Eden, the Spirit and the Goal of Redemption

I’ve been preaching from Genesis of late, which has made me think a lot about the Garden of Eden and man’s estate (to use the old theological term) before the Fall. I’ve also been reading quite a lot from one of my very favourite theologians of all time – Cyril of Alexandria – who has helped me quite a bit in thinking about Eden.

The verse I’m really thinking of here is Genesis 2:7 which tells us that ‘the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.’ I somewhat worry that so often in our concern for defending the historicity and truth of the Scriptural account of creation we can actually end up getting sidelined from the most important aspects of the first few chapters of Genesis. (I’m not at all saying that the historicity and truth of these chapters is unimportant in any way, I’m simply saying that preaching on Genesis 1 and 2 – i.e. proclaiming Christ – is not the same as a lecture on historicity.) And Genesis 2:7 is a hugely important verse from which we wouldn’t want to get distracted.

What does Genesis 2:7 tell us? If our primary concern is merely with defending creationism we may easily get distracted here and see it as no more than a verse that speaks directly against evolution. But I’m convinced that it tells us a lot more than that. Genesis 2:7 isn’t just about the fact that man was created by a special act of God. Firstly, it shows us that man was created in a different way from the animals. The LORD God Himself – that’s the Word of God through whom all things were created (Gen. 1:3; John 1:3; Col. 1:16), who walked in the Garden (Gen. 3:8,10), the Word who is the Son who makes the Father known (John 1:18), i.e. the Lord Jesus – in loving condescension stooped down to the dust of the earth and formed the man. He had simply commanded the earth to bring forth the animals (Gen. 1:24), but He Himself stoops down to mould and fashion the form of the man. And how does the Lord Jesus give life to this man whom He has formed? By ‘breath[ing] into his nostrils the breath of life.’

Now, again that’s something different from the animals. They all breathe and live, but they haven’t had the breath of life breathed into them by the Lord Jesus. And perhaps that should be a clue to us that we’re dealing with something bigger than respiration here. In fact, I’d argue that we’re dealing with something so much bigger than respiration here, that what we’re actually seeing is the purpose for which we have been created!

You see, instead of ‘breath of life’ we could read it ‘Spirit of life’. That’s certainly how Cyril of Alexandria read it. In his Scholia on the Incarnation of the Only-Begotten, Cyril sees the very nature of salvation here where Jesus breathes the Spirit into man. He says that ‘because of Adam’s transgression, the Holy Spirit departed … And since, through the mercy of God, it was necessary for us to be made worthy of the Spirit again by being restored to our earlier condition, then the Only Begotten Word of God was made man’ (Scholia §1; see also Cyril’s On the Solutions to Dogmatic Questions, para. 2). For Cyril, Adam was created saved – He was created filled with the Spirit and enjoying loving fellowship with the Triune God. And so, for Cyril, Jesus came to restore us to this first estate, by bringing us back into the loving fellowship of the Triune God and filling us again with His Spirit.

And that means that man as he was created in the Garden of Eden shows us what we were created to be. Genesis 2:7 shows us the purpose of our creation. We were created for loving fellowship with the Triune God through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that includes being filled with the Holy Spirit.

That’s God’s plan for human beings like you and me – He wants us to know His intimate, loving fellowship, He wants us to be filled with His very own Holy Spirit. He wants us to live in Him. But we know that that’s not the way it is now since the Fall. We’re not born full of the Holy Spirit. We’re not born enjoying the loving fellowship of the Triune God.

But that’s why Jesus came. The Lord Jesus in a way repeats what He has already done. Again He stoops down to the earth as He humbles Himself and takes on our flesh for our salvation. And this time He stoops down to the lowest parts of the earth – to the very grave itself – dying for our sins on the Cross of Calvary. And then, once again, He breathes His Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, into His people.

Through His stooping down to the dust of the earth, the Lord Jesus saves, and He brings those whom He saves back into the loving fellowship He enjoys with His Father in the Spirit. And He pours out His Holy Spirit on His people, just as He filled Adam back at the beginning.

In salvation, Jesus restores us to that full, loving , intimate fellowship that Adam lost.

So, Genesis 2:7 shows us what salvation is. And Genesis 2:7 shows us what we were created for – to enjoy the loving, intimate fellowship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and to be filled with the Holy Spirit of Promise – and all through the work of the Lord Jesus – only by grace.