This isn’t Eden: When Life Closes Down

In his acclaimed book entitled ‘Out Of Eden’ Professor Paul W. Kahn makes some interesting observations regarding the nature of ‘evil’. Kahn notes that, If evil brought us to where we are in space-time-history, then humanity is in desperate need of finding an antidote. Moreover, he argues that it is only the Western religious tradition that informs us of our most important mission—finding that antidote. The task to which Kahn refers is that ‘…both as individuals and communities, we must address the evil in our nature seriously’. (NB. Kahn is not referring to the notion of evil being the result of failures in ‘society’—but rather to what the Bible refers to as ‘fallenness’.) Kahn opines that if ‘we’ want to retrieve that which is now lost, we shall have to ‘Recover Eden’.

If you have had the privilege of visiting the Eden Project in Cornwall, you will have brought back with you an impression of the ‘amazing nature of things’ that (presently) thrive around the globe. The Eden Project mirrors the earth’s biosphere that has an appearance of the idyllic but is an environment in which there is an ‘interactional’ struggle for survival. It is impressive, and it is beautiful—it is ‘a wonder to behold’. But, it is not EDEN. And though there is a comparison with the ‘eden’ observed in places such as the ‘Eden Project in the West of England, it not the Eden as depicted in the first book of the Bible.Eden, we may say, was a real place though not ‘real’ in the sense that its coordinates on the space-time-continuum may be plotted. If Eden is a real place, and if Satan (an arch-angel) attempted to battle God within the natural world from some point in the space-time-continuum, then there has to be some kind of ‘reality’ that divides Eden from the rest of the world. NB. This is not an argument from the perspective of the biosphere external to Eden (the world outside of Eden) being inherently ‘evil’—but rather that it—the world external to Eden, was an environment in which, parasitism and predation existed as a part of the created norm. Moreover, it was an environment in which plagues were a potential threat to life in the biosphere. The effects of moral deviancy that was, we might suggest, existent outside of Eden—as with viral infection—crossed into Eden in order to disrupt it and, to corrupt further its latest arrivals.

…then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed…A river flowed out of Eden to water the Garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon…The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’

Then the Lord God said,’Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of 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. 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.

Covid19

The Corona Virus pandemic has brought with it much to admire about human nature—many things to appreciate: selfless acts of kindness—examples of ‘going beyond the call of duty’—despite the risk of being infected with the virus. On the other hand, there have been rather shocking accounts of selfish behaviour that allows for a clearer ‘peek into the human condition’—the nature of humanity. There is much talk about acts of selfless love as well as talk about the veneer of superficiality masking the human condition. And then there is the talk of the alleged Goodness and Providence of God.

There are obviously insufficient words to describe the effects of a viral pandemic, and even if there were any blame to apportion for its spread throughout the world there would be little point, or indeed benefit, in ‘pointing the finger’—at least ‘presently’. However, it is the case that should the flow of life in the ‘first world’ be inhibited or cut short of its expected benefits: long-lives, enjoyable retirement—then the cry of ‘Where was God? What kind of demon might God/god be? Apart from those physically responsible for the spread of the virus, it is the God of the Judeo/Christian Scriptures (a deity with the best of possible attributes: Omnipotence, Omniscience, Omnipresence and Omnibenevolence) that is most likely to be ‘in the dock’—already found guilty for this latest disaster. 

NB. It is assumed that the God of Judeo/Christian belief is, unlike other notions of a personal deity, an indisputable example of goodness. Moreover, God, having both personality and substance, which is not the case with ideas of the deity which assume that the Universe (itself) has some kind of ‘‘deific’ quality—not above it or outside of it but rather the Universe itself—an amorphous figment of a lively imagination

Bacteria

The question of whether or not it would have been possible for a world such as ours to exist without bacteria is complex; however, it is the case that without bacteria, there would be no biosphere in which biological life as understood could obtain. In a chapter entitled ‘Evolutionary explanation,’ Professor Ian Hutchinson[i] refers to the dangers of a hospital environment. Hutchinson comments that one reason hospitals are such dangerous places is that, “…the environmental pressures on the bacteria there (in hospitals) are such that they rapidly evolve resistance to the various anti-bacterial agents that hospitals use.”  Within the biospheric ‘framework’ there is a quite remarkable amount of life-forms, some might be considered unnecessary intruders, or the kinds of creation that God would ‘surely not have conjured-up’. The reasoning being that there seems to be a contradiction-in-terms should one maintain a particular understanding of what a ‘good’ creation should be. Bacterial life-forms are, as Hutchinson infers, endemic—not only in hospitals but in the whole of the biosphere. They are essential to the whole of the history of the biosphere.

            The above ‘detail’ would, Prima Facie, seem to make matters worse—should we suppose that the existence of bacteria precludes either the likelihood of God’s ability to create a flexible environment for life’s flourishing or that the notion of the creator God, in any sense of the word, being considered ‘Good’. Elsewhere we offer an argument for this world (including the biosphere) being the ‘Best Possible World’ for the plans and purposes of its creator and sustainer. However, this is not the raison d’etre for this paper—instead, it is to argue that this world, in which we have our present existence, is not Eden, so it should not be mistaken for Eden. In other words, this world is not heaven, i.e. that which the writer of the book of Revelation refers to:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place[a] of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ’Behold, I am making all things new.’

Revelation 21:1-5

No ‘other’ GOD

The God portrayed and ‘defended’ here is the God of the Judeo/Christian Scriptures. A God whose eternity, Peter Sanlon[i] describes as a qualitatively different kind of existence to one of his creatures: ”Being outside of time does not mean that God cannot know what happens inside of time, nor that he cannot interact with a temporal order. Quite the opposite! It does, of course, shape the way he does these things.” As has been referred to previously, God is not to be confused with any other ideas/notions/theologies or philosophies of God—either pre-modern, modern or post-modern. In developing his argument regarding ‘The Mind of God’, David Bentley Hart[ii] refers to “…provocatively counterintuitive ways of expressing the difference between God and every contingent reality—that God, as the source of all being, is, properly speaking, not himself a being—or, if one prefer, not a being among other beings…that God is no particular thing, or even ‘no thing’…or even, as ‘ein lauter Nichts’—a ‘pure nothingness.”  The above is meant to give us pause for thought and reflection on the ‘nature’ and person of GOD—“…in order to remind us as forcibly as possible that God is not to be found within the realm of things, for he is the being of all realms.”

Should God be limited in his ability to produce or concoct the best possible plans for fulfilling his creative objectives, God would not be omnipotent.  Jeff Astley[i]  asks whether or not God could have ordered nature differently and then answers his question by saying, ‘perhaps not’. Astley goes on to say, however that materiality inevitably involves imperfection—a tendency to disorder, decay, fragility, and mortality. Astley’s point is significant as it is the case that the accusation against the ‘designer God’ is often that of incompetence—the design is simply under par or faulty. Ergo, God is either impotent or fails to meet the necessary criteria or the presuppositions of the complainant.

Keith Ward’s comments are insightfully apposite when he refers to ‘natural’ evil as ‘an inevitable consequence of this kind of world’[ii]. We hasten to add here though—that it is not that this world is governed solely by ‘natural forces’ but that this world is probably the only possible world in which carbon-based-life could obtain and the telos (goals) of the Triune God be established. Moreover, there are other [unseen] forces that bring about deleterious effects on the biosphere (even the physical laws) through means that are, presently, beyond the comprehension of any material analysis—even Angels. NB. That’s another story.

 Moving on from reasons of why it is that an omnipotent, benevolent creator would have ‘designed’—a process that allows for the possibility of deadly viruses such as the Corona (Covid19) Virus, it is the case that the biosphere—‘Nature red in tooth and claw’ is an environment in which predation, parasitism and plague are a de facto state of affairs. In other words, it is not Eden. We are, no doubt, aware of our mortality, but we, mostly, do not wish to accept the idea. Moreover, we (in the ‘first world’ at least) do not expect any interruption in our journey through ‘the good life’. But, this world is not Eden.

For those content with the ‘One World’ (Monistic) view of existence, there is no point looking for answers or apportioning blame elsewhere as there is no ‘personal reality’ anywhere within the actual Universe with which to apportion such blame. This, as we’ve alluded to previously, is not the case when we are dealing with the ‘Creator and sustainer of the Universe,’ i.e. the creator who is the ultimate notion of ‘personhood’—and who is both immanent and transcendent to the Universe, i.e. to creation.

Constraints on #god

Should God be limited in his ability to produce or concoct the best possible plans for fulfilling his creative objectives, God would not be omnipotent.  Jeff Astley[i]  asks whether or not God could have ordered nature differently and then answers his question by saying, ‘perhaps not’. Astley goes on to say, however that materiality inevitably involves imperfection—a tendency to disorder, decay, fragility, and mortality. Astley’s point is significant as it is the case that the accusation against the ‘designer God’ is often that of incompetence—the design is simply under par or faulty. Ergo, God is either impotent or fails to meet the necessary criteria or the presuppositions of the complainant.

Keith Ward’s comments are insightfully apposite when he refers to ‘natural’ evil as ‘an inevitable consequence of this kind of world’[ii]. We hasten to add here though—that it is not that this world is governed solely by ‘natural forces’ but that this world is probably the only possible world in which carbon-based-life could obtain and the telos (goals) of the Triune God be established. Moreover, there are other [unseen] forces that bring about deleterious effects on the biosphere (even the physical laws) through means that are, presently, beyond the comprehension of any material analysis—even Angels. NB. That’s another story.

 Moving on from reasons of why it is that an omnipotent, benevolent creator would have ‘designed’—a process that allows for the possibility of deadly viruses such as the Corona (Covid19) Virus, it is the case that the biosphere—‘Nature red in tooth and claw’ is an environment in which predation, parasitism and plague are a de facto state of affairs. In other words, it is not Eden. We are, no doubt, aware of our mortality, but we, mostly, do not wish to accept the idea. Moreover, we (in the ‘first world’ at least) do not expect any interruption in our journey through ‘the good life’. But, this world is not Eden. For those content with the ‘One World’ (Monistic) view of existence, there is no point looking for answers or apportioning blame elsewhere as there is no ‘personal reality’ anywhere within the actual Universe with which to apportion such blame. This, as we’ve alluded to previously, is not the case when we are dealing with the ‘Creator and sustainer of the Universe,’ i.e. the creator who is the ultimate notion of ‘personhood’—and who is both immanent and transcendent to the Universe, i.e. to creation.

Break Through Into Eden

            Paul W. Kahn opined that “Evil begins with knowledge of the finite character of self.” We take Kahn to mean that it was humanity’s realisation of the loss of access to The Tree of Life’ (because of the desire for knowledge) that brought about the exclusion from the ‘Edenic Idyll’.  NB. If this is what Kahn means, then we would add that the evil Kahn refers to is moral—and that the world outside ‘The Garden’ would be ‘mortally infected’ by the presence of Adamah’s line in the world outside of the Garden. That is not to say that the world outside of the Garden had been evil in any ‘moral’ sense of the word prior to Adamah’s expulsion from the Garden—it was ‘naturally as God intended’. But it was to become altogether different—it was, however, not Eden.

Eight days later His disciples were again inside the house, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, though the doors had been barred, and stood among them and said, ‘Peace to you.’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and put out your hand and place it in My side. Do not be unbelieving, but [stop doubting and] believe.’ Thomas answered Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen Me, do you now believe? Blessed [happy, spiritually secure, and favoured by God] are they who did not see [Me] and yet believed [in Me].’ (John 20:26-29)

Here we have the most telling of the Gospel accounts of Jesus—post resurrection appearances.

The room is locked—and barred. Jesus was not, according to John, in the room, then Jesus was in the room. Who, on earth, would have made up the story of Jesus (somehow) walking through the closed, substantial, wooden door—if it were not true?  The account above is not a ‘normal occurrence’—it is though a ‘post-resurrection’ occurrence. There was something—so different’—about the risen Christ. Jesus invites us to follow him—as he has provided the way back into Eden. He had already told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them—and that he would come back for them—and not just them. Many hearts have gone cold—other ‘priorities’ dictated a lukewarm response to Jesus’ call to follow. Yet, he continues to call (even to the professing believer) us to follow him.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 3:20-22)

Pandemics have always occurred in this world—some more devastating than others. Globalisation has allowed for the increased likelihood of their spread.

However, providing a way back to Eden is that for which Christ came.

Derek White (04/20)


[i] Evolution and Evil: The Difference Darwinism Makes in Theology and Spirituality

[ii] Divine Action: Examining God’s Role in an Open and Emergent Universe

[ii] Divine Action: Examining God’s Role in an Open and Emergent Universe

[i] Simply God: Recovering The Classical Trinity

[ii] David Bentley Hart, ‘The Experience of God:Being,Consciousness,Blis

[i] ‘Monopolizing Knowledge: a scientist refutes religion-denying, reason-destroying scientism’


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