My car has a recall notice on it. I know this, have known it for months. But since sitting in a car repair shop is as fun as a surgery waiting room (except the magazines are greasier and the coffee pot scarier), I avoid it. I’ve continued driving, with a suspicion that what is now minor could morph into a big ticket item, sometime in the hazy future.
Sooner or later, we ignore recalls at our peril. Something that should return to its manufacturer for recalibration fails, and the failure escalates the longer we refuse to return.
Return. The word plays a key role in our ability to keep driving through life, as well. Humans break down, eventually, after sputtering along on their own power for as many miles as possible. But that wasn’t God’s intent. God intended we never drive off the lot, but we did.
“‘Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,’ the woman replied. ‘It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’ ‘You won’t die!’ the serpent replied to the woman. ‘God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.’ The woman was convinced.”
–Genesis 1:27, 3:2-6
Return—not simply at the moment of salvation but continued, intentional return—seeks what we lost that day in the garden. True return asks the question—“What happened to me in the garden, when Eve took a bite of that fruit and the juice spilled down my chin?” What choices did I make in that moment? We are not usually seeking what we lost. That’s why we are not usually whole.
Return means a U-turn from the first ill-fated detour in that garden—the one where we bought the potent pride-selfishness combo ticket at that tempting carnival booth on the side of the road. We would be like God.
“So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
God created humans that bore his resemblance, people whose hearts and minds were modeled after the divine heart and mind. What those humans wanted was not a likeness but a position. We ditched the image of God for the promise of the position of God. We wanted the office and the power; he gave the moral, spiritual, and intellectual splendor. He offered the ability to be something staggering; we wanted the ability to do something sensational.
We never understood that the power without the soul would leave us emotionally bankrupt. We still don’t. We still try to have the abundant life without the submission. We still attempt to play God without the essential character development.
The essential ingredient we lost in the garden was an understanding of ourselves as the image of God and not god ourselves. That first sin of self-assertion led to the rest.
“When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. Then the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’ He replied, ‘I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.’” –Genesis 3:8-10
Fear, pride, shame, and loss. All the emotionally unhealthy nightmares that haunt us now. Can you imagine a time when we did not live with fear? When the Bible commands us, continually, not to fear, there is a reason. God never included in his plan this most common of human emotions. He meant for us to live in perfect peace of mind because we were in perfect peace with him. But the day we learned to fear God, we forfeited peace. We ran in fear from our first relationship, and we’ve been running ever since.
We are still afraid, because we still feel naked. And we are. We are naked before God, and the sooner we come to terms with that, the sooner we stop trying to live emotionally dual lives.
“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. I, the Lord, made you, and I will not forget you. I have swept away your sins like a cloud. I have scattered your offenses like the morning mist. Oh, return to me, for I have paid the price to set you free.”
–Isaiah 43:1, 44:21-22
There is another garden. Jesus prayed in it, “Not my will but yours.” In that garden he did what we would not—he aligned his will completely with the Father’s and succeeded in sweeping those sins away. So we can return to our ordered garden and be free.
Revisit that original order for a moment. God created man and woman as mutual helpers. He fashioned the animals and earth for those humans to care for. He placed his likeness in each person, keeping the ultimate responsibility for life, the universe, and everything for himself. Is there a single unhealthy issue in our lives that is not ultimately descended from the violent alteration of that order? Is there any woe that could not be changed by humans who understood that their place was one of equality with one another, submission to God, and responsible care for everything else?
The Maker recalls us, not just for salvation, but for life. He calls us to be restorers of order and relationship. In our own lives, in the lives of our communities, and in the life of the nation and world. But first, we have to return to his garden.