modern madness and technology becomes a foretaste of the Paradise to come. It calls us to manage the world as God intended when he created all living in harmony.

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