In Theology of the Body, a teaching of Pope Saint John Paul II, we look to the Garden of Eden to show us truths about the human person. Often, when talking about the Garden of Eden, we talk about how great it was, with all of the innocence and peace, and how all of that is lost forever because of sin. This was how I understood the story of the Garden of Eden for a long time, that we had one chance for paradise and we blew it. We would always be controlled by sin which meant that I would always be stuck in a whirlpool of sin and unhappiness. It is true that mankind was expelled from the Garden because of sin and, through our disobedience, we broke our relationship with God. This would be a really awful story, if this were the end. It’s not. Christ came into the world and died on the cross to redeem us.
Redemption in Christ offers us something better than the Garden. Here, I would like to differentiate between restoration and redemption. Restoration would be to go back to the original state of being in the Garden. Redemption involves a saving transformation. God has made it new. God is all-knowing. He knew we were going to sin when He created us with freedom and so made a plan to give us something better than the Garden.
This is not just about living in a heavenly paradise. It’s also about our daily life. He gave us Christ who instituted the sacraments. The grace that we receive in the sacraments gives us the power to live out the call of the Kingdom of God. “What is the Kingdom of God?” you ask. Jesus gives us the answer to this question in the Gospel of Luke. "The coming of the kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, 'Look, here it is,' or, 'There it is.' For behold, the kingdom of God is among you" (Lk. 17:20b-21). Every day, we have the opportunity to live out innocence and peace through grace. We can choose love instead of use, generosity instead of greed, and humility instead of pride. It is when we choose goodness that we make the Kingdom of God present in the world. At times, this seems insurmountable. You do not have to look far to see the pain and hurt caused by sin, but by grace, we are set free from sin. Slowly but surely, God changes our hearts to love Him better. He has changed me. I once thought that the battle against sin was hopeless and that even trying to overcome sin was pointless. I felt helpless. God would not let me keep believing this lie and showed me that He had given me the power, through the sacraments, to choose freedom instead of sin. Here’s the thing about grace, it’s stronger than sin.
This relates back to Theology of the Body because in our relationships, we can feel like we will never be able to love the other person as we should. Sometimes, chastity seems too difficult to master but we have to remember it is grace that enables us to love our significant other. There’s a story of several bishops in the early Christian Church, who saw a prostitute passing by. All but one bishop turned away as she walked by so that they would not lust after her. The one bishop looked at the woman intently with love. As a result of the love that this bishop showed her, the prostitute turned her life around and became a saint, St. Pelagia. The difference between the two responses, both noble, is that God ultimately wants us to be able to look at everyone the way that Adam looked at Eve in the Garden. The freedom that the one bishop had is offered to all of us. When we have this freedom, it translates into our relationships. In freedom, we can truly love. This is the essence of the Garden of Eden: freedom and love. These are not lost to us at all but through Christ, available to us right now. Let’s not forget this truth.
Guest blogger: Camilla MacKenzie