Before the Garden, There Was Goodness

Speaking as a pastor, goodness is much more fascinating than evil.

I know that evil gets more press, especially during this election season. Astonishingly, opinion pollsters are asking people which candidate is ‘evil.’

Though ‘theology by opinion poll’ may raise some eyebrows, calling out evil where we see it is important.  Once that has been done however, evil loses what marginal fascination it ever held for me.

Because it’s basically flat.  Moronic.  Composed of a filthy braid of individual sins and systemic corruption, in the final analysis it has all the charm of flat soda pop.

Goodness is far more compelling.  Contra popular misunderstandings of the Fall in Genesis 3, goodness did not flower into existence in the Garden of Eden only to be poisoned by the honeyed words of an apple-wielding snake.  Instead it was there from the beginning – just like God.

“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them…God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food…’  God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (Gen 1:31)

Long before the snake (literal or metaphorical) informed Eve that humankind had outgrown the Garden, God had pronounced humanity good.  Good, but not innocent.

There is a difference.

There can be great danger in believing we were ever innocent. Dr. Susan Thistlethwaite details the risks in her book, Dreaming of Eden:

“The greatest security threat we face in the world is from the rise of conservative religions that promise an escape to Eden or heaven or a version of paradise.”

Although conservative Christians dream of a Rapture while Islamic suicide bombers are promised a straight shot to paradise, the delusion is the same: We are innocent. They are not.

Truth is, we were never innocent. But we can be good.

As Dr. Thistlethwaite notes, “Real goodness is the cultivation of wisdom about the fact that people really aren’t innocent, and we have a lot of responsibility for our own problems.”

The way back to Eden is barred forever, but our fundamental goodness remains.  Sometimes we just can’t see it – after all, humanity’s story is one of creation and destruction.  It’s easy to believe destruction has gained the upper hand.

However, for every police officer who guns down a black boy, there is an officer who doesn’t shoot.  For every abuser, there is a person who stops the cycle.  For every person who chooses hate, there is a person who chooses love.

Every second of every minute of every day.

If you run our story all the way backwards what you are left with, is our goodness.  Legacy and birthright both, goodness is woven into our DNA from the beginning.

This video illustrates how powerful that can be:

 

Long before the garden, there was goodness.

I think there still is, and I think there’s still time.

 

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2 thoughts on “Before the Garden, There Was Goodness

  1. This was a very good article. You brought out some interesting points about the origin of evil. Hopefully people will think about your words and be moved to do something…even if it is just having the courage to speak out against the evil so pervasive today. Or maybe inviting others to reflect a little deeper about their own actions and comments to determine how they might contribute to the current state of our world. Great insight Pastor and very thought provoking.

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  2. Kathy, Thank you for this ode to goodness and for sharing the cool and clever video. You are so right about the danger for any of us to delude ourselves that we are innocent and they are not. For better or worse, they are exactly what we are, and vice versa. I love these words from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” So … since we are all the same, what’s left but to love one another.

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