Each month, you’ll hear from one of us on what we’re reading and a little bit about the book. Enjoy!
If you’re anything like me, life is busy. I get bogged down in the details of daily living, both the joyous and the mundane: grocery shopping, birthday celebrations, cleaning the house—is it just me, or does the bathroom always need cleaning? Five minutes after I’ve cleaned it, it’s dirty again. I digress. Anyway, in all of this here-and-now living, as I try to be present with the people I love and attend to the next thing in my life, I don’t always take the time to dwell on what eternity with God will look like. I don’t always allow the beautiful promises of fulfilled living and redemption in eternity to seep into the cracks of the hard days here, the fractured days where I am so aware of the brokenness of this world and my deep need for God.
Even Better than Eden: Nine Ways the Bible’s Story Changes Everything about Your Story by Nancy Guthrie discusses God’s ultimate redemption of all things and the way that our lives can be redeemed in part, even now. Guthrie asks us to consider the garden of Eden. Honestly, I’m not sure that I’ve ever really thought of it, apart from the stereotypical image of Adam and Eve precariously situated behind some well-placed fig leaves. But, in my brief considerations of Eden, I’ve always thought of it as idyllic, perfect before the fall of man. I’ve always considered Adam and Eve’s fall from Eden to be chiefly about their lost communion with God but also about the loss of such a wonderful place to live.
If we consider Eden to be perfect, then it makes sense that we would imagine the new heavens and earth that God is going to create much like Eden. (We’re using our Spirit-soaked imagination either way here because none of us have ever seen Eden or the new heavens and earth—not yet at least!)
Nancy Guthrie has something to say about how our future redemption will look. In Even Better than Eden, she challenges our idea of the new heaven and earth. She believes the future redemption of the earth and every Christ-follower will not simply be to the standard of Eden. She says, “God is, even now, working out his plan to do far more than simply restore his creation to the state of integrity that was Eden. Christ came to accomplish what was necessary to open the way for us, not just back into the garden of Eden, but into a home that will be even better than Eden and a life that will be even better than the life Adam and Eve enjoyed there” (12). Anyone else’s mind blown a bit?
Not only will the ultimate redemption be better than life was for Adam and Eve before the fall, but Guthrie also believes we as followers of Jesus can experience a piece of that ultimate redemption even now. “In other words,” she writes, “to be joined to the risen Christ is to have the newness and glory and life of the greater Eden breaking into your life in the here and now. … We aren’t yet experiencing [redemption] in the full and complete way we one day will, but it is breaking into the here and now” (13).
With that premise in mind, Guthrie explores nine biblical themes (she calls them stories), their scriptural histories, and how God is already working redemptively in these areas in the world now. In this volume, she discusses the story of the wilderness, the story of the tree, the story of His image, the story of clothing, the story of the bridegroom, the story of sabbath, the story of offspring, the story of a dwelling place, and the story of the city.
I realize that these topics seem a bit abstract and disjointed from our life experiences now. But, Guthrie skillfully gives us a cross-section of what the Bible has to say about these topics—her writing evidences her love of God’s Word—and then she shows us how it affects us today. Let me give you an example: When she discusses God’s use of the wilderness in the Bible—including the first couple in the Edenic wilderness, the Israelites’ grumbling in their wilderness wanderings, and Jesus’ perfect contentment in the wilderness—Guthrie traces the thread of restlessness and emptiness that the Israelites seemed to share with Adam and Eve, an emptiness that we find in ourselves today.
She begins, “God sees the emptiness in your life as his greatest opportunity, because God does his best work with empty as he fills it with himself” (17). She helps us shift our focus and understanding of this emptiness; instead of seeing it as something that plagues us, we can look at it as an arena in which God’s work is on full display. Guthrie continues, “Have you ever thought about the emptiness you feel in this light? … Do you think [God] might want to retrain your appetites, redirecting them away from this world, this life, even this age, so that your anticipation of the age to come might begin to shape your perspective on whatever it is you lack?” (20). Here we get just a sampling of Guthrie’s instruction toward God-ward living, how keeping eternity in mind can shape our current perspectives. But she goes on to detail how we can experience pieces of God’s ultimate redemption now.
Guthrie explores our role as image-bearers, humans made in God’s image, and how it informs our search for meaning and identity. She says, “Who you are is most profoundly about who Christ is and who the Spirit is making you to be. Your sense of identity is being shaped by your sense of being made in his image” (58). “My friends, God, by his Spirit, is at work restoring his likeness in you, the way it once was in Eden, except even better” (57). What a gift, to not only know that we’re being made into Christ’s image but that Christ’s imprint on us is what marks and shapes our identity more than anything else. God’s image in us means that our performance, appearance, successes, weaknesses, or you name it cannot define who we are. Nothing defines who we are more than God’s imprint on our hearts and lives. We can walk confidently knowing that our identity in Christ cannot be tarnished by others’ opinions or the hardships of this world.
Guthrie tackles theme by theme, lithely explaining biblical passages and how their truths, these stories in God’s Word, affect our present and future stories. I found Guthrie’s take illuminating, and I was much helped by her focus on the future, how God’s ultimate redemption should inform and influence the way I live my life today. As Guthrie so concisely states it, “This life was never meant to be an aimless existence; it has always been headed somewhere, somewhere better than Eden. The destination out in front of us should shape how we live day by day, week by week, and year by year” (106).
Praise the Lord! He gives us purpose here and now, and eternally. Let’s take a cue from Nancy and let God’s future promises fuel our present worship.
Sarah Doss is a Content & Production Editor with LifeWay. She loves a quirky sitcom, baking as therapy, and travel (international or otherwise). As a recovering Lisa Frank enthusiast, she maintains a healthy affinity for school supplies and all things letterpress. Keep up with her on Twitter (she loves Twitter friends) at @sarahdossy.