Genesis 2: 10-14 Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is Pishon; it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. The gold of that land is good; the bdellium and the onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is Gihon; it flows around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Tigris; it flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
Far from giving a clear location, this anachronistic description drives a greater distance and otherness between that time and place of prehistory and our own. For Adam and Eve, none of this existed (the nations of Assyria and Cush and the stone and gum from the land of Havilah). They were descriptions the readers of Genesis would recognize but with the vagueness of “out East,” and so they carried more an impression of mystery than of identity.
Just like the meager biblical depictions of heaven, the first couple’s whole life in Eden is foggy with lack of details to guide our imaginations. We do not know where they slept, what they ate or if they cooked, if they had pets or hobbies. The account seems other-worldly like the prophetic and apocalyptic sections of Scripture rather than the very earthly accounts of Abraham or Ruth or Paul. We cannot relate to Adam and Eve’s experience in an untarnished world. It does not give us guidance on how to live in this broken world with our broken selves, a place where gold is fought over by Assyrian armies.
The beautiful world of paradise, of all the good and joy for which we long, is divorced from this world in which right choices are the hardest and bring more suffering. In that world good was indivisible, all that was right was delightful, but in this world good has two distinct, often opposing meanings: what is good for us is often in conflict with what is enjoyable. We mean very different things when we say celery is good and when we say pecan pie is good, and only one of them makes us smile. It was a sad day when the path of good split and we who trust God had to take the hard way, the narrow way, the vulnerable and painful way. The two will not come together again until we follow it to the end.
Our hope is ultimately in the world to come, not in this one, but we do gain even here the benefits of our spiritually healthy choices. All of grace’s gifts do not wait until that far off day, but it rewards us even now in the currency of the kingdom—greater peace and insight and genuine relationships—giving us a taste of how good it will be when all is resolved back into God’s gracious will. Let us remember to take hope in these little signs.