Brook Wilensky-Lanford, author of Paradise Lust: Searching for the Garden of Eden, writes about the contemporary hunt for the biblical Eden. She argues that Eden is less a place than a typology: not so much a physical location as it is the idea that everything has to get started somehow.
It’s a cycle: in the beginning, things were perfect, yes, but then something went wrong, and we had to leave, and then we began to yearn to return. Yes, Eden was a place of plenty, with all the conditions most fruitful for life, but more in the way an incubator is a place of plenty—nutritious, but not designed to be permanent. So the Garden of Eden always includes the Fall. It wouldn’t be paradise if it weren’t already lost. Stay too long in Eden and it becomes a cryogenic Shangri-la whose perfection turns meaningless, even menacing. Perfection leads to destruction. Even—especially—in the Bible. Adam and Eve picked themselves up after the expulsion from Eden, learned to till the earth, begat several generations. But then God decides to destroy the whole earth with Noah’s Flood. The flood is sort of a continuation of the Eden story: creation, destruction, then recreation again.
…. The destruction we face now is on a massive scale. Original, individual sin is no longer the problem; now, it’s collective sin. Whatever used to be Eden is now gone—marshes, drained; poles, frozen; islands, flooded. Even the perfect Seychelles, where the British royals took their storybook honeymoon, have succumbed to the Edenic cycle. Today, Praslin Island’s protective coral reef is mostly dead. The exotic coco de mer palm tree that so enthralled General Gordon is an endangered species. And, like everywhere else, sea levels are rising.
Seen on a long-enough time scale, pretty much the entire earth now qualifies as an Eden. God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and sentenced them to “till the earth and to keep it.” The expulsion to the earth isn’t the end, it’s the beginning. Our latest Fall is what we’ve done with the earth since then. Everyone can be saved from themselves, from sin, but no one can be saved from the Flood, from cataclysm, disaster, punishment.
What do you think? Do you resonate with this idea that after Paradise is lost, its job is done?