I’ve been chasing it most of my life. Contentment. Not the hold-your-breath-because-it’ll-be-gone-before-you-know-it kind—real contentment driven by gratitude.
Since the first man and woman messed up and missed out on a God-created paradise, we’ve been grasping after the notion for generations. Either we fear others will mess it up for us, or God Himself might choose to mess it up just to mess with us.
If we’re not fearing the worst, we’re convinced we’re missing out on something better, something more. As a culture, we’re fully saturated in not enough mentality.
True contentment—an authentic satisfaction of embracing who we are and what we have and where we are and how we’re wired rather than wanting more or something entirely different—can only be fostered by returning to the place where our God-given identity was stolen.
The contentment chase masks itself as a deep, unrelenting desire to return to Eden.
God created a place with boundaries of protection for mankind to be fully loved, fully engaged, fully ourselves. But the serpent told a lie, and Adam and Eve handed over the truth for a bite of something that wasn’t better after all.
I haven’t always recognized that God’s removal of Adam and Eve from Eden was an act of mercy. Genesis 3 records the whole story. The last verse of the chapter leaves a vivid picture of the heavy consequence of disobedience.
“He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” Genesis 3:24
At one point in my life, these words at the bottom of the page in my bible sounded so harsh. At the top of that same page, I found words like, “…they felt no shame.”
I have so far to go, but I return to those tissue paper pages again and again for something new, for some undiscovered aspect of His character He’s yet to reveal to me. Each time, I am overwhelmed in a good and humbling way.
Today when I read about humanity thrust from paradise, angels blocking the way, and a hot, flaming sword in the middle of it all, I see glimpses of a deeper meaning.
Here’s an invitation to view Paradise Lost through the lens of Paradise Restored.
Sin separates us from a holy, perfect God, yet the angels display God’s mercy towards sinners. The flaming sword was evidence that man became enemies with God when sin entered paradise. But it also represents God’s protection against the lies that led us all down this broken road in the first place.
The tree of life is believed to have had the effect of confirming a person in his or her moral state. By removing man and woman from the garden, God was in fact saving us from ourselves.
Later in the Old Testament, God gave specific instructions for building an ark that would become His meeting place with His people. Though it’s tempting to view Adam and Eve’s expulsion as abandonment, it’s just not true. God never left them on their own.
Golden cherubim with outstretched wings and faces looking downward in reverent awe adorned the top piece, also called the mercy seat. From the place between those angels of gold, God spoke to His people. (See Exodus 25:18-22)
The angels weren’t a reminder that they had screwed up and gotten kicked out of the garden; they represented God’s promise to rescue and redeem what was lost in the garden.
God has been paving the narrow way back ever since.
The noun translated “mercy seat” is related to the verb that means “to make atonement.” A sacrifice had to be given to make atonement. One thing was required: blood on the mercy seat. (See Leviticus 16)
Fast-forward to the third day following Jesus’ death: “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.” John 19:41-42
Within a garden paradise, sin obliterated what God created for us to enjoy: unhindered relationship with Him. Centuries later, God accomplished redemption… in a garden.
“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.” John 20:11-12
An empty tomb. Two angels. One at the head and one at the foot. The mercy seat of God. Jesus was the atonement, God’s perfect sacrifice. His blood on the mercy seat secured the way to forgiveness and restoration with the Father forever.
When Mary saw Jesus, she thought he was the gardener. When she realized it was Him, she grabbed hold of Him. Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” John 20:17
Jesus is the Way back.
We’ve all longed for something we thought would bring satisfaction or fulfillment. Lies from long ago lure us into thinking we’ll find contentment if we can just wrangle it somehow. Sometimes, we crave what is undeniably harmful; other things don’t seem at all dangerous until we really start examining our hearts.
If we’re honest, we settle all too easily for a fractured form of contentment. The fall left a huge, gaping hole in our hearts that can only be filled by Jesus. Only Jesus. He is the Way back to Eden.
I’m not talking about a place or even a set of circumstances; true paradise is found in a relationship with a holy God who meets every need and fills every longing. The word Eden can be traced back to the root word meaning “delight.”
Every heart was designed to delight in Jesus.
We don’t have to wait until we get to heaven to experience true contentment. Some things we do have to wait for—like the absence of pain and death and darkness. Some seasons of life are harder than others. These are the realities of life here on earth.
Paul wrote to the church in Philippi about contentment. He shared with them the secret he had discovered. He said, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13, emphasis added)
Jesus is the way back to unhindered communion with the Father. True contentment is possible here and now through Jesus—no matter your circumstance or season.
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6