Have you ever heard someone talk about the garden of Eden as being “perfect”? While this has some truth to it, if Eden was truly “perfect” then it could, in no way ever be improved upon. Is that true? Actually no! Eden was “good” as God said seven times in Genesis 1. However, that does not mean that it was “perfect.”
God created a “sinless” world, but that doesn’t mean it was a perfect world. All that He created had unrealized potential, a sort of trajectory that would only be realized if creatures learned to trust the Creator.
If Eden was “perfect,” why was there a Serpent in the garden trying to allure Eve toward sin? Perpetual conflict with the serpent does not represent the highest form and ideal of life. And although this is a negative example, there is also a positive one that supplements the point. We know Eden was not “perfect” because marriage was not yet in its final form.
We all know how it went. Adam was naming animals and then realized they all had a companion but he didn’t. He realized he was alone in a sense. God wanted him to realize this! (You could read about this in Genesis 2.) Just after Adam is put into a deep sleep and has part of his side pulled out to form Eve, Genesis steps outside the narrative for a moment to provide some commentary on what this means. Genesis 2:24 says:
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
For thousands of years, this verse was a profound explanation of marriage, two distinct people on the journey toward a special oneness.
As great as this was in the Edenic vision, we learn that this was the prototype (the first version) and not the archetype (the final version) of marriage.
When the apostle Paul quotes Genesis 2:24, he doesn’t do so in a way that we would expect. While giving instructions to the married couples in Ephesians 5, Paul cites Genesis 2:24 and then makes a statement of paramount importance.
29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:29-32, NIV)
Just as Eve came about out of the body of Adam (Genesis 2:22), the Church is part of Christ’s body (Ephesians 5:30). And as a result of that, the Church, and every Christian therein, will be joined to Christ in a way that the first marriage pointed to all along. Right after quoting Genesis 2:24, Paul says that this “profound mystery” is actually about Christ and the Church.
The marriage between a man and a woman is a metaphor, not the real thing. It was the shadow, but not the substance. It was the appetizer, but not the main course.
Marriage acts as a metaphor pointing to what marriage has been about all along but has been concealed in the mystery of the gospel, that the Lord would “marry” His people who He redeemed. It might sound strange to us, but that is why it helps to think of the beauty of the metaphor that we see in marriage. If the metaphor is beautiful, we could only imagine the real thing!
Now, this kind of language is not completely new to the New Testament. The Old Testament gave prophetic allusions to it where Yahweh, the God of Israel said He would take His people as His bride.
19 I will take you to be my wife forever. I will take you to be my wife in righteousness, justice, love, and compassion. 20 I will take you to be my wife in faithfulness, and you will know the Lord. (Hosea 2:19-20, CSB)
It is no wonder that the last book of the Bible, Revelation, is full of wedding imagery when describing the return of Christ (Rev 19:7-8; 21:9; 22:17; etc.). So if we trace the Bible’s theology of marriage from cover-to-cover, we see that the first marriage was a metaphor of what the final marriage would be.
The first Eden was for Adam and his bride. The final Eden will be for Christ and His bride.
And if you are a Christian, you are being joined to Christ in a relationship that can only be compared to a marriage. And your destiny is nothing less than to reign with Him in the new Eden forever and ever (Rev 22:4-5). It is a picture that has more clarity to it as Scripture unfolds from Genesis to Revelation and everything in-between.
Eden was like a project site with brilliant and beautiful potential. But Eden was not the endgame. Rather, the new Eden is the goal of even the original creation!
How does this change our marriages now? Hopefully in many ways. But here are two of the most important.
My spouse cannot fulfill me in the way only the Lord can.
While we should enjoy each other and pour into each other, we have to remember that marriage itself is forward-pointing, and so it will never have the goal of joy be with one another, but through one another and culminating in what we can only receive from our Lord. In other words, the love we receive from our spouse is wonderful, and it is God-ordained. But it is not the end-all, be-all kind of love that only He can give to us. And that is okay to admit! We cannot ask our spouse to be for us what only our divine spouse can be. Our unity and love lead us toward the love of God.
My commitment to my spouse is meant to follow the model of Christ’s commitment to me.
There are days in every marriage where it is easy to imagine what it would be like to walk out. Even the best of couples have those kinds of arguments! But what keeps us together? Hopefully, it’s more than the kids. Hopefully, we can remember that the commitment of marriage models the faithful commitment Christ has toward us.
After all, marriage is a metaphor for the gospel. From beginning to end, the gospel is incomplete until it crowns in a wedding.
As we reflect on this I hope we see that God’s endgame, the new Eden, is even better than the first Eden. Our hope is not one that looks backward, it looks forward. The best is yet to come!