THE GARDEN OF EDEN
October 9, 1994A Sermon by Rev Frederick M Chapin
I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. (JN 10:14)
At times, nearly all of us would like the Lord to appear before our eyes. Especially when we are in times of confusion or despair, we may desire the Lord to come. When we are uncertain about what decision we should take, we then wish the Lord would physically come and tell us directly what we should do. Likewise, when we are going through a difficult crises, we wish the Lord would come and tell us how the problem can be resolved. Realistically, we know that the Lord does not operate in that manner. But emotionally we still desire it, especially during times of stress.
Nevertheless, we can be aware of the Lord’s existence and operations within us. The Word does teach that we can have a personal sense of the Lord’s presence. For example, in the Gospel of John, the Lord said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. (Jn 10:27) Here we are taught that a follower of the Lord will be guided by His voice. It is as if he hears from within the direction he should take that leads to good, and assures him that he is safe in the Lord’s hands. (Jn 10:28) This awareness or sensation is not dependant on a physical revelation. This spiritual sensation that a dedicated follower of the Lord has is more tangible than any physical appearance. We have therefrom an unshakable confidence that the Lord is indeed leading our lives.
However, quite often the Lord does seem to be distant and invisible. When we experience confusions and despairs, we certainly do not vividly sense the Lord’s presence in us. We struggle to do and believe what is right. Yet, we are promised that if we continue in our efforts to do what is right, we will have the sense that we are living the greatest possible life we can live. And within this confidence, there is perception of the Lord operating in our lives. While we have this confidence, we are in peace. Whenever we sense the peace from good, we sense the Lord at the same time. Therefore, if we still move forward, and do the best we can in doing good, peace will come, and the Lord will become known in that peace.
When we are in the sense of heavenly peace, we are spiritually in the Garden of Eden. The description of this garden in Genesis pictures the beauty and assurance of the Lord’s presence in us. The Garden of Eden was said to have every tree grow that was pleasant to the sight and good for food. The trees illustrate the perception of what is true and good. A person who has the clear vision of what is right, has truth stand out like a tree in his mind. A tree displays itself openly. No matter how many trees there may be in a forest, each tree can be distinguished. So it is with truth. Truth stands strong and is very visible. And when it stands forth, it is pleasant to look upon. The trees that are pleasant to the eyes represent truths that a spiritual person delights to reflect upon. They are pleasant because they show forth the harmony they bestow upon the Lord’s creation. They show how our lives can become the most productive.
And the trees in the Garden of Eden were also “good for food”. This refers to the perception of good. When we are aware of how we are to live by knowing truth, we can also perceive the delights and the uses they can give. Not only were the trees beautiful to look at, but they were also beneficial. Not only do truths give us a vision of heavenly harmony, they also allow us to do the acts that establishes the Lord’s kingdom.
In the center of our Garden is the perception of what we are to accept and what we are to avoid. This perception is treated of by the two trees in the middle of the garden: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As long as we sincerely acknowledge that the ability to recognize truths and love what is good is strictly from the Lord, we are eating of every tree in the garden. When the acknowledgement that the Lord is the sole Revelator of truth and good is present in our lives, the tree of life is in the midst of our garden, just as this acknowledgment is in the midst of our perception of what is true and good.
However, when we begin to believe that the recognition of good and truth is from our own efforts, than spiritual perception will cease. This is eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We believe that we learn what is true and good from ourselves. (AC 126) When our acknowledgment that everything spiritual is from the Lord is anything less than absolute, we are eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When we start to believe that we can learn and recognize truth without the Lord, we are partaking of this tree. Just as Adam and Eve were removed from the garden, so too will the perception of genuine truth and good be removed if we regard ourselves as the revelator. (AC 224) Like Adam, we are forced to work the ground. We must struggle to believe what is right. Different ideas and philosophies will come and be very persuasive. Without a heavenly perception from the Lord, we will not know what to apply and what to discard. Just as it was tragic for Adam and Eve to eat of this forbidden tree, so is it tragic if we start to believe that we can recognize truth by ourselves without the Lord.
However, the Lord is always ready to remedy our condition should we stumble. The Lord always looks to how He can restore the awareness of His presence in our lives, even in the midst of our fall. We see that immediately after Adam fell, the Lord gave the first prophecy of His advent upon the earth. (Gen 3:15) The Lord, Who is mercy itself, does not focus on the penalties, should we slid, but seeks to see how He can re-establish the relationship with us. (AC 99) And in the book of Revelation, we see the firm conjunction between the Lord and ourselves come to pass. Once again, the tree of life is “in the midst of paradise.” (Rev 2:7) The active and living perception of the Lord and His operations are once again restored. What can be more delightful than to sense the Lord’s love and wisdom in our lives? When we are aware of this, we are once again in the Garden of Eden, knowing with certainty what the Lord would have us do.
And when we are in our own Garden of Eden, there will be a river flowing within it that will split into four branches. The first branch “Phihon” is our most interior loves. This is our inmost acknowledgement and confession that the Lord is God and everything good and true comes from Him. We rejoice in professing that the Lord is the only Source and Revelator of truth.
The second river, Gihon, is the knowledges of all that is good and true. It is that inner dictate of what we should believe and apply in life. It allows us to say no more than “Yea, yea”, or “Nay, nay”, when confronted with a doctrinal teaching.
The third river gives us the understanding that life directed from the Lord does give the greatest security and peace. This river, called Hiddekel, represents the rational in us that confirms that the Lord is with us, and the greatest sense of peace and happiness comes from Him.
And the fourth river is the Euphrates. This is the things we are aware of with our physical sense. This river represents the confirmations of the Lord in the world around us. When we already have the confession of the Lord within us, the things we sense in the natural world will confirm that the Lord is operating within us. When these four rivers are in their proper order or place, we are in the garden of Eden. We are aware of the Lord in us and how He would want us to live.
All of us can be in the Garden of Eden. We are created to enjoy the beauty of knowing and believing in the Lord in our hearts. (AC 128) Each one of us was created to know with certainty how our lives should be lived. (AC 202) However, we must be willing to genuinely, from the heart, believe that all truth that leads to good is strictly from the Lord. And we must also be willing to comply with the truth the Lord does reveal to us. Does this mean that if we have a strong sense of the Lord’s presence, we are incapable of making mistakes? Of course not. But when we do make a mistake, we will recognize it, learn form it, and move forward in a more orderly life of genuine charity from the Lord. When we are truly willing to let the Lord direct our lives, the Lord will make Himself known by our reception of the Holy Spirit. For as the Lord promises in the Gospel of John:
He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore, I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you. (Jn 16:14 & 15)