What if Eden was a place not of perfection per se, but of perfect grace?
What if Adam enjoyed bliss, not because of absolute spiritual and physical wholeness, but by virtue of God’s graceful declaration that humanity was “very good”? We are so used to thinking of sinlessness, righteousness and perfection as static states, but what if they are defined not existentially, but relationally? What if the one thing that matters above all else is not some externally visible sign of perfection, but the heart of humankind in relation to its creator?
So, let us suppose that to an outside human observer Adam and Eve were not perfect. For example, they were naked, and yet it is fair to imagine that God’s plan might have been that they would not remain naked. And yet they were ontologically righteous, by God’s grace, which they lived in by virtue of their submission to his Lordship. They were innocent of their nakedness, since they lived in perfect grace. Likewise, the creation was declared “very good”, and yet it still waited to be subdued and held under the dominion of Adam, Eve and their descendants. Creation too was good, because it was under God’s Lordship via his good vice-regents who were to steward it. It became less than good not by the loss of Adam’s extrinsic abilities, but by the loss of Adam’s potential under God’s lordship.
Some helpful threads might emerge. Firstly, the Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil, is not an arbitrary test with an arbitrary punishment, but a highly significant way of accepting God’s Lordship and therefore remaining in his grace, or rejecting it and implicitly stepping out of his grace. The curse becomes the inevitable result of stepping outside of God’s grace, it is the curse of self-determination, of knowing too much, too soon; knowledge without wisdom, strength without stature. God wanted a meek human race, but instead we embraced the will to power. The knowledge of good and evil is loss of spiritual sight, we can only see in terms of ultimate good and evil, not in terms of grace. We judge, envy, steal, kill, become idolaters and sin in every way because we cannot see ourselves, others, God, or his world with grace.
Secondly, God’s love is revealed as gracious from the very beginning, nurturing and blessing his inchoate image in the humanity he has formed. Like DNA, his image in man was perfect, but not yet perfectly expressed. That would take generations upon generations, a world full of grace and righteousness. He would have delighted to see his creation grow in wisdom and stature, worshipping and maturing in spirit and truth. Teleological imperfection is not sin.
Thirdly, justification could be seen as the declaration by God that we are righteous as we step back into his Lordship through faith in Christ, and therefore back into the grace that Adam received. It is declarative but inherently and inevitably transformative too.
Fourthly, it would affect our understanding of mission. The church is an edenic community, waiting for the fulfilment of his creation, both in our bodies and the world around. However, like a great palace that has been left to go to wrack and ruin, we can still see the creation’s original glory shining through, and in seeing we can recognise what can be redeemed and glorified through the gracious extension of the Kingdom of God, in our own lives, in culture and in the created order.
Fifthly, and this is probably the point of immediate importance, it would affect how we see the role of grace with the Church community. Under the Lordship of Christ, we must not seek first to be discipleship hothouses, nor theological fortresses, nor sanctified classrooms, but communities of love. And love’s first expression, whether in a fallen world or simply an incomplete one, is always grace.