He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

Genesis 3: 24

 

God is the one who actually created the status of nomadic traveler, of sojourner, of refugee. He sent Eve and Adam out of the place that He had designed, fabricated, and established for them to dwell in peace and in close communion with Him, and the Lord then expelled them in a moment of frustration and of anger. Or was that really how it went down? God was certainly hurt and frustrated by the way that these people who were so close to Him had rapidly gone off on their own and rebelled against His rather simple and very clear instructions. But, if God knows all, did He not already understand that this was to happen? God’s anger is terrible as has been depicted and demonstrated on many occasions in history, and this scene in Eden does not look anything like that sort of anger being poured out onto these people. Rather, what God does here looks more like love and care than does it appear to be motivated by some darker emotion.

 

God’s real intent and desire in sending them out of the garden and into the harsh environment of the world was redemptive in intent and in nature. Inside of Eden they were living and operating in an environment that was guarded, safe in all ways, and that contained the means for achieving eternity by direct personal action. That is, by eating the fruit of the tree of life. To the east of the garden, the part of the world where they were sent, everything was different. Inside of the garden they were required to work, and this effort was promised to bring forth bounty and to always be rewarding as everything there was done for the sake of God’s kingdom on earth. On the east side, they would also need to work, but the results were far less certain. The sweat of their brows would provide for what they needed to survive most of the time, but their efforts would also see failure, and their spirits would know frustration and pain.

 

The hardships and the challenges that came to Eve and Adam and to all of their descendants was not a form of punishment that God placed upon them. Instead, it was the direct result of their desire to be the ones who were calling all of the shots, to be in control, and to determine the direction that they would go and the means of getting there. They wanted to be like God. What they didn’t realize was that this authority and power carried with it great and terrible responsibility. So, they were sent by God out into the world to experience the weight of that responsibility on their own, and we, as their descendants, also experience what it means to make our way in the eastern regions without God. However, the Lord doesn’t leave us on our own without the ability to come back to Him and into the love, care, and protection of His presence in our lives. Christ runs after our refugee hearts, and He gives Himself in exchange for our souls. As we repent and return to the God of our creation, Christ brings us back into God’s Kingdom and grants us the heart-deep peace of that eternal garden as our new and lasting home.

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Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take from the tree of life and eat, and live forever—therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.

Genesis 3: 22, 23

 

You would think that perfection would be reward enough. That living in an environment that did not present any forms of threat or opposition would make us content and obedient to the one simple rule that God set out, “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat.”(2:17) Yet, that was not the case, for as we know all too well, our initial ancestors did, in fact, eat that forbidden fruit, and the results that issued forth from that decision are with us to this day. This planet that we dwell upon is very different from that safe and secure place where Adam and Eve were created to live. They experienced the violence and the grief that humanity brings upon our world and that nature itself also now generates. Within a mere blink of the eye in terms of human history they experienced malice, anger, and murder. After the passage of only a few generations the world was so corrupt that God was almost ready to wipe it clean and start over.

 

But God did not do that. Instead He left a remnant of His creation and recommitted Himself to the restoration of all that He had formed as His great handiwork. In the chaos that disobedience had caused, the Lord promised that He would provide a redeemer for us. The Lord committed to destroy the evil that was loose upon the earth and to bring about an eternal renewal that would recreate the state of peace and close relationship with Him that was at the center of God’s original design. Even now, after Christ has come to live with us for the first time, we continue to struggle with obedience to God. He commands us to worship Him alone, and we seek out other gods. The Lord shows us the way into His now and forever presence, and we push His Christ aside as we follow our worldly paths. Christ instructs us in the ways of peace and of caring for others, and we respond with aggression and acts that oppress those who are in need. Sadly, we humans have not yet entered into the truth of God’s position as our only sovereign Lord and eternal Father.

 

However, it is in our stubbornness and disobedience that God’s remarkable character is most on display. He seems to possess a form of patience that defies all understanding, and He also demonstrates the depth of His love for each and every one of us in the fact that He continues to pursue us without regard for what we have done or how badly we may have treated and spoken of Him. Christ gave all so that we all could be redeemed from the living death and the eternal separation that our own actions have deemed our just reward. In Christ we are granted the capacity to understand the deep peace of the soul that only comes when we are dwelling in the presence of our Creator. With Christ we are brought back to an earthly shadow of that great garden of community that God devised to be our home on earth. Now, with Christ residing within, we eat from that tree that brings life, not with our mouths but from the depths of our souls, and the life that God grants to us is one where obedience to God’s will provides peace, joy, and contentment that lasts forever.

Therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.

Genesis 3: 23

 

There is an old expression, “There is trouble in the garden.” which refers to the fact that there is struggle and strife in whatever form of human relationship is undergoing scrutiny. This expression and the idea behind it come directly from the third chapter of Genesis. This is the point in the narrative of human history where people turned away from God and began to believe that they were more capable of determining their own course and proceeding through life. This is the moment when the perfection of creation was fractured and the absolute intimacy between people and God was almost fatally broken. All of humanity became estranged from God, and God required these newly defined strangers to disperse out of the eternity of His absolute presence.

 

Although we started this long history of life outside of the garden of God’s total presence in a place to the east from the home of our creation, over time and as our numbers increased we migrated to every corner of the world. Yet, each of these new lands and all of the territory that we occupied remained a foreign land in regards to restoration of our place in intimate relationship with God. So, throughout the history of humanity, God has retained the role of pursuing shepherd. He has continually come out in search of the lost, the Lord has provided comfort and protection for us in this harsh land of our own choosing, and the Father provided the Son to be a final and absolute answer to this separation.

 

So, all people are strangers to the land of God’s dwelling. We spend our lives in transit from the sin-ravaged and desolate landscapes of our birth toward a land where we can dwell in the presence of our Creator. Some people arrive in this place, and others never find its rest. The difference in those journeys is Christ. Knowing Him transforms our personal dwelling, that is our bodies, into God’s promised land of grace, love, and peace for the soul. Until we know Christ, we remain strangers and migrants on a road through life that leads only to death. God purposefully takes us in as immigrants to His kingdom of life, and through Christ all people without regard to race, religion, or place of birth become full citizens of God’s renewed spiritual kingdom.