Sunday, May 2, 2010

Leaving the Garden of Eden

Four years ago I made the mistake of missing a return airplane flight on President’s Day weekend. I was not aware of how busy that particular Friday was for flyers and thought I might be able to arrange another departure. I was wrong. Worse yet, I disappointed my wife. My missed departure equated to a lost opportunity for a Friday night date we had been planning for a while. Saddened, after discovering that all outgoing flights were not only sold out but were overbooked, I had to figure out what I would do for accommodations. I went back to the car rental where I had just returned my car only to pick up another. My next task was to find a hotel room for the weekend. Admittedly, my decisions left me with circumstances I had not expected.

While Independence, Missouri, is a cold place to be in February, it is very different in the summer. In my effort to make the best of an extended business trip, I revisited memories of previous trips – times when leaves on trees were full and green rather than bleakly missing. I recalled driving through that part of the country, appreciating its recent and ancient history. In my memory, I appreciated the beauty of what I had known before. What I saw in front of me on that trip was a completely different context.

It was a sad irony that my attempt to leave Independence left me trapped and stranded from the home I wished to return to. Another small irony was that I was trying to leave by choice when, not quite two hundred years ago, many of my ancestors who had lived in that same area were forced to abandon their homes and lands, and leave against their will. Almost overnight, they had no accommodations and were at the mercy of other settlers who took them in and gave them a place to stay. They, too, left in the cold of winter, but they did not have rental cars or hotel rooms to comfort them. I was attempting to get home. They had to leave theirs.

Not far from this area is a place called Adam-ondi-Ahman, a name my ancestors referred to as the land where Adam dwelt. The valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman is now used for crops and is a quite a fertile area. Because of its namesake, I have wondered how fertile it might have been in comparison to the Garden of Eden. What were conditions really like there? What was summer like? How severe was winter when Adam and Eve were driven out? To what home did they then go?

The ancient account of leaving the fertile garden was partly out of choice, and partly by requirement. Yes, Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden by God, but only after having made the choice that triggered the consequence. First, they were warned of what would happen should they choose to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Then they chose.

God commanded Adam, “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee; but, remember that I forbid it, for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Moses 3:16-17)

I wonder if we received similar instruction in the grand council in heaven before coming to this earth. When the plan of our Father in heaven was presented, were we not also warned of what would happen should we choose to accept His plan, requiring us to gain knowledge and choose between good and evil? Did we not accept the conditions of death as part of mortality? How much did we know? We didn’t know what death was like because we hadn’t experienced it. We didn’t know how temptations would affect a mortal body, either. Yet we knew enough to follow Jehovah and reject Lucifer during the war in heaven. We knew enough to choose sides and pick between good and evil.

In a sense, choosing to leave the premortal world was no different than choosing to leave the Garden of Eden. Whether our choice or the choice of Adam and Eve, it was a choice to leave the presence of God so that we could be tested. The weight of this choice can only be fully understood when we acknowledge what was being left behind. We chose to leave our home in heaven, to become strangers in a strange land. Adam and Eve chose to accept the consequences of death that they might become as gods knowing good and evil.

After the fall, the Holy Ghost fell upon Adam and he said, “Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God.” Eve having heard this was glad and said, “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.” (Moses 5:10-11)

These verses of scripture hold an interesting contradiction. Adam and Eve were warned by God what would happen if they ate the forbidden fruit. Yet after their transgression, the Holy Ghost comes as a reward and comforts them. Adam acknowledges that he will have joy that he could not have experienced otherwise. Eve expresses her hope for eternal life through obedience. Both were glad for their decision. When Adam and Eve chose death, they also chose the opportunity to have eternal life. While they didn’t know this until after they had eaten the forbidden fruit, they were persuaded by the serpent to become like God. While it was his intent to deceive Adam and Eve, it was the intent of God to save them. The apparent contradiction between God’s warning and the reaction of Adam and Eve after their fall represents a paradox more than conflicting circumstances.

A choice to leave the Garden is a choice to accept opposition. It is also a choice to let go of something we know in exchange for something better. The greater reward comes with a cost. As we choose to meet opposition, and choose between good and evil, we become something better. We become converted, and we become worthy. By choice, we become like God.

God cursed the ground for Adam and Eve’s sake, not as a punishment but that they might have joy. The path is sweat and sorrow, thorns and thistles, yet our reward is heaven and eternal life. Seeing through the opposition – not only of good and evil, but between pleasure and sorrow, weakness and strength – requires us to have faith, and the more the better. To live in the world but not of it challenges us to become strong in adversity. The desire for happiness when we suffer from loss invites us to seek help from a loving Father who loves to care for His children. Striving to overcome our weaknesses in the hope of finding strength demands all the faith we can provide. The beauty of this offering is that our faith is then matched, increased, and returned in greater abundance. Faith in God never fails, but turns to charity as we feel His love and as our love for Him grows in our hearts. Thus the pathway is not punishment but perfection.

I believe that repeatedly each of us is required to leave our own intermittent Gardens of Eden. It takes faith to face a situation that will require a willing sacrifice, believing that the result will be greater. It requires our trust in God that His way is always better. When we are willing to let go of the things we know, we have nothing to trust in but the things we do not know but hope to believe. This is Father’s purpose. He invites us, through faith on His Only Begotten Son, to believe though we cannot see, as we follow the enticings of His Holy Spirit. This leap of faith requires us to leave Eden to travel through our own wilderness, our destination being our heavenly home. This test proves to ourselves just how valuable the heavenly gift means to us. More importantly, it demonstrates the strength of our love for God.

Isaiah the prophet taught that the Lord will comfort His people. When we look to Abraham and Sarah, like Adam and Eve, and we keep the covenants God made with them, he will give us the same blessings. Isaiah said, “Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged. Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him. For the Lord shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.” (Isaiah 51:1-3)

Adam and Eve left the garden to face death and brought children into the world. Abraham left his garden as he ascended the Mount in Moriah to offer his son, Isaac. He found comfort in the promises of the Lord. The early pioneers who left Missouri faced the martyrdom of Carthage and the despair of Nauvoo, but found their Zion where the desert was made a garden. Each of us may find comfort in our places of despair when we face our wilderness with faith. The first step is to leave the comfort of our home in Eden in the hope of arriving at a better place.

The prophet Mormon taught us, “if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ. And now, my brethren, how is it possible that ye can lay hold upon every good thing? And now I come to that faith, of which I said I would speak; and I will tell you the way whereby ye may lay hold on every good thing.” (Moroni 7:19-21)

As we hear the words of Christ and exercise faith in Him, we increase our ability to lay hold upon every good thing. But first we must let go of our fears, our pride, and our vanity. If we fail to do so, these things possess our hearts and leave no room for faith. When we release our grasp on the things that we treasure in our hearts, trusting that God is always right, then will our deserts be turned into gardens, and joy and gladness will fill our hearts. This is the purpose of our existence, that we might have joy through the Lord.

Repeatedly this last year, I have felt as though I have had promptings to give up things that were very valuable to me. I have been asked to give up my Eden. Each time I have left the comfort and security of the garden – each time I was willing to submit to and yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit and make an offering of faith to the Lord – He has rewarded me like Abraham, accepting my willingness and allowing me to keep my treasure. Whether our trials are lengthy or temporary, the anguish of our departure will always be softened by faith. Like a missed plane flight, some things are only temporary. Blessings may be delayed like an inconvenient layover, but the Lord always keeps His promises, and He always rewards faith. I may have more gardens to leave before I am finished, but I become less and less afraid knowing that God’s way is always better, and is often inclusive.

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