I’ve been to the Garden of Eden. Okay, I’ve been to the Island of Eden or, at least, had dinner docked alongside it. I’m pretty sure the resemblance it bore to the original was as close as you get on this sin-troubled earth.
I’ve dreamed of going to the Galapagos Islands since I saw my first photo of a tortoise. Most of my travel dreams stem from childhood images of wildlife in all my favorite books and too many Jacques Cousteau or Mutual of Omaha specials. But who’s to say how many is too many?
The first night onboard, the crew asked what we were most looking forward to. I mentioned a desire to see penguins and rays. I thought it was a lot to ask, but why not ask?
I ended up not only seeing but swimming with both, as well as turtles, sea lions, sharks, cormorants, boobies, fish, and iguanas. What triggered the imagination of Eden though was the closeness, not the abundance (though that certainly factored in). Sea lions waddled up to us and wanted to peer eye to eye. Turtles sped inches beneath me. And those penguins—more than one person almost lost a Go Pro to an inquisitive bullet-like bird.
I couldn’t help but think of all that I’d taught through the year before in Genesis 1. The story is familiar—but the reality stretched far beyond the story.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.’
“So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
“Then God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.’ Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!” (Genesis 1.26-31)
God created animals and humans, and God intended that they live without fear. Initially, animals had no fear of their human caretakers because they weren’t created to. They had to learn wariness, as sin created humans who became more overlords than stewards of the creation they had been gifted.
The Galapagos animals don’t know this kind of fear. This is their realm. We’re the ones who must tread with respect. So they live there with a beautiful unconcern for the humans who destroy so much of the planet elsewhere. Not that encroachment doesn’t happen here—but these islands are being more well-protected every year. It creates the stunning picture we witnessed of a place that seems returned to the order with which God created the world. No fear. Harmony. Eye to eye with sea lions in a way Adam and Eve never even encountered. Shalom between humans and creation.
It was after God had to chase down the humans and ask why they were hiding that fear entered the world, and that fear affected more than the God-human relationship. It changed everything.
Humans no longer trusted one another but blamed and evaded blame. Humans broke their perfect balance with creation, too, learning to fear and be feared by it.
Why the rumination about what we all know—that the world is broken because of sin? Because the Galapagos taught me that there is more to the story. They taught me the truth of Romans 8. What we long for instinctively is real. Sometimes, I suspect we begin to believe our deepest yearnings are dreams, visions of a world that never was and never will be. We force ourselves to readjust and recalibrate to “reality” so that we don’t succumb to Pollyanna imaginings of what can never be. Pragmatism wins most of the time.
Galapagos taught me that this is a lie. The longing in our hearts for reconciliation of creation and human beings is there not because it’s not real, but because it is. God placed eternity in our hearts to serve as our true north when the world around us seems like too much of a dumpster fire. We’re told to remember so often in Scripture because remembering is what we need to call us back to spiritual reality rather than pragmatic reality.
Humans remember somewhere in our souls what used to be and what should be. Paul knows this.
“For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Romans 8.19-22)
What I witnessed in the Ecuadorian islands is this. Creation letting us all know—the story isn’t written to the end yet. There was an “in he beginning,” and there will be a “future day.” The peace and wonder I felt in that place marked that liminal space where eternity sometimes breaks in on earth.
God, in all goodness, gifts us those spaces. C.S. Lewis called them joy, and he defines joy with this idea of a reminder. “All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’.”
We’re not used to thinking of longing as a gift, but it is. It’s a gift that reminds us of what we were created for. I always knew I was created for swimming with penguins. Now, I’ve had the tangible reminder.
Jill Richardson is the pastor of Real Hope Community Church near Chicago. She is the author of six books and a national speaker, as well as a contributor to books from Dayspring, Lillenas, and Christianity Today. Jill’s doctorate in "Church Leadership in a Changing Context" is helping her with her passion—passing on a healthy, creative church and doing it with the next generation. She is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Bethel Seminary (St. Paul), and Washington University. Her focus is on church leadership, creative preaching, immigration and refugees, women’s issues, and intergenerational leadership. She has an unnatural love for Middle-earth, chocolate marzipan, old musicals, fish tacos, oceans, cats, and Earl Grey. She believes in Jesus, grace, restoration, kindness, justice, and the Cubs. You can find her work at jillmrichardson.com.