Immediately after arriving in heaven, Osama bin Laden encounters an irate George Washington, who punches him in the nose and bellows, “How dare you try to destroy the nation I helped establish!” Patrick Henry joins the attack, kicking him in the shins. Then James Madison delivers a ringing slap, and Thomas Jefferson gives Osama a crack on the head with a cane. The beating continues as 68 other early Americans take turns pommeling the terrorist leader. Writhing on the ground in pain, Osama looks up and sees an angel floating by. “This isn’t what you promised me,” he groans. “What are you talking about?” the angel says. “Didn’t I tell you there would be 72 Virginians waiting for you in heaven?”
Unlike an adherent of Islam, a Christian man has no expectation of finding 72 beautiful virgins waiting for him in eternal bliss. He knows that the resurrection body will be free of the physical desires that bind men and women together in marriage on earth. “In the resurrection,” Jesus said, “they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven” (Matt. 22:30). Besides, the mature Christian man recognizes that God’s love for both sexes would prevent him from condemning women to the eternal “joy” of concubinage. No godly woman relishes the prospect of sharing her husband with 71 other females.
Furthermore, a Christian man expects heavenly joy to be more fulfilling than the fleeting pleasure of sexual gratification. And yet, he may be unable to look back at Eden without feeling somewhat envious. The Bible says that in the Lord’s garden “they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25). Adam knew the pleasure of absolutely uninhibited intimacy.
The Christian woman also looks back at Eden with longing, but not for the same reason. Gary Smalley, in his video series “Secrets of Lasting Love,” mentioned a researcher who asked a group of women to rank various activities with their husbands in order of enjoyment. Making love came in 13th – right after gardening.
In Eden, of course, Eve had plenty of time for gardening with Adam. It was only one of the many pleasures their paradise home provided. However, her own sinful desires spoiled the perfection of Eden and ended it.
The exact location of Eve’s first home is uncertain. The garden, planted by the Lord himself, was “eastward in Eden” (Gen. 2:8). A river flowing out of Eden watered the garden, “and from there it parted and became four riverheads” (v. 10). These four rivers became the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris, and the Euphrates (vs. 11-14). This biblical description points to a location in either southern Mesopotamia or the region of Armenia. The Noahic flood, of course, might have significantly altered geographical features such as rivers.
Obviously, understanding Eve’s experience in the garden is far more important than precisely locating Eden. Her joy there was boundless. Her eyes feasted on beauty every waking moment.
I distinctly remember that a year or two after marrying Carolyn in 1985, we were considering possible vacation spots. At a local travel agency, she found a brochure advertising the lovely Callaway Gardens resort near Pine Mountain, Georgia. Due to financial limitations, we finally settled on a less expensive place. But I have never forgotten how my wife admired and exclaimed over the beautiful pictures in that pamphlet.
For Eve, Eden was not a gorgeous vacation spot. It was home. The rich green grass under her bare feet was a thick carpet completely free of cutting thorns and bruising stones. The sky was postcard blue every day. Rain clouds never darkened overhead, for the Lord “watered the whole face of the ground” with “a mist” that “went up from the earth” (Gen. 2:6). The trees of the garden were shapely, thick with foliage, heavy with fruit. The Lord “made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (v. 9). Winding among the trees were clear streams filled with colorful fish. Animals of all kinds frolicked everywhere. Friendly bears wrestled in the meadows. Deer raced under the trees. Otters played in the water.
And the flowers? Moses said nothing about the profusion of blossoms gracing that splendid garden. But imagining their vibrant colors and sweet fragrances is an easy thing to do.
In addition to the beauty of her surroundings, Eve enjoyed a wonderful relationship with her husband – a perfect relationship, actually. Adam was never selfish, insensitive, or unkind. Never were there any hormonal imbalances to darken Eve’s mood or cause irritability. Nor did any self-doubt or insecurity threaten her friendship with him.
Best of all, though, was Eve’s relationship with the Lord. The faithful Christian woman dreams of the day when she will be with God. She tries to imagine the thrill of communing with him as a friend—seeing his glory, hearing his voice, feeling the warmth of his loving presence. Eve enjoyed this incredible experience in Eden. When the shadows lengthened and the air cooled in the evening, God himself walked “in the garden” (Gen. 3:8).
Enter Satan. At some point prior to the treachery in the garden, he has lost the exalted position in the heavenly realm for which the Lord created him. Filled with hate for God but unable to resist his matchless power, the devil settles for declaring war on God’s human children living happily in Eden.
Making Eve vulnerable to Satan’s attack was her desire to have even more than what God had already so graciously given. Only one tree in the entire garden was forbidden. “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat,” the Lord had said, “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” (Gen. 2:16-17). But the fruit of that tree, Eve decided, was the very thing essential to her complete happiness.
Of course, the serpent planted the idea in Eve’s unsuspecting head. The Lord had done her wrong. “You will not surely die,” the devil said. “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4-5). In other words, God was guilty of deceit and selfishness. The Lord had lied about the tree so that he could keep divine wisdom all to himself.
When Eve examined the forbidden tree, it looked harmless. No, it looked beautiful—”good for food,” “pleasant to the eyes,” and “desirable to make one wise” (Gen. 3:6). God was indeed withholding something good. And she wanted it. She wanted to be God, to have the power to decide for herself what was right and wrong. Eve took the fruit in her hands and ate. Adam was with her. She gave him some of the fruit too. The words of James aptly describe what happened that fateful day in the garden: “Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin” (Jas. 1:14-15).
The immediate result of Eve’s disobedience was the awakening of conscience. She and her husband suddenly found that their eyes “were opened” (Gen. 3:7). They now saw themselves and their conduct in a new light. For the first time in their lives, they felt guilty.
Ellen feels guilty too. Last night she violated the clear guidelines for moral conduct taught in the Bible. Last night she went to bed with her boyfriend.
Ellen graduated from a Christian university with a degree in elementary education four years ago. In school she dated several interesting guys. Some of them were selfish and promised to make poor husbands. But others had genuine faith and loved Jesus. They would have treated her well, but she found a little something wrong with each of them. John was two years younger than she was. Rick was only two inches taller. Bob came from a rather poor family. And Danny had an unsuitable last name. She had no desire to spend the rest of her life introducing herself as Mrs. Ellen Mellon.
Ellen now bitterly regrets that she was so picky. Living back at home with her parents in a rural Midwestern town, she has few opportunities to associate with other young Christians. But she has a burning desire to have a relationship with a man. At first she contents herself with teaching school and participating in the work of the local church. She is obedient to Christ, keeping herself chaste, waiting for Mr. Right to come along and ask her out.
He never appears. Ellen begins to feel cheated. Her high school and college friends are marrying and having babies, but she has no boyfriend. God is withholding pleasure from her. Living right is becoming a burden too heavy to bear.
Ellen’s growing resentment leads her to abandon the biblical standard of modesty that has always guided her behavior: “Let not your adornment be external only—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, and putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God” (1 Pet. 3:3-4, NASB). Ellen has lost interest in being “precious in the sight of God.” She longs to be precious in the sight of a cute guy.
So Ellen begins looking for ways to make herself more alluring. She buys provocative clothes, darkens her pretty eyes with more makeup, and gets a sassy haircut. To her delight, these changes have an immediate effect.
His name is Ron. He is 28, poised, ambitious, and movie-star handsome. He owns a local business and has plans for expanding into nearby towns. Although not a Christian, Ron occasionally attends worship with Ellen on Sunday morning.
On Saturday night, though, Ron makes no effort to hide his immoral passion for her. Ellen resists his advances but at the same time feels flattered by his intense interest. Besides, she is afraid. If she keeps telling him no, he will probably break up with her. Unwilling to risk this, Ellen finally yields to temptation.
The guilt Eve experienced after disobeying God was accompanied by acute embarrassment. Before the trespass, she and her husband had been unclothed and yet “were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25). But now “they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings” (3:7). It is unlikely that Eve felt embarrassed about her body in the presence of Adam (although this is possible). Primarily, she felt ashamed at the prospect of standing unclothed in the presence of God. The Lord would see more than her bare skin. Her soul would be exposed to him, and she certainly had something to hide. Making clothing was a feeble attempt to erect a barrier between herself and the penetrating eyes of God.
Eve’s shame gave way to outright fear when she “heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden” late that afternoon. She and her husband scurried into a dense growth of trees and “hid themselves from the presence of the LORD” (Gen. 3:8). This attempt, of course, was fruitless. The Lord’s “Where are you?” (v. 9) was no request for information but rather a demand for an explanation, a confession. Adam spoke for them both when he said, “I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself” (v. 10).
Guilt, shame, and fear put stress on Eve’s relationship with Adam. Previously, the two had been as carefree as innocent children, but sin changed everything. They waited anxiously and unhappily for the inevitable confrontation with God — for several hours perhaps. It was the first bad day Eve had ever known in the garden.
But bad was about to become worse. When the Lord questioned Adam about his sin, the man was frightened by the possible consequences. So while acknowledging the trespass, he refused to take personal responsibility for it. “The woman whom You gave to be with me,” Adam said, “she gave me of the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12). For the first time in her life, Eve knew what it meant to feel hurt and angry. How dare Adam blame her! She was deceived. Adam knew better. Why had he not come to her rescue instead of foolishly joining her in doing something he knew was wrong?
Far more distressing than her strained relationship with Adam was Eve’s alienation from God. The Lord had threatened the two of them with death if they ever disobeyed him, and he meant exactly what he said. Eve suddenly found herself expelled from the garden. And she was not welcome to return. At its only entrance God placed cherubim and a flaming sword “to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen. 3:24). Plainly, any attempt to reenter the garden would meet with instant death.
If Eve was now unfit to live in the earthly garden, where the Lord walked and talked in the cool of the day, then she was even less worthy of entering into God’s presence in the ultimate heavenly paradise. This was at the heart of God’s warning: “In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Eve, though yet physically alive, was now dead to God.
Eve’s only hope for reconciliation with the Lord was “her Seed” (Gen. 3:15). God’s Son, “born of a woman” (Gal. 4:4), would bruise Satan’s head. And so, even as God was driving his sinful human children from the garden, he promised that Eve’s descendant Jesus Christ would triumph at the cross over his archenemy and the great evil his treachery caused. In the opening scene of the movie The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson symbolically depicted this great victory. Jesus, walking in Gethsemane just before his arrest, crushed a serpent’s head under his heel.
While the full meaning of alienation from God cannot be realized until after death, Eve began to feel its effects immediately. Her husband, sweat glistening on his face, now battled thorns and briers as he tilled the cursed soil. And she herself discovered the meaning of pain as she submitted to Adam’s authority and bore his children.
The sinful desire that brought grief to Eve in Eden continues to afflict her children. Deceived by Satan, the 21st century Eve suspects that what God withholds from her is actually something good. Like her first mother in the garden, she insists on discovering for herself the truth so plainly expressed by the Holy Spirit: “Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (Jas. 1:14-15).
On Saturday night Ellen goes to bed with her boyfriend at his apartment. On Sunday morning she is at home in her own bed. For the first time in her life, she is sick at the thought of going to church. After wrestling with demons all night long, she feels completely exhausted. But the thought of spending even one more painful hour in bed is equally unbearable.
Ellen gets up, showers, puts on her makeup, blow-dries her hair, irons a black dress. She does all this mechanically, her mind preoccupied with a jumble of dismal thoughts. Gloomily, she wonders where the thrill is. Movies and popular songs glamorize freedom from moral restraint, but she feels empty, defiled, and violated—not glamorous at all.
Ellen also wonders how she will be able to endure the eyes of her Christian family, and her experience in church relieves none of her anxiety. Going to worship proves to be even more difficult than expected. Ellen remembers reading a novel in a high school literature class about a young woman in the Puritan era who committed adultery and was required to wear a red letter A at all times so that she would never live down her guilt. Ellen has no letter embroidered on her dress, but it seems to her that everyone can see right through her and know what she has done.
Her guilt becomes even more unbearable when she sits in her usual place beside her little niece. Eight-year-old Kara idolizes her attractive young aunt. As soon as Ellen seats herself, Kara pays her a sincere compliment. “Aunt Ellen,” she says, “you look so beautiful! I hope I look like you when I grow up.”
Ellen has always enjoyed this childish admiration. But today her cheeks burn with shame. The innocent eyes of the little girl see nothing amiss but penetrate deeply into Ellen’s heart. No, Ellen thinks, you don’t want to be like me, Kara.
The hymns this morning pour salt on Ellen’s wounded conscience. Why did the song director have to select “Purer in Heart, O God” and “Let the Beauty of Jesus Be Seen in Me”? Ellen is so distressed that she feels suffocated.
And then comes the sermon. Usually, the preacher talks about positive things — love for others, the grace of God, obedience to the gospel, the compassion of Jesus, the faith of Paul, the joy of generous giving – which is why the morning message about hell is so riveting. As Ellen listens to the scriptures warning of eternal fire, utter darkness, separation from God, and tongue-gnawing pain, she trembles with fear.
Although Ellen has always thought of God as a close friend, he now seems distant and angry. She is honest enough to admit to herself that this sense of alienation is her own fault. At the first note of the invitation hymn, she steps into the aisle and makes her way toward one of the waiting church shepherds. The curse of sin, first experienced in Eden, has caused Ellen great anguish. Bitter tears of shame and remorse stain her cheeks. But the glorious grace of Jesus Christ will have the last word!