With the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock music festival coming up next year and the topic of Original Sin floating in conversations, Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” has come to mind. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s version might be more familiar. It has the hook “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the Garden.” This song captures the angst felt by many of not just the generation of the ’60s but of every generation. We, humanity, retain some ineffable characteristic: “We are stardust / we are golden / we are billion-year-old carbon.” But there seems to be something wrong with the world, notably war, and then there is the vision of bombers turning into butterflies over our nation.
Problem is, we cannot “get ourselves” back to the Garden. In the word picture of Genesis, angels with flaming swords block any path back. What was lost in Eden is not within our grasp, and the beautiful vision of a community in peace and harmony, like what Woodstock sought to achieve, like those butterflies, has flown away. What was lost in Eden are the very things necessary to create and maintain a world at one with itself.
What was lost in Eden can be summed up in three relationships: with God, with each other, and with Creation. Are there any words sadder than those spoken by God after Eve and Adam ate of the forbidden fruit? “Where are you?” calls painful attention to the fact that humanity’s relationship with the Creator is broken. The finger-pointing that follows is not surprising: the man points the finger at the woman, and the woman points the finger at the serpent. The serpent would have pointed a finger if it had someone to point at and fingers to point with.
If N.T. Wright (as spelled out in The Day the Revolution Began) is correct, it is the relationship with Creation that reveals not only an effect of our rebellion, but also a core cause. We rejected our creational vocation. We were “placed” in the garden to tend to it, to protect it, but we chose our vocation: to become like God. We are liminal creatures. We were meant to inhabit the space between God and the rest of the created order. By rejecting that placement, we not only lose the relationship with God, but we ultimately are reduced to mere creatures. We are dust and to dust we shall return.
The story of Nebuchadnezzar in the fourth chapter of Daniel has striking parallels to humanity’s broader predicament. Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream portrays Nebuchadnezzar as a guardian and protector. Pictured as a great tree, he shelters and feeds birds and animals. Nebuchadnezzar wants more. He claims all sovereignty for himself, and his punishment, like that of all humanity, is to be driven out of community and to become like the animals. Only when he “comes back into his right mind” is he restored to his role as king.
In Jesus, God has done the work to restore what was lost. Our relationship with God and each other is repaired (or is being repaired). It is our relationship with Creation that is overlooked in thinking about salvation. Luther speaks of our sin as having curved us in on ourselves, and ironically that is exactly what we have done with salvation. We have made it all about us. It is clear that God has broader horizons. He is making all things new.
In the end, we do not make it back to the Garden. Rather, we come to a “garden-like city” where things that were lost are transformed into wondrous new reality. Being in Jesus, we share with him, the New Adam, the transformed vocation of ruling and caring for Creation.