Were human beings designed to stay in Eden?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

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Question: God created the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8) — and this garden was only a piece of land out there on this huge earth. So, man sins and he is cast out of the garden. Was he meant to remain in the Garden of Eden forever — supposing he hadn't sinned? … and had he remained, what would the rest of the land that wasn't Eden even be… or what would it be used for, at least?

Answer: Greetings friend. Thank you for touching down with us at Mainsail Ministries — and thank you for submitting this interesting question. It’s always fun to travel back to Eden… and it’s always fun to wonder what we’d be like as a species if our first parents had made better food choices!

They didn’t… of course… and we are stuck in a very different reality because of that choice. But what had God envisioned for the earth if we managed to stay sinless? An eternal Eden? The variety and the complexity of alternate scenarios make it impossible to flesh them out. But one thing I know (because the Bible tells me so) is that God wanted us to fill the earth — with sin or without it.

(God’s instructions to innocent humanity:) “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28, NIV)

(God’s instructions to fallen humanity:) “Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.” (Genesis 9:1, NIV)

But did you notice one big difference between these two commands? While in innocence, God had to say specifically that we were to subdue the earth and rule over it. Why? I’m not sure… but we have a hint. The original jobs in Eden were pleasurable and not at all odious. But after the fall, God changed the nature of work so it would feel more like the drudgery we experience today.

“To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:16–19, NIV, emphasis mine)

We see from the above passage that God cursed the earth by making things we had to do to survive (like growing food and giving birth) harder to accomplish as compared to our gig in Eden. We would now have to labor beyond our pleasure thresholds to survive. Now, only Adam experienced both of those worlds… but we can learn from him. Where once his labor was sweet, it now caused him to sweat… and all this because God dialed up the degree of difficulty.

Today we use a technical term to describe systems that are increasingly hard to subdue: we say that they are increasing in entropy. This means that they are getting less organized… and this means that they are falling into states of less useful energy. Our universe is such a system. It runs under the laws of thermodynamics, and any entity governed by those laws will experience an increase in entropy.

Now, the universe was created this way initially and purposefully. It did not change to become entropic when Adam fell. But that demonstrates how God optimized the universe for life. This is called (even among scientists) the “anthropic principle” because the universe seems optimized for life… but even entropy — which fights life on some level — seems to be finely tuned to help it along.

For instance, we can make semi-permanent improvements to our environment. It just takes a lot of effort —  and it takes more effort than if we never left Eden. This is why life here can become wearisome… and why we look to a better future with God. But if we stayed in Eden, life would not be wearisome because we’d be cooperating with God… but while our environment cooperated with us!

Fortunately, the entropy coin has another side. Workers of evil must also apply more effort to do their work. So, our universe is still cooperating with the honest labors of its people, but it is optimized to keep evil at bay — and when we remember who’s running this world, we will remember why. This dialed-up entropy may be inconvenient for us… but it is of critical importance to the world.

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” (Ephesians 2:1–3, NIV)

 “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4, NIV)

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Romans 8:22, NIV)

This is why all of humankind was restricted from Eden's tree of life after the fall (Genesis 3:24). We were designed to live forever, and the tree is evidence of that. But this universe was designed to deal with sin… and the sweat of our brows is evidence of that. But when we sinned, we were not merely “restricted” from the tree of life; it ceased to exist in this “new” world that was so influenced by sin.

Revelation 22:2 tells us that we will get another shot at the tree of life. But by that time, sin will have been destroyed… so it will no longer be crouching at the door (Genesis 4:7). Also at that time, we will be living in a new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1)… and that one will not be hobbled by thermodynamics, by entropy or by sin — and with all that in place, let me answer your question more directly.

I believe that humanity had the capacity to remain in the Garden of Eden forever and enjoy the same direct fellowship with God that our first parents had. But, because the universe that contained Eden was still entropic, after we as a species proved ourselves victorious over sin, then the new heaven and new earth would have still been necessary.

My point is, I don’t believe that Eden was designed to be a forever place — even if we never disobeyed God. The universe was built like it is to test us and to give us a fighting chance against sin. And once either we or Christ had resisted or conquered sin, God’s program for the far-future would commence.

As to Eden’s borders and the land beyond, humanity was twice told to fill the earth — once from an assumption of innocence, and once in the full knowledge of sin. If Adam and Eve had not sinned, they would have had children under the Edenic covenant instead of under the curse — but still under God’s command to fill the earth.

So, either Eden would have expanded with the innocent population, or it would have maintained its original physical borders. In the case of the latter, there would have been no need for angels keeping people away with flaming swords. People could come and go at will — and even partake of the tree of life!

Now, I’m just making educated guesses about all this, but there are reasons why I’m guessing this way.

My assumption is that, just as Adam & Eve passed their sin nature to me through their progeny (Romans 5:19), if they resisted Satan, then they would have passed a victorious nature to me instead. In that case, sin (and the entropic curse of sin) would not be upon us… and that world would be a totally different place — much more a wolf-living-with-the-lamb kind of place than the world we have now (Isaiah 11:6).

But there’s a problem with that scenario: Jesus would never have come… but God planned for him to come — and he planned Jesus’ redeeming death before Eden was ever created! (1 Peter 1:20). Doesn’t this mean that God created us to fail… and that our failure was predetermined?

Not exactly. God created us with the capacity to fail… and that’s quite different from determining us to fail. After all, he created us with the capacity to resist sin, too, and these two capacities are at the core of what differentiates us from all the other animals: we human beings have free will. Adam chose to fail when he didn’t have to… and we choose to fail when we don’t have to.

The capacity to sin is different from the necessity to sin… although… since we all have sinned (Romans 3:23), I can see where some people might say that we necessarily do. But I’d be careful here. If that’s true, then free will does not exist. Remember, Jesus did not sin… so that “all” doesn’t mean all.

Yes… I know he was God…  but he was also truly human (Mark 13:32)… and if the latter were not true, then he could not have redeemed us. So, not only do we have a Savior in Jesus, but we also have an example of a human who never sinned. This speaks to our capacity to live sinless lives… although we’ll never pull it off until after we are glorified (1 Corinthians 15:42-44).

But what about God creating a universe designed to deal with sin before sin became a reality? Isn’t this like stacking the deck in favor of the fall?

Not really. Satan is a spiritual being, not a physical one, and he (and countless other angels) rebelled against God outside of the physical realm (1 John 3:8; Revelation 12:7-9). Sin has everything to do with the heart of volitional beings and almost nothing to do with their physical environs like Eden.

But since God (who is omniscient) knows every potential decision and how they would play out if allowed to do so, he gave us the type of universe that our collective free choices demanded… and then had us live our lives freely, in real time, in real jeopardy of sin… and longing to get back to Eden.

I pray that all this helped more than it confused.

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20190715 The universe versus the Garden of Eden).

(For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com. To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)