Do you think of Heaven as a perfect place? What does it mean for a place to be perfect? Many Christians think that Eden was a perfect place because it was a place without sin. Yet, will it surprise you to learn that Eden was not a perfect place? And what about Heaven? What is meant when we think of Heaven as a perfect place? To understand the idea of perfection as the Bible seems to present it, we must first look at the character and nature of God.
Nothing can be added to God's nature to improve upon himself. We cannot add to his complexity or simplicity or his moral attributes or his power. Everything about God and God's nature is already perfect without any addition. With God, there is no room for improvement.
Many times people think that the Garden Of Eden was a perfect place. We think of perfection as having no flaw or imperfections or any need for improvement. But the Garden Of Eden did not fit such a definition. The Garden Of Eden was a good place, though not a perfect place. And rather than offering just a challenge to our theology, I think this notion of the Garden Of Eden not being perfect is actually a comfort and creates in me some anticipation for what the Lord has in store for us in Heaven (which is also not perfect).
Scripture says in the book of Genesis that after God finished his creative work that everything was very good (Genesis 1:31) but he never says that it was actually perfect. If we think of perfection in the way I've defined it above, then nothing created can be or become perfect. God cannot create anything of equal or more perfection than himself for to do so would be to, in essence, create another God exactly like him because only God is perfect and he cannot create something that equals or surpasses him in that perfection. If he had done that with the Garden Of Eden it would've been God, but that would be silly to think so. We may say that God has created something perfect in that he creates things that fulfill his perfect plan and are pleasing to his nature. But the Bible doesn’t describe such a thing as perfect, rather it describes these things as good. There are hints in the text that support this conclusion.
Throughout Genesis 1 and 2 Moses uses the Hebrew word, טוֹב (towb) which we translate as good. It means that something is beautiful, pleasing, pleasant. But it does not mean or carry the connotation of something being perfect, that is, without flaw, something that cannot be improved upon. The word in Genesis translated as perfect in the KJV and blameless in the NASB and other translations is תָּמִ֥ים (tā·mîm) and does carry, in some translations, the notion of moral perfection. However, this word is not used in Genesis to describe the creation statements found in Genesis 1 and 2.
Five times in Genesis 1 it says that God saw what he created and that it was good. One time he says it was very good. What did God mean when he saw each act of creation and pronounced it good? This is where the importance of definitions come in. We need to know what God meant to communicate when he said these things were good.
Moral good is not in view in these six declarations. In fact, at no time in the context is moral good mentioned. Rather, I think God is referring to what is good in a functional way. Saying it was good was a matter of saying the thing created was good in that it operated according to the purpose that God intended. One time in Genesis 2:18 God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” Again, this is not a statement about moral good, but of functional good. What is intimated here is that man could be lonely even though at that point in creation there was no sin. God’s work of creating man was not yet complete without the woman (are you paying attention, guys?), so therefore, there was improvement to be made in creation up until that time. In fact, this is another hint in the text that good does not equal perfect.
There was room for improvement in creation BEFORE sin entered the world. We see this with the creation of Eve. The creation of Eve was an improvement to the created order. Notice also that God kept declaring with each creative step that what was created was good—and he kept on declaring it with each new creative step. In other words, each's day's act of creation improved upon the previous day's work. Only with the creative act completed does God declare everything "very good."
Consider also the work that God tasked Adam to perform. Look carefully at Genesis 2:5. “When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground.” It’s that last statement that makes the whole sentence so significant. Adam’s job was to work the soil so that the garden would flourish. Look also at Genesis 2:15. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Adam’s job was to cultivate and maintain the order and beauty of the Garden. It was not to be a wild place. It was to have order and it was Adam’s job to impose that order on the creation around him, just as God imposed his order by fashioning the earth into a place for habitation (Isaiah 45:18). Think for a moment about what this implies. Before sin came into the world, before the ground had been cursed (Genesis 3:17), if the Garden had not been kept it would have fallen into disorder. By keeping it, Adam was tasked to maintain the functional good that the Lord required. If he had not kept it then it would fall into disarray and become functionally not good in view of the purpose for which it was created.
I think this is highly significant. Adam was essentially tasked to improve upon God’s creation—not in a creatoresque way, but in a creaturely way. What an awesome thing to realize! God charged Adam to improve upon his work. It reminds me of Jesus’ promise to his disciples in John 14:12, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”
Another hint in the text is found in God’s command to Adam, “I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food” (Genesis 1:29). When Adam would pluck a banana from the tree and eat it, what would happen to the skin, or to the fruit itself? It would die. If Adam were to pick an orange, peel and eat it, what would happen to the peel and the fruit? It would die. What if Adam decided to cut down a tree and use it as firewood? It would die. (Some might ay that Adam didn’t need to keep himself warm, but I think this is mistaken. Genesis 3:8 implies weather that was hot or cold before sin marred creation.)
This signifies to us that death was built into the system God created. Food was given to maintain Adam’s life, but to maintain his life, his food had to die. So, when God told man not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or he would die, Adam knew what death meant. God did not need to define death for Adam as something he would not be familiar with. Now, this is a far cry from human death, which would come later. But it still stands that a certain kind of death was built into God’s system for the maintenance of life on earth—even while there was yet to be sin on the earth. Isn’t it interesting that God built death into the system and yet he called the finished creation, “Very good.” This is because, as I mentioned before, the references to good in Genesis 1 and 2 are references to functional good, not moral good.
What can we take away from this knowledge?
First, you are tasked to manage God’s creation. By managing God’s creation we actually operate within the covenant that God gave to Adam. We imitate God’s creative work. Just as God created in Genesis 1, forming, shaping, and improving upon the created order, so too we act like God when we care for his creation—all of his creation, not just the earth, and plants, and animals, but one another as well. How are you managing God’s creation today?
Second, you are tasked to improve upon God’s creation. Everywhere man goes he imposes some kind of order on the created world. Sometimes this is done in sin, but many times it is done with care and stewardship in mind. As an example, a farm is an improvement on wildly growing vegetables. It imposes order, fulfills purpose, and becomes manageable. How are you improving upon God’s creation today?
Third, in your future in Heaven, you will be tasked with the same thing. Heaven is a restoration of what was lost, but in a much more dynamic and significant way. We should not think that Heaven is a place where we lounge around all day. Heaven is not an eternal vacation, though we will enjoy it forever. We will have tasks to perform just as Adam was given a task to perform before sin entered the world marring God’s creation.
Originally posted on October 19, 2014.