I’m still working on my seminars for the La Trobe Christian Union mid-year Summit. I keep returning to the theme of our creaturely limitations (hence all the posting about death). In particular, this pesky little detail from Genesis 2 continues to goad me:
the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. (vv 7-8)
Blink and you miss it. Yet from what I can see, it’s fraught with meaning.
To begin with, the fact that God created Adam outside the Garden, and only subsequently placed him in it, seems to hint at the non-naturalness of the life our first parents enjoyed with God in the beginning. That is, existing within Garden context of life, order and harmony isn’t a basic human right, springing from something inherent and inalienable in us. Rather, it’s a gift of God’s grace.
One inference I want to draw from this concerns the naturalness of our creaturely limitations — and along with them our mortality.
That’s what I’m tempted to say. But as I’ve discussed this with the La Trobe staff team, I’ve been helped to see that this needs to be nuanced. You see, insisting on the naturalness of our mortality (without qualification) can start to sound like God’s original intention for humanity wasn’t actually for us to enjoy life in fellowship with him, the loving author and source of life.
Not only can this begin to make God appear like a mad scientist — creating human beings merely to toy with us, capriciously granting or withdrawing the gift of life on a whim. But it also risks suggesting that we’re not built for relationship with God. That what’s natural and right for us is something other than knowing and enjoying God forever.
Perhaps the way forward is to emphasise how we’re built for loving relationships (with God and each another). Although we’re not inherently immortal, in the context God intended us to inhabit, life — in humble dependence on God — is natural. Conversely, outside the context of loving relationships, we can’t possibly hope to enjoy life, let alone eternal life!
To borrow an illustration that’s famous around La Trobe Christian Union, we’re a bit like goldfish. Our natural habitat — the environment that makes for our life and flourishing — is the ‘water’ of loving relationships. Take us out of this context and, like a fish out of water, things go haywire because of the very same creaturely limitations that make for life in our natural habitat.